Over the course of the past several months, I have written in this column and spoken with many of you in my travels throughout the diocese about my pending retirement as Bishop of Rochester. I have encountered many people who have expressed their good wishes, which I appreciate very much, and many questions about what happens next.
Interest in this has increased much of late because my 75th birthday on July 15 — the day I will send my letter of resignation to the Holy See as all bishops must do when they turn 75 — is fast approaching. For example, most recently I met with interested news organizations from throughout the diocese. They were interested in my reflections on my more than 33 years as bishop, and, naturally, had many questions on what will unfold.
To that same end, I thought it might be helpful to you to summarize this process once again, not only to answer any lingering questions you might have, but also to reassure you that this important transition in the life of our diocese will be a smooth one, just as it was for the bishops before me.
Firstly, it is important to note that my resignation letter begins a process to name a successor — a process that in all likelihood will take many months judging by similar situations in dioceses across the United States.
More precisely, that process typically has taken up to a year or even longer in some instances. For example, close to home, Bishop Edward Kmiec of the Diocese of Buffalo submitted his own letter of resignation on his 75th birthday on June 4, 2011. On May 2, 2012, Most Rev. Richard J. Malone was named by Pope Benedict XVI to succeed Bishop Kmiec. Bishop Malone has most recently served as bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Maine.
Once my letter of resignation is sent and received, the process is solely in the hands of the Holy See, which, I can assure you, will work prayerfully and carefully to choose a new bishop who will provide good leadership for this wonderful diocese and its particular characteristics. Thus, we do not know exactly when the ninth Bishop of Rochester will be chosen, nor do we know who that person will be. While the names of potential candidates for the office of bishop are considered on a regular basis by the bishops of our province, and while my own input may be invited, the final decision is the Holy Father’s and no one else’s.
Some of you have asked if it is possible that my successor might be chosen from within the diocese. This is certainly possible — three of the eight bishops of Rochester have been. The other possibility, of course, and one that seems to occur more often than the former, is that the new bishop will come from another diocese, either a priest to be ordained a bishop or a man already serving as a bishop.
It is important to know — and I hope reassuring to you — that it will be "business as usual" in our diocese until this transition is complete. While we will not undertake any new, major initiatives in this transition period, I will gladly continue to serve as long as needed until my successor is chosen.
On a more personal note, many of you have, in your kindness, asked what my own plans are after a new bishop has been named. As I wrote here last fall and have said to you in parish visits, leaving office removes from an individual bishop his power and jurisdiction over a diocesan church, but he remains a bishop forever. He forever retains bonds to the College of Bishops, and certainly a special bond to the diocese of which he was shepherd and to those faithful who were once entrusted to his care. It is not retirement in the usual sense of the term.
This is a wonderful blessing! For as "Bishop Emeritus" — the title given to bishops after they leave office — it is my sincere wish to be as helpful as I possibly can to the Diocese of Rochester and to the new bishop, in ways still to be discussed and determined. While I will leave the bishop’s quarters at the cathedral, it is my intention to make my home in the greater Rochester area, a place I have come to know well and to love much.
As we embark together on this journey, trusting in the Good Shepherd to guide us, I ask you to pray for this most beautiful and God-blessed land we proudly call the Diocese of Rochester, for all its good priests, women and men religious, deacons and ministers, for all its faithful people and, if you would be so kind, for me in this time of personal transition. Please hold the Holy Father close in your heart as he makes this important decision for our future.
Peace to all.
EDITOR’S NOTE: There will be no "Along the Way" in the August edition due to Bishop Clark’s vacation. The column will resume in the September issue.