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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 1, 2004

Honolulu loses its bishop

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Catholics in Hawai'i are anticipating months of uncertainty about who will be the next bishop of the Honolulu diocese after yesterday's surprise announcement that the Most Rev. Francis X. DiLorenzo has been transferred to Richmond, Va.

The Most Rev. Francis X. DiLorenzo flashed a shaka sign at a press conference yesterday where he was introduced as the next bishop of the diocese of Richmond, Va., replacing Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, right.

Associated Press

DiLorenzo, who worked during his 11-year tenure in Hawai'i to make parishes more open and welcoming, has been in Virginia since Monday and did not return phone calls for comment yesterday.

DiLorenzo, 61, will take the helm of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond on May 24. He is due back in Honolulu on Saturday, and within the next two months an interim administrator will be named, said Patrick Downes, spokesman for the Honolulu diocese.

The diocese estimates the state has 215,000 Catholics.

The decision on who leads a diocese is handed down after consultation at the highest levels, Downes said. The discussion will involve DiLorenzo; his immediate superior, Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco; and Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, papal nuncio to the United States. It will be confirmed by the pope.

"It's not a democratic process by any means," he said.

Because the selection is handled in secrecy, nobody contacted by The Advertiser would predict possible outcomes. The next bishop could come from within the ranks in Honolulu, although Downes said the pattern of past appointments doesn't suggest it's likely.

"Look what happened here," he said, citing DiLorenzo's Philadelphia origins. "The nuncio feels free to send bishops from Philadelphia to Hawai'i, or Hawai'i to Richmond."

Honolulu diocese

• Size: 215,000 Catholics in Hawai'i, about 20 percent of the population.

• Staff: 56 active diocesan priests (27 retired), 49 deacons, about 200 sisters, 50 brothers.

• Schools: 8,025 children in 25 elementary schools, 3,433 students in seven high schools, 1,054 students at Chaminade University.

• Parishes: 66 parishes and 28 missions on six islands.

• Affiliated agency: The largest in the diocese is Catholic Charities Hawaii, with an annual budget of $19,604,669. It serves 25,000 clients within 38 programs.

• Previous bishops: James J. Sweeney (1941-68), John J. Scanlan (1968-82), Joseph A. Ferrario (1982-93), Francis X. DiLorenzo (1994-2004).

Source: The Official Catholic Directory 2003

Judging from history, the search is not expected to be brief. DiLorenzo was named administrator in October 1993, but his appointment as bishop of Honolulu wasn't confirmed for a year.

Church officials began looking for a new bishop for Richmond in June, when Bishop Walter F. Sullivan announced he would retire. Sullivan officially stepped down in September; Cardinal William Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, has been serving as apostolic administrator for the Richmond diocese since then.

Many in Honolulu were commenting yesterday on the surprise of DiLorenzo's transfer. The Rev. Tom Gross, one of two vicars general serving in the No. 2 administrative role in the Honolulu diocese, said DiLorenzo was told only a week ago, at a meeting of the national bishops' conference.

"We're all very surprised and shocked — as he is," Gross said. "My experience at working with him is he's a very capable administrator and very consultative."

Among priests, the bishop was seen as someone who challenged the way local churches had operated, said the Rev. Lane Akiona, pastor at St. Patrick's Church in Wai'alae. DiLorenzo's trademark "Welcoming Parish" program, in which he met with parishes to evaluate how well they embrace the congregation's spiritual needs and fit in with the larger community, "has been a positive thing for us," Akiona said.

"In his challenging us, he moved us outside that traditional box," he said. Each parish is "not an island anymore."

Diocese officials rank Welcoming Parish and the Synod 2000 diocesan conference aimed at refocusing attention on youth ministry and other goals among DiLorenzo's proudest achievements. His thorniest experience was the furor over allegations of sexual abuse among priests.

A national scandal erupted over clergy sex-abuse two years ago. The investigation in the Islands, delving back to the 1960s, led the diocese to report that it had substantiated molestation allegations against five Catholic priests. The cases reportedly involved at least eight children.

In January, an audit faulted the diocese for, among other criticisms, lagging in developing an outreach program for victims and in developing "clear standards of behavior" for priests and other church officials in regular contact with minors.

But DiLorenzo's administration was praised for establishing a policy on alleged sexual misconduct within the church in 1990 and for forming a standing committee to advise the bishop on misconduct allegations. Five men were removed from the active ministry, four of them before the scandal even broke, Downes said.

Tom Dinell, retired head of Catholic Charities but still an active parishioner, said DiLorenzo's move would take him closer to the center of the church's national leadership.

"Bishop DiLorenzo must be really pleased to have an opportunity to return to his roots in the east, close to national headquarters of the Conference of Bishops, which will allow him to be much more involved in church issues than is possible in Hawai'i," he said.

The Associated Press and Advertiser staff writer Mary Kaye Ritz contributed to this report. Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.