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Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski spoke with reporter Jennifer Brinker during an interview at the Cardinal Rigali Center in St. Louis.
Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski spoke with reporter Jennifer Brinker during an interview at the Cardinal Rigali Center in St. Louis.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Witnesses to the faith are needed to live the Gospel message

In wide-ranging interview, Archbishop Rozanski speaks on evangelization, other topics such as racism, clergy abuse

While it’s important to learn and to understand the faith, what the world needs even more are witnesses to the faith, said Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski.

“The real challenge is taking the knowledge that is imparted, but connecting that knowledge with real life,” he said. “How is our faith lived out each and every day? A person who really lives the Gospel is a witness for others.”

Archbishop Rozanski told the magazine of the Diocese of Springfield, Mass., that he is bringing with him to St. Louis the “importance of leadership, the importance of discernment, and the importance of really listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

In Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” Archbishop Rozanski said, the Holy Father wrote that “the world needs teachers of the faith, but even more so needs witnesses to the faith. The greatest formators are those who really live the faith.”

Archbishop Rozanski’s episcopal motto is “Serve the Lord With Gladness,” which comes from Psalm 100 and serves as a reminder of what is needed to be a witness to others. “I truly believe that if we are serving the Lord with gladness, we are not merely teachers — we are witnesses as to what it means to live out the Gospel of Christ,” he said.

In an interview with the Review this summer, Archbishop Rozanski shared his insights on other topics such as Catholic formation and the future of Catholic parishes and schools; as well as on more complex topics, such as racism and the clergy sex abuse scandal.

On the future of Catholic parishes and schools

Many dioceses across the country continue to face a decline in the number of Catholics and a decrease in Catholic school enrollment. Archbishop Rozanski was no stranger to that, as he guided the merger of two Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Springfield during his tenure there.

As dioceses contemplate their future, Archbishop Rozanski said, Catholics must be willing to look beyond themselves and outward toward the Trinity — God, His son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. That’s the inspiration we need, particularly when it comes to making painful decisions about the future of parishes and schools.

“We’re attached because for many people, some very meaningful occurrences of their lives have happened there,” he said. “Perhaps their grandparents were buried from that church, or they were baptized in that church, or married there.”

We need to acknowledge that our society is more mobile now that it had been 50 or 60 years ago, he said, and the Church isn’t impervious to those changes. “We have to remember where the true message is and what God is calling us to do and to be as His people,” he said. “It is being together as the Church that truly matters. It might not be the way it was when we were children or young adults. But circumstances change, and that’s why the Church has been around for 2,000 years — because it has adapted to different circumstances.”

On racism

In Springfield, Archbishop Rozanski has spoken on the sin of racism numerous times, including an interfaith prayer vigil and at a prayer service at St. Michael’s Cathedral, both in June. They were among the many events throughout the nation following the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American man killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

The interfaith prayer vigil, he said, was a response to the high tensions after Floyd’s death. Civic and religious leaders responded quickly, he said, noting that it’s “prayer that brings us together. That prayer service was a coming together, acknowledging that we needed to come together at that time.” The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic also bubbled over, he said, contributing to the division many were feeling. “Using social distancing, we were voicing our prayers and our hopes to God.”

Racism is deeply embedded in our country, he said, noting that from the institution of slavery 400 years ago comes the experience of the African American people. “It is difficult for me as a person of European descent, whose family chose to come over here because they wanted to build a new life,” he said. Africans, by contrast, were forced to come here not to build a new life, but to be enslaved. We need to understand that history in order to be able to get to the root of racism and look toward solutions, he added.

Racism is not something that will be healed overnight, Archbishop Rozanski said. “It is rather an issue that we truly have to work at,” he said. “Jesus reminds us that love is truly work. Love is the work of the Kingdom. If we are to open our hearts in love to one another as brothers and sisters then … we have to realize that we have to put our efforts into understanding one another and being able to talk to one another.”

On the clergy sex abuse scandal

A year ago, Archbishop Rozanski met with a person who claimed abuse as young child by the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, former Springfield bishop from 1950-1977. The victim’s story conflicted with information Archbishop Rozanski previously had been told about the victim. He reopened the case and had it independently reviewed by retired Judge Peter A. Velis.

Velis’ 373-page report revealed that the victim’s claims of abuse were “unequivocally credible.” As a result, Archbishop Rozanski ordered that a monument to Bishop Weldon at a Springfield cemetery be removed and his remains relocated to a less prominent location and marked with a simple gravestone. Also removed were Bishop Weldon’s name from a rehabilitation facility and all memorials and pictures of him from Catholic facilities.

Archbishop Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of this case, time and time again since 2014,” he said at a press conference in June. “At almost every instance, we have failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network as well to a deep desire for a just response for the terrible abuse which he endured.”

In seeking the truth on the case, Archbishop Rozanski said it was not only about “establishing the credibility but also how can we handle these things better” in the future. An independent task force has been commissioned to examine Velis’ report thoroughly, and to make recommendations to the Springfield Diocese on it will handle future accusations of clergy abuse.

Much has been learned since the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (Dallas Charter) 18 years ago, in which the U.S. bishops made several pledges in their efforts of protect children, Archbishop Rozanski said — but more can and should be done.

“I think we have learned that we need to respond to victims promptly and pastorally, as well as to abide by the tenets of the charter, and the laws of the state and the jurisdiction in which we live,” he said. “But I think we need to hone our outreach to victims as a Church, and to see what we can do as a Church to bring about healing for them. We have come a long way as a Church to make all of our places safe environments.”

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