Diocese of Springfield’s incoming bishop has ‘vision of hope’

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  • The Rev. William Byrne of Washington, D.C., is shown at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, the chief church of the diocese, on Tuesday. Byrne will be installed Monday as the 10th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Rev. William Byrne, bishop-elect of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, offers communion during a weekday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel on Tuesday in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Rev. William Byrne, bishop-elect of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel on Tuesday in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Rev. William Byrne, bishop-elect of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, greets parishioners as they leave the weekday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel on Tuesday in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Rev. William Byrne, bishop-elect of the Romanc Catholic Diocese of Springfield, celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel on Tuesday in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Rev. William Byrne, bishop-elect of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel on Tuesday in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/10/2020 4:23:02 PM
Modified: 12/10/2020 4:22:52 PM

SPRINGFIELD — An optimist in the face of the grueling COVID-19 pandemic, which has curtailed church services and hindered personal interactions, the Rev. William Byrne says he’s looking forward to better days as he prepares to become bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

In advance of his formal ordination and installation as the diocese’s 10th bishop, Byrne spoke about stepping into a new leadership position during the pandemic, social issues and addressing the diocese’s history of sexual abuse.

Byrne, 56, will formally take over as the head of the diocese on Monday, following the departure of Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, who over the summer was appointed archbishop of St. Louis. Byrne most recently served as pastor of the Our Lady of Mercy parish in Potomac, Md., and has been a priest since 1994.

Stepping up

With a second wave of COVID-19 surging around the country, including in Massachusetts, Byrne said he believes that, when proper social distancing measures are followed, churches should be allowed to continue in-person services, though congregants should not feel obligated to attend in person if they are not comfortable doing so.

“I’m a firm believer that if people can get to the grocery store and be safe about it, then they can manage going to church,” Byrne said. The diocese is following guidelines such as limiting congregational singing and ensuring that all wear masks to church services, he added.

For those who do not wish to attend in-person services, Byrne said he intends to use social media to assist in forming connections between the church and community, which he had done prior to the pandemic as well.

Over the years on the Archdiocese of Washington YouTube channel, Byrne’s “Five Things” series of videos, where he shares advice and religious teachings, have received thousands of views. In October, he published a book, “5 Things with Father Bill: Hope, Humor and Help for the Soul,” following the theme of this video series and column that he would write for his church newsletter. Byrne is also known for bringing his black Labrador retriever, Zélie, along with him on diocese business.

Byrne plans to delve further into social media after Christmas, calling these outlets “an exciting way of communicating” that have a greater reach with younger generations in particular.

Byrne will try to “get out as much as I can while keeping people safe,” when connecting with local churches, he said.

With limitations on services due to public health protocols, churches have seen a decrease in financial donations that would typically be collected at services, Byrne said, though not as dramatically as anticipated.

“Our people have maintained a strong level of generosity, but I think that’s because of the hard work of the pastors in each parish who made an effort to make services available in whatever way,” he said.

“We’re struggling. It’s not to say it’s been easy,” he added, “but it has been made easier by the goodness of the Catholic faith here in Western Massachusetts.”

Social issues

Byrne also commented on several social issues that have made headlines nationally and in the Pioneer Valley in recent months.

In late October, it was reported that Pope Francis had spoken in favor of granting legal protections to gay couples via civil unions. Byrne said the pope’s statement says “no one should be marginalized for any reason or excluded from the community,” but he did not believe it endorsed civil unions.

Asked if he supports civil unions, Byrne said he supports “accompanying people and meeting them where they are, and loving them.”

Byrne spoke strongly against expanded access to abortion, which local legislators and activists have championed through legislation such as the ROE Act.

“Any efforts to expand these laws, I oppose them with all my heart,” he said, “because I believe that life is not mine to give or take, but rather, is God’s.”

Byrne also opposes medically-assisted suicide, stating he believes these laws can make people “feel that they are a burden” and have an “obligation to die.”

Addressing the past

Byrne said one of his top priorities is addressing the diocese’s history of sexual abuse and providing support for survivors.

According to a survey by the diocese, Byrne added, respondents indicated that they want effective communication and transparency.

Byrne’s past experience draws from “having worked with those who have been victims and seeing the devastation not just to the individuals, but also to the family and friends, and the failure to address it in an appropriate way,” he said.

“I’ve seen firsthand the damage that it has caused, so my passion for healing in this case comes from my experience in walking with people in their pain.”

Speaking on his leadership in general, Byrne called himself a “chronically hopeful person” and “a listener,” which he believes will assist in getting through the pandemic.

“I’ve said all along in this pandemic, we’re not getting back to normal,” he said. “We’re going to get back to better, and so I think that I bring with me a true vision of hope.”

Byrne will be ordained and installed on Monday at 2 p.m. at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield in a televised ceremony on WWLP-22News that will also be livestreamed on diospringfield.org.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.



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