Changes Are near for Norwich Diocese

Willimantic Chronicle [Willimantic CT]
April 18, 2003

As Catholics in eastern Connecticut approach the Easter season, they will soon be celebrating the installation of the Most Reverend Michael Richard Cote as the fifth bishop of Norwich, and also the commemoration of the golden jubilee of the diocese. Retiring Bishop Daniel A. Hart, 75, refers to the new bishop as a special gift from Pope John Paul II.

Cote, 53, who has been auxiliary bishop of Portland in his native state of Maine, will be installed on May 14.

Four Connecticut counties - Windham, Tolland, New London and Middlesex - joined with Fishers Island, N.Y. to form the Diocese of Norwich on Aug. 6, 1953. An anniversary mass of Thanksgiving will be held on July 25 at the Cathedral in Norwich.

Hart says that Cote has the ability and talent the diocese needs during this difficult time when clergy sex-abuse scandals and declining charitable contributions require strong leadership and healing skills. From his experience in Portland, Cote says that he learned the need to be up front in dealing with claims of abuse, and to show compassion for both the victim and the person who's been accused, without taking sides, until an investigation is completed. He said he believes compliance with the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its June meeting, can bring healing.

"I have a great openness to people who feel estranged from the church because of the scandals," Cote said, "and I would certainly welcome any opportunities to sit with such people to try to bring whatever healing I could to a very, very painful situation."

The new bishop will have to cope with cuts in the services of some of the 27 ministries in the diocese because of a 10 percent drop in donations to the Annual Bishop's Appeal . Cote will also have to deal with challenges from the Voice of the Faithful movement, which has called for more involvement of parishioners in the affairs of the church.

"I think they're very sincere people, very good people," Cote said at a recent press conference. "I'm not exactly sure what the purpose is for such a movement. There are already many means and many bodies through which the laity have a voice. I would ask them what new element is there in their movement? And why would they want to establish a parallel movement?"

Just as each successive bishop has brought his special attributes to the diocese in the last five decades, Hart, who has been in Norwich since 1995, has been known as a pastoral minister who has respected and encouraged the role of the laity in the church. During his tenure he started a fund for the homeless that has distributed thousands of dollars to people in need of shelter or emergency care. A holy and giving man who has served with distinction, Bishop Emeritus Hart is giving his retirement years to the people of the diocese, explaining that he plans to live in the Norwich rectory, helping out in parishes as needed.

In 1953, there were 54 parishes serving 150,000 Catholics in the diocese. Today, there are 78 parishes serving 226,000 Catholics -- who will be well-served by the Most Reverend Michael Richard Cote, DD, the fifth bishop of Norwich.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.