By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ The new bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport called his new job “an awesome and exciting ministry” and said Wednesday he hopes to learn from the man who appointed him: Pope Francis.
Rev. Frank Caggiano, an auxiliary bishop in Brooklyn, New York, will take over a post left vacant since the departure of Bishop William Lori, who was named Archbishop of Baltimore last year. Caggiano, who will be installed in September, pledged to listen and learn about the needs of the diocese and collaborate with others.
“What I hope to bring is first and foremost a gentle and compassionate heart,” Caggiano said at a news conference in Bridgeport. “I think what the world needs to see is the mercy of God.”
Caggiano cited the excitement of crowds during the Pope’s visit to Brazil, saying there were tears, joy and dancing.
“He is a great gift to the church,” Caggiano said. “Pope Francis has given a remarkable opportunity for people even who do not believe to take a second look at the church through his humility, his simplicity and he has a way of connecting in the heart.”
“To the extent I could follow in a small way in his footsteps, I would be very grateful,” Caggiano said. “And we also have the same name,” he quipped.
Asked about the Pope’s comments saying he wouldn’t judge gay priests for their sexual orientation, Caggiano said gays are loved by God and welcomed in the church, but he reiterated the church’s opposition to gay marriage.
The 54-year-old Caggiano also praised his predecessor’s handling of the sex abuse crisis.
“He was a national leader in making sure our children are protected and every bishop in the country stands committed to do exactly the same,” Caggiano said.
But David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was skeptical.
“We see no evidence that Bridgeport’s new bishop has shown any real courage or compassion in the church’s on-going clergy sex abuse and cover up crisis,” Clohessy said in a statement. “So we are not encouraged by his promotion.”
In Bridgeport, there are 34 “proven, admitted and credibly accused” priests, many of whom are still alive and likely living among unsuspecting neighbors, Clohessy said.
“Alerting the public about the whereabouts of these potentially dangerous men should be Caggiano’s first act as Bridgeport’s bishop,” Clohessy said. “Then, he should post their names, photos and whereabouts on the diocesan website and in parish bulletins.”
Caggiano, one of four auxiliary bishops in Brooklyn, said his job involved policies and procedures to prevent abuse rather than specific cases and worked diligently “to ensure the scourge of abuse will not repeat itself.” He said the bishop speaks for the diocese, but he has shown compassion and he plans to build on Lori’s work.
“We have made progress but we need to make more progress and we have to remain completely diligent on the matter,” Caggiano said.
Caggiano’s new conference was filled with lighter moments. He called himself an avid New York Mets fan, joking he is a man of hope.
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