Hart Resignation Accepted; Successor Named

By Noreen Gillespie
Associated Press
March 11, 2003

NORWICH, Conn. (AP) The tenure of Norwich Bishop Daniel A. Hart, recently marred by the abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, ended Tuesday and an auxiliary bishop from Maine was introduced as his replacement.

Monsignor Michael R. Cote, 53, stayed close to the departing bishop's side during Tuesday's announcement at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The two old friends moved around the room together greeting priests, nuns and laity.

"I assume this important task with humility, all too well aware of my human limitations and of my need to rely upon God's grace," Cote said. "At the same time, I accept this new responsibility with the joy of a pastor and with an eagerness to feed this portion of the Lord's flock."

Pope John Paul II named Cote to the position last week after accepting Hart's resignation, both said.

As required by canon law, Hart had submitted a letter of resignation to the Vatican in August when he turned 75, the usual retirement age for Catholic bishops. It is not uncommon, however, for some to serve longer.

Hart had served as bishop since 1995. He has recently been criticized for his handling of sexual abuse complaints in Norwich and in Boston, where he previously served as vice chancellor.

One lawsuit alleges he was negligent in his handling of the alleged abuse of an altar boy. Another claims he and other supervisors of the Boston Archdiocese did not do enough to protect victims.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Hart said he did not know if the allegations played a role in the pope's decision. He said it did not influence the letter he sent to the pope.

"It was a matter of canon law," Hart said.

Hart said he would speak to Cote privately about the scandal.

At 53, Cote is almost a generation removed from the priests and administrators targeted in the scandal, but said he has handled allegations while at the Diocese of Portland.

As auxiliary bishop, Cote announced the removal of three priests who were accused of sexual abuse. Cote also announced a "zero-tolerance" policy of sexual abuse while in Maine.

"I would try to respect the victim, but at the same time respect the person accused, because they both have rights," Cote said. "I would do so with compassion, without taking sides until the investigation is completed."

ote was born in Sanford, Maine, on June 19, 1949. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from St. Mary Seminary College in Baltimore in 1971.

He attended the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome for four years before being ordained by Pope Paul VI at St. Peter's Basilica on July 29, 1975. He also has a license in canon law from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

He served in parishes in the Portland diocese from August 1975 to June 1978, and beginning in 1994 served as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn, Maine.

Cote became one of the youngest bishops in the nation when he was ordained on July 27, 1995, at age 46.

Portland Bishop Joseph J. Gerry said the Norwich Diocese is "receiving a man of faith who is bright, approachable, a steady worker, in tune with the universal mission of the church, and who possesses a genuine desire to serve."

Cote appeared to be an extrovert, a good quality for the job, said the Rev. Joe Finnerty, head of the diocesan Emmaus Spiritual Life Center, which organizes retreats and other activities.

"When a man is appointed bishop, it's like a shotgun marriage," Finnerty said. "He believes it's God's will for him to be here, and we believe it's God's will to accept him."

Cote will be installed May 14. Hart said he is leaving immediately, and an interim administrator will be named to help oversee the transition.

Walking the aisles and conversing with the clergy who came to meet him, Cote shook the hand of Mother Anthony SCMC, head of the Holy Family Mother House in Baltic.

"Pray for me now, huh?" he said, gently taking her hand and looking her in the eye.

"You know, life goes on," she said after Cote left. "You have scandals everywhere society, families in general. Life goes on, and the scandals are between you and God."

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