New Bishop for Rochester

Archb MatanoI’ve already been on the receiving end of two e-mails this morning about my hometown’s new bishop, Salvatore Matano. I don’t have much to say about him.

On the surface it looks like another careerism move: small city to larger. But the man’s 67, and likely not going anywhere after this assignment. Bishop Matano was on the speculation list for St Louis, and recently Hartford. He’s a chum of Cardinals Dolan and Burke. Is the Rochester appointment a favor or a punishment? It took them over a year to find a replacement. According to a private conversation with Rocco a number of years ago, more guys were turning down the cathedra than accepting it. Someone else told me I’d be surprised at how many “promotions” are declined.

Rock has jumped on the progressive Rochester bandwagon.

While Rochester under Clark had been an outlier among Northeastern dioceses in its normative embrace of a progressive post-Conciliar ecclesiology, as was universally expected, the incoming bishop comes from a rather different cloth. And much like last week’s appointment of the now Bishop Leonard Blair to the archbishopric of Hartford, the choice of a fairly conservative figure with an extensive background in law and administration will be seen in some quarters as a clash with the prevailing “Francis narrative” on the wider scene.

I can’t say I ever found my home diocese progressive. Let me explain that a bit and give a caution that my opinion is certainly colored by my personal experience of rejection there.

Culturally, Rochester is very much an in-between kind of place. It’s a western outpost of the East, and an old and very early eastern outpost of the Midwest. There’s a degree of pride and accomplishment, but I think the city still rests on 200-year-old laurels of being an up-and-coming place. But the world has passed it by.

Rochester was set up to enter the 21st century like gangbusters, but the prevailing conservative sentiment (and I mean that in terms of approach-to-opportunity) pretty much sunk the opportunity for the city to take the lead in things like optics or digital photography. So today, while people worldwide take picture on their phones, Rochester’s bread-and-butter, the camera, has gone obsolete.

Theologically, I never found Rochester to be terribly progressive. Looking back, I wonder if they’re still burdened with a sense of entitlement: holding on to schools until nobody enrolls and then closing them. No sense whatsoever of evangelization. Not much thinking outside the box.

When I left in 1988, there were two full-time liturgy-music people in the whole twelve counties. Nobody was hiring. Nobody was thinking about hiring. At the time, I wouldn’t have minded staying put. But the one interview I had at the chancery led to nothing. They kept a position vacant rather than ask me to fill it. I was pretty sure they knew me well enough from my committee work and diocesan volunteering and from being a grad student that they knew who they were getting.

While my internet foils might suggest I was too wacky liberal even for Rochester, the sense I always had was that I looked to farther horizons than they. Rather than the low-hanging fruit in front of me. Even my home parish during my grad school days, now notorious for being in schism, listed its part-time organist with the secretary under “support staff.” Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t stay.

Circling back to the new bishop. He strikes me as more of a fit, at least in the sense of being congruent to the prevailing stream of Catholic bishops. Canon lawyer: check. Friend of higher-ups: check. Administrative experience as a bishop, but not as a pastor: check. If you’re playing your game not-to-lose, what’s not to like about that?

He is the first bishop of Italian ethnicity in that see. After a long line of Irish guys in the founding days, right up to before Matthew Clark.

Maybe Rochester would have done better with a younger, more energetic, more outward-looking leader who could move past the Left-Right divide and galvanize the diocese into a 21st century force. And who knows? Perhaps Bishop Matano’s eight years in Vermont have prepared him for another eight years of great ministry in my former diocese. I wish them well.

Make of all of that as you will.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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17 Responses to New Bishop for Rochester

  1. Liam says:

    I think your assessment of the Rochester economy is dated; it’s the boomtown of upstate NY, and has diversified its economy to its credit. There’s a lot more variety in technology up there how. It regularly shows up higher than expected in many of Richard Florida’s surveys of various dimensions of the new economy/reinvented metros.

    • Todd says:

      Okay, but I know there’s a lot of bitterness about Kodak. And for people who are not college-educated, it’s a very tough market to crack into for getting a good job. I’ll take your observation under advisement, but are most of those “new economy” kudos based on corporate perspective, and not what we would consider a just and broad opportunity for all?

      • Liam says:

        The only significant industries (other than traditional electrician and plumbing-type trades) left in the US where the non-college educated can get a decent crack at a family-sustaining job are fuel-supply chain (oil & natural gas especially) or construction, and it is true those jobs do not abound in the Northeast generally (unlike, say, TX, LA or ND), though fracking may make inroads (NY is having a big debate over that, and Gov Cuomo has his views….). I just wanted to balance the implication that Kodak’s demise has left Rochester as a smaller Detroit – it hasn’t. Time spent mourning the past won’t fix the future. Rochester’s biggest unsolved problem is that it remains highly segregated and its ghetto is NY State’s most violent on a per capita basis, IIRC; but, because of the high degree of segregation, you might have a hard time knowing it if you’re elsehwere in the metro area, it seems.

      • Todd says:

        I can agree with that. How would a “Pope Francis bishop” address this kind of thing? That would be my question. How does one move beyond bitterness and conservatism (in the worst sense of the term) and begin to press for real change?

        Bishop Sheen caught huge amounts of flak in the late 60’s not only for his opposition to the Vietnam War, but also (maybe especially) for his advocacy for inner city parishes and their efforts to reach out to the black community. People in Rochester sure didn’t know what they were getting: instead of a media figure, an advocate for societal justice the rest of the US Church wouldn’t chafe against for another decade or more.

      • Liam says:

        Well, if one considers that the violent ghetto* is the wildnerness of our era (we Americans are prone to romanticize our wildnerness, but the wilderness of pre-modern European was a place of violence (natural and man-made) and profound vulnerability), he might think of religious orders in the way that Cistercians were the frontiersmen of the Middle Ages. Instead of rich Catholics bestowing largesse on pretty traditionalist monasteries in the safe and lovely countryside, getting them to underwrite inroads on the urban frontier (construction/adaptive reuse of infrastructure would temporarily provide trades jobs, at least, to start).

        * Ghettoized in more than one sense: consider that, overall, most of America is experience the lowest rates in violent crime in over 50 years. Violence has been corralled into the ghettoes.

  2. Chris Godly says:

    One whole year? Doesn’t sound like he was following a pastoral calling very closely.

  3. danielfkane says:

    I hesitate to suggest that Rochester is not “progressive” in the political sense of the term and like most rust belt cities is trying to re-discover itself and is doing so with no dominant economic player – which to me is smart. Manufacturing has “gone red state” and the area as a whole is trying to re-discover itself. It was not Kodak’s “lack of progressive vision” that bankrupted it was pride. Many cities of this age and geography have a sine wave like history as they boom and bust. Just drive I-90 – Cleveland, Erie, Chicago…all busts on an uptick.

    But DoR Catholicism is not so progressive as it is superficial. A beautiful Cathedral no one wanted filled with people who can not define Baptism, Eucharist or Marriage. A near priceless organ privately funded while school after school closes and liturgical quality declines. Atypical parish leadership models where priests report to deacons and laity. Lay Sunday preaching – just weird and typically poorly done. My parish has more funerals than baptisms and out of town marriages (i am in the wine country) out pace local ones at least 5 to 1. 33 years and every single marker is in decline even with population factored in. Even you moved 1000+ miles away – and I do not blame you.

    I would bet that many would turn the DoR job down but it was filled in a timely manner – most replacement are 12 -1 6 months. With respect to the alleged declines – analogously, there are only a few mechanics that can repair a ’79 mustang that has sat in a field for the last 33 years essentially untouched and of those few, even less are inclined to try. Yet Bp. Matano was undoubtedly carefully chosen and knows full well the challenges that lie ahead. To a person, everyone I have encountered is thrilled and are counting the days to January 3rd.

    • Todd says:

      Some aspects I found … unimaginative. “Superficial” somewhat presumes other pieces of the ministry puzzle are in place. It’s something I think goes with a culture of entitlement: we’re Catholics and we deserve numbers, conversions, beauty, good stuff, and all, and not to have to work for it.

      Liturgy has never been Rochester’s strong point, though there are good musicians in some parishes.

      I don’t make much of your diagnosis of organ-or-school. Schools require constant upkeep, and annual support. Spending a million on a very good pipe organ for a large church is not unexpected. But schools can’t stay open unless people are willing to evangelize. And people don’t evangelize if they expect the Holy Spirit to drop newbies in their laps.

      That’s not the progressive approach to ministry I employ.

      As for the bishop, I wish him well. If he can get other people to the front lines of evangelization, and in numbers, then his ministry will be fruitful. I hope it is.

      As for the retired bishop’s detractors, it’s also time to put up *and* shut up.

  4. Don Muench says:

    Daniel Kane has his rather negative opinion of the Diocese of Rochester- and I disagree with it. I looked up his friends on the very conservative “” and the site is crammed full of negative and petty sniping and grumbling, and attacks on Bishop Clark. Cleansingfiredor seems overpopulated with unhappy, angry, self-righteous, bitter people. There are some exceptions, some really joyful, positive people, and I love reading their posts. The only apparent joy is their reaction to Bp. Matano’s appointment. I read one guy’s opinion there who says he believes that Bp. Mtano will be surprised that the Diocese isn’t as bad as some believe. I agree with that assessment. Rochester Diocese is predominantly in the mainstream – I go to Masses in every city I visit and Rochester is very little different from what I have experienced elsewhere. I have seen lousy liturgy in Syracuse, Springfield (MA), Boston, The quality of liturgy in Rochester differs very little from what I have seen in Baltimore, Washington, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Bp. Matano may very well have a different approach than Bp. Clark – which is to be expected. But he won’t change the Diocese into another Diocese of Lincoln.
    Another thing that I have noticed about the cleansingfiredor blog is that so many people rant about contraception. It is true that Bp. Clark probably never said anything about contraception in his 33 years here. And – that’s OK with me.

    WHen I read Bp. Matano’s biography, I was astonished to see how little his pastoral experience has been – prior to his naming as Bp of Burlington. Perhaps, his struggles with managing the fallout of the abuse scandal in Burlington has turned him into a true pastor. If so, that will make his stay in Rochester for the next 8 years fruitful.

  5. danielfkane says:

    Superficial means that we are painting the house while the foundation crumbles. All the attention, monies and distraction of the cathedral project while essential foundational lay formation, child education and social justice withered. It is the height of superficiality to buy stained glass while people suffer in ignorance.One small stat – baptisms are down by literally thousands – while the population rose 2%. Yet, instead of focusing on that decay, a divisive Cathedral was constructed to serve less people. Francis – I am certain, would not approve of a “bling” organ – no matter the source – while the greater Church crumbled. But it does sound sweet…

    What is the fruit of 33 years?

    I would say that the sex scandal of was well managed but convicted and likely guilty priests remained until 2004. No monster lawsuits however. He built a magnificent cathedral and privately funded the organ on his own – and while I consider it imprudent, it of course is a beautiful instrument. I am not sure what else. On the big negative sides, he had his imprimatur removed and there exists an ongoing almost 20 year old schism called “Spirtus Christi”. I would post a more reflective comment later but I do stand by the superficiality of the Diocese, it is not so much failed progressiveness – unless one calls lay management of parishes “progressive” or lay preaching progressive neither seem to be “progress” but rather “regress” that is what happens in missionary lands like Alaska. It is really poorly visioned management that has a predictable and foreseeable end.

    Bishop Matano seems to be a good fit. “Pastoral” experience seems to be over-emphasized – just because you run a good 7-11 does not mean that you can run Wegmans (nor does the reverse). His remarks were humble, Marian and Eucharist centered and hopeful – as was his first sermon. Classic – which is what people want – not liberal or conservative – whatever they mean. Classic Catholicism brings in vocations, inspires laity to be generous and creative and evangelistic. Most people want the basics delivered with zeal.

    Exhibit A for this renewal is the Archdiocese of Atlanta in the beginning in about 1997. Prior to that it was pretty dare I say it – superficial. The Archbishop had a very public affair with a woman, maybe conceived a child. Now and for about 20 years now it is very vibrant and growing because they stressed classic Catholic devotions, catechesis adapted for use in the present era (podcasts, twitter, etc.) yet maintaining the essentials.

    Catholicism, when practiced well vertex to base, is a very successful addition to the culture. In Rochester, it is a bystander to the culture as is most of NY. Everything that is antithetical to Catholicism thrives in NY or is first established here.

    • Jim McCrea says:

      I was sort of with you up until you emphasized “Marian.”

      No, thanks.

      • danielfkane says:

        Just reporting what the Bishop said – the press conference video is 47 minutes and while his major theme was personal holiness, unity and a “Catholics Come Home” kind of notion, there were clear Marian and Eucharistic themes suggested as means to holiness.

  6. Todd says:

    ” “Pastoral” experience seems to be over-emphasized – just because you run a good 7-11 does not mean that you can run Wegmans (nor does the reverse).”

    Perhaps. But serving as a pastor is about the most relevant experience a bishop can have. It’s less about managing a business and more about exposure to people, their needs, and having a staff to assist one in carrying out one’s duties.

    That said, I’ve known fine bishops who came from monasteries, religious life, and academia. Matthew Clark was never a parish pastor, I believe. He was the spiritual director at the North American seminary in Rome. His predecessor was a parish pastor, a profile urged by *his* predecessor, Fulton Sheen, as ideal for the cathedra.

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