GAYLORD — Pope Francis last December appointed the Reverend Jeffrey J. Walsh, priest of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, as Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord.
Walsh’s episcopal ordination and installation as the diocese’s sixth bishop will take place Friday in an invitation-only ceremony at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Gaylord.
He succeeds Bishop Steven J. Raica who served as the diocesan shepherd from 2014 until 2020, when he was installed as bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama. Since 2020, when the Diocese was vacant, Bishop Walter A. Hurley has served as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Gaylord.
Walsh, 56, is a priest in the Diocese of Scranton and has served as pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Carbondale, Pennsylvania, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Carbondale.
He agreed to answer questions submitted by the Gaylord Herald Times.
Q: What are your two main goals in becoming the head of the Diocese of Gaylord?
A: One is a short term goal and that is to be very active and listen as I go through the diocese in the first year and my goal is to meet people and learn about the situation in each parish. (I want) to have a sense of the history of the diocese and to have a sense of where we can continue the journey together while living the life of our faith. My long-term goal is to do my best to live the meaning of the motto I have chosen for my ministry, which is trust in Divine Providence. It’s not always an easy thing to do, so it should be a goal; I intend to be able to discern how God’s providence, how his governance of our lives and the life of the Church will unfold. It will take a lot of prayer, trust and seeing how God is always at work.
Q: Are there Catholics who are disenchanted with the Church and have stopped attending Mass? What can be done to involve them again?
A: When we talk about Church, we are talking about people. When there are people who are disenchanted, you can list a hundred different reasons. We can always try to reach out and invite people back to experience practicing their faith. It could be through prayer asking for God’s grace to help the person see that there is always a way back. Maybe it could be an intervention such as someone from the local church giving them a new perspective. The Synod on Synodality is one way the Church tries to reach out to those who are disenchanted with or have had a problem with the Church. We can ask ourselves what we did wrong and what we need to do to help people come back.
Q: There is a shortage of priests and nuns. Is it time for the Church to consider women as priests and what about the end of celibacy?
A: It is an established teaching of the Church that women are not admitted into the priesthood and there are very detailed reasons for this. The teachings of the Church over the years (involve) the understanding of the role of Christ as Husband and the Church as Bride and the embodied aspect of our faith, i.e. the understanding of Christ…being a man and related to the Church. There are just different roles played in the life of the Church. The priesthood is an imitation of (Christ) and is embodied, the way Christ came as a man. It is an understood teaching and it will not be considered to change it, especially since Pope John Paul II has made it definitive.
The end of celibacy might be a whole different matter because we know from Church history for the first 1,000 years or so that the clergy were not celibate. This is still under review and recently Pope Francis reviewed it and again endorsed the meaning of the Church and her priests and the Roman Rite and the celebration of the gift of the priesthood as celibates.
It seems to me that the shortage (of priests and nuns) is not so much a “vocation crisis” if we understand that a vocation is a call and that God does not stop calling us. Rather, it is a “response crisis”. The problem we have on our side is that there have been so many cultural shifts and issues that we have encountered in our culture that have kind of stifled people’s freedom to give a generous response to God’s call . Thus, we can always do our best to witness to the joys of our faith and the joy of responding positively to God’s invitation to live the life of a priest.
Q: Are you confident that there is a system in place that will fairly investigate allegations of sexual abuse and hold those responsible accountable for their actions?
A: Yes, I am confident. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, since 2002 with the Dallas Charter and with the environmental safety programs that each diocese has undertaken, as well as the very clear directives of Pope Francis and before him of Pope Benedict XVI and of Pope John Paul II, (continues to express that), there is a clear need to cooperate with civil authorities and to be very transparent about any issues regarding allegations of sexual abuse.