Pope names new bishop for Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield 

  • BYRNE

  • BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2020 4:45:48 PM

SPRINGFIELD — The Rev. William D. Byrne, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was named by Pope Francis on Wednesday as the 10th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

A native of Washington, D.C., Byrne, 56, will replace Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, who after six years of leading the diocese was tapped this summer to become the archbishop of St. Louis. The announcement of Byrne’s new position was made in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, U.S. papal nuncio.

At a news conference Wednesday, Byrne said that when he received the call informing him of his appointment, he realized it was “a profound gift of not just being a bishop, but being a bishop here in Western Massachusetts.” Byrne was ordained as a priest in 1994 and has most recently served as pastor of the Our Lady of Mercy parish in Potomac, Md.

“And at that moment, I prayed for the people and the clergy, the priests of this diocese, and have continued to do so each and every day as I prepare myself to join you in our new home,” Byrne said. “I prayed also for myself — I prayed that I may be a gift to this local church.”

After his ordination, Byrne served as a parochial vicar at both the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Md., and the Shrine of Saint Jude in Rockville, Md. He also served from 1999 to 2007 as a chaplain for the University of Maryland’s Catholic Student Center in College Park, Md., according to the announcement.

Byrne served from 2007 to 2015 as the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Washington, which is located in Capitol Hill. During that tenure, Byrne also served as the secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington.

At the news conference, Byrne said that throughout his more than 26 years as a priest he has “found great and profound consolation in bringing Christ to my brothers and sisters.” He said it is an “understatement to say that the church is living in challenging times” as some people stray from faith and others struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Byrne said “some of our greatest challenges … come from within,” noting the Catholic Church’s “shameful” history of abuse.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has not been immune to complaints of sexual abuse. Retired Judge Peter A. Velis in June found that allegations by a Chicopee man that the late bishop Christopher J. Weldon sexually abused him while he was a boy in the 1960s are legitimate. Velis also found that diocesan officials investigating the initial allegations failed to properly report their findings to legal authorities.

Velis made recommendations on how to improve the diocese’s response to sexual abuse allegations within the local church to a 10-person independent task force that was announced in May, which is tasked with making its own recommendations on the subject to the diocese.

Byrne said at the press conference that the history of abuse within the church “represents a systematic failure to protect our most vulnerable members — especially our children. It must be acknowledged and atoned for continuously.”

“Each day we must recommit ourselves to doing the ongoing work of making sure this can never, ever happen again,” Byrne said, before adding that he looks forward to receiving the task force’s recommendations. “We must never forget the victims if we are ever to heal at all.”

Asked about an accord reached between the diocese and area prosecutors in May that set out standard procedures for reporting allegations of sexual abuse within the local church, Byrne said “it makes the most sense to have complete transparency, so I respect the archbishop for creating that relationship.”

According to the announcement, Byrne is also a popular columnist and YouTube personality where he has hosted a video series called “Five Things” in which he highlights five life hacks to bring people closer to God. At the press conference, Byrne said he believes social media is an effective way to communicate the word of God during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The binds of love and the work of the Holy Spirit doesn’t need a building,” Byrne said.

Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus has been serving as the apostolic administrator of the Springfield diocese since Rozanski’s departure. Byrne will be installed on Dec. 14 at the Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel on State Street in Springfield.

According to the announcement, the Springfield diocese is composed of 164,799 Catholics, 79 parishes and seven missions in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.



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