I’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.