Ex-interim Boston leader installed as Cleveland bishop

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The bishop who briefly led the Archdiocese of Boston after Cardinal Bernard Law quit amid the priest sex-abuse scandal was installed Monday to lead a Catholic Diocese of Cleveland that must deal with the declining numbers of priests and possible parish closings.

The Most Rev. Richard G. Lennon, 59, his thick Boston accent underscoring his New England roots, was escorted to the cushioned marble bishop's seat, symbol of his authority, by Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, head of the church's Ohio province.

"I pledge myself to work with all of you," Lennon said after his installation.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's representative to Washington and the U.S. Catholic community, read the appointment letter from Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinals William H. Keeler of Baltimore and Sean O'Malley, who succeeded Law as Boston archbishop after a seven-month caretaker role by Lennon, led more than 300 priests and bishops at the standing room-only installation Mass at St. John Cathedral.

Lennon (pictured, above) succeeded Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, 73, who retired with Lennon's installation, which he attended. Pilla, the only local priest to serve as Cleveland bishop, led the nearly 800,000 Catholics of the diocese -- the nation's 16th-largest -- for 25 years.

Lennon appealed for faithfulness to the Gospel message of the apostles and said the Catholic community must be marked by unity and a readiness to serve the needy.

"I ask you to take me into your embrace as I embrace you," Lennon said.

Lennon mentioned attending a recent game at Jacobs Field between the Indians and his beloved Boston Red Sox.

When a Cleveland player homered, Lennon said he was encouraged by a seatmate to "clap a little -- they are looking at you." And when Lennon stood and cheered a Boston home run, the response he got was, "Please sit down."

"I have much to learn. I have much to unlearn," he said. "I'm sure I will have a lot of help identifying them."

Sandra Gay Chapman of Cleveland, who led a Psalm response with African-style music at the installation, said she was excited to see Lennon installed.

"I hope he will be a leader of our church and see the good things in Cleveland," she said. "One challenge will be coming in the footsteps of Bishop Pilla. Those are big footsteps, you know, shoes, to fill. I hope he will realize the legacy that he is stepping into."

Dwindling numbers of priests and the continued migration from the city to surging suburban parishes will present an early challenge for Lennon, who led the move in Boston to close 60 smaller parishes.

The Cleveland diocese has 460 active priests, including those on special assignment elsewhere and order priests including Franciscans and Jesuits. The diocesan priest ranks total 296 and could shrink to 151 by 2030.

The diocese, with 233 parishes, had just one parish close and two merge since 2002. Pilla has sought to avoid emotionally charged closings that can undermine urban neighborhoods by encouraging parish collaboration.

Pilla and Lennon have been criticized by victims for their handling of priests who sexually abused children. Pilla acknowledged making mistakes and Lennon said when he arrived in Cleveland that he would abide by a national bishops' policy barring abusive priests from ministry.

At least 17 Cleveland diocese priests have been suspended over abuse allegations since 2002. In a lawsuit deposition last July, Pilla declined to specify how many priests he had reassigned were known pedophiles.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)