Here are some of the top news stories of Bishop Matthew H. Clark’s 33 years as Bishop of Rochester.
Transforms St. Bernard’s — 1981
Bishop Clark announced Jan. 7, 1981, that the former St. Bernard’s Seminary would close. It was restructured as a graduate school for theology, renamed St. Bernard’s Institute and moved to the campus of Colgate Rochester Divinity School-Bexley Hall-Crozer Theological Seminary. In 2003, the school was renamed St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry and moved to a new building in Pittsford.
Establishes annual appeal — 1981
Bishop Clark created the annual campaign, now known as the Catholic Ministries Appeal, as an alternative to a tax on parish revenues. The appeal now raises more than $5 million annually in support of catechetical training, youth and migrant ministry, pastoral planning, Catholic education and Catholic Charities. In 2003-04, the appeal was folded into the Partners in Faith capital campaign, which raised nearly $56 million, a portion of which was returned to parishes. Diocesan proceeds went to a priests’ pension fund, Catholic-school endowments, Catholic Charities, faith formation, cathedral renovations and construction of St. Bernard’s new facility.
Ordains first class of permanent deacons — April 17, 1982
Bishop Clark has ordained all 112 active and 26 retired permanent deacons in the Diocese of Rochester, except for two who moved to the diocese after ordination.
Publishes “The Fire in the Thornbush” — April 29, 1982
In 1981, Bishop Clark convened a Task Force on Women in the Church to help him prepare to write a pastoral letter encouraging women’s participation in the church and calling for their inclusion in liturgical roles that are open to them. He also helped draft a pastoral letter on women that was considered — but not approved — by the U.S. bishops.
Advocates for peace — 1983 and thereafter
Bishop Clark called for the U.S. bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace” to advocate an immediate, negotiated halt to the development of new nuclear weapons. Locally, the bishop spoke at a peace rally near the Seneca Army Depot on Oct. 22, 1983, and in December of 1999 condemned the bombing of Iraq.
Supports Father Curran — 1986
A March 12, 1986, letter from Bishop Clark asked the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to reach a compromise that would allow diocesan priest Father Charles E. Curran to remain a Catholic theologian. The CDF had investigated the writings of Father Curran, then a professor at The Catholic University of America, for dissent from church teachings related to sexual ethics. Bishop Clark later accepted the CDF’s decision to revoke Father Curran’s faculties to teach theology at CUA, but said he remained a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Rochester.
Initiates school, parish planning processes — 1988 and thereafter
Responding to patterns of declining enrollment and rising costs plaguing Catholic schools in the Northeast, Bishop Clark in 1988 appointed a panel that reorganized Monroe County’s elementary schools into quadrants and eventually produced a consolidated Monroe County Catholic Schools System. Negative trends nevertheless continued, later forcing the closures of numerous Catholic schools in the diocese, including 14 elementary schools in 2008. In 2010, diocesan officials announced that control of Monroe County’s Catholic schools would revert to their home parishes.
Likewise, responding to the declining availability of priests for parish service, in 1997 the bishop called neighboring parishes to work together in a process called Pastoral Planning for the New Millennium, through which they shared resources and re-examined their liturgical schedules and ministries. The process led to clustering and later consolidation of numerous parishes. For his promotion of parish-level decision-making, the bishop received the Lumen Gentium Award from the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development in April 2011.
Forges bonds with other faiths — 1988 and thereafter
In 1988, Bishop Clark signed a special covenant with then-Episcopal Bishop of Rochester William Burrill. On May 8, 1996, he signed an agreement of friendship and dialogue among the Rochester Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Community Federation of Rochester and the Diocese of Rochester. The document, now known as the Rochester Agreement, has led to many Catholic-Jewish initiatives — including interfaith pilgrimages he led to Israel in 1998 and Rome in 2005 — and became a model for similar agreements in other dioceses. A similar effort between Catholics and Muslims culminated in the 2003 Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation between the Diocese of Rochester and the Council of Masajid of Rochester. In 2011, Bishop Clark received a lifetime achievement award from the ecumenical group the Greater Rochester Community of Churches.
Reaches out to HIV/AIDS community and to gay and lesbian Catholics — 1988 and thereafter
In a 12-page pastoral instruction released in March 1988, the bishop addressed the pastoral care of people with HIV/AIDS, noting that although some Catholics then believed HIV/AIDS was a punishment from God, Jesus had often spoken against the idea that suffering was a result of sin. On March 1, 1997, he presided at a Mass for gay and lesbian Catholics and their families. In October 1997, he answered questions from the CDF about the Mass and his handling of a subsequent Solidarity Sunday.
Opens diocesan synod — June 22, 1990
By the time Bishop Clark closed the diocesan synod on Oct. 3, 1993, the grassroots process had identified five goals — lifelong faith formation, Catholic moral education, small Christian communities, the consistent-life ethic and the role of women in the church and society — which were incorporated into a five-year pastoral plan for the diocese.
Takes lead on addressing sexual abuse — 1993 and thereafter
In 1993, Bishop Clark instituted a policy on how diocesan employees and volunteers should respond to allegations of sexual abuse of minors; in 1996 he expanded the policy to cover all sexual misconduct. Today those who work with children, teens and vulnerable adults must undergo background checks and all employees and volunteers are trained to detect and prevent abuse. In May 2002, the diocese strengthened its reporting requirements, and the bishop removed from public ministry six priests who had been “credibly” accused of sexual abuse of minors. The diocese also added more lay professionals to a panel that evaluates abuse allegations. In June of 2012, Bishop Clark published the names and dispositions of 23 diocesan priests removed from ministry since 2002 following credible allegations of abuse.
Spearheads youth/young-adult ministry — 1993 and after
Bishop Clark’s enthusiastic participation in various local and national youth events has sparked significant growth in youth ministry throughout the diocese. During World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, he slept under the stars one night with the diocesan contingent. He also has championed young-adult ministry, and in November 2010 the Catholic Campus Ministry Association named him Exemplary Bishop of the Year. He also served as the U.S. bishops’ episcopal liaison to the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
Removes leader of Corpus Christi Church — August 1998
Bishop Clark removed Father James Callan as parish administrator for promoting intercommunion with unbaptized people, blessing gay unions and allowing women to adopt priestlike liturgical roles and vestments. The action led Father Callan’s supporters to form a new faith community called Spiritus Christi. In February 1999, diocesan officials announced those who attended Spiritus Christi ran the risk of incurring automatic excommunication. The schism was solidified in 2001 when Corpus’ former pastoral associate, Mary Ramerman, was ordained a priest of the Old Catholic Church, a Protestant denomination that broke from the universal church in the 19th century.
Rededicates renovated Sacred Heart Cathedral — Jan. 21, 2005
The $11-million renovation and addition to the cathedral included a new altar and full-immersion baptismal font; new spaces for gatherings, meetings and administration; new eucharistic and reconciliation chapels; more parking; and small outdoor parks with outdoor shrines. The Halloran-All Saints pipe organ was installed in 2008, and the renovation won an international design award and recognition in the religious architecture journal Faith & Form.
Writes book on lay leaders — 2009
Bishop Clark has long been a champion of lay leadership since appointing the diocese’s first pastoral administrator in 1994. He wrote about the diocese’s experience with lay ecclesial leaders in his 2009 book Forward in Hope: Saying Amen to Lay Ecclesial Ministry.Tags: Bishop Matthew H. Clark