January 21, 2011

Pope appoints auxiliary bishop for archdiocese

Father Christopher J. Coyne of Boston Archdiocese to be ordained on March 2

Videographers and reporters from Indianapolis television stations and newspapers participate in a Jan. 14 press conference at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis as Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein introduces Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Videographers and reporters from Indianapolis television stations and newspapers participate in a Jan. 14 press conference at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis as Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein introduces Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By John Shaughnessy

Calling it “a late Christmas gift” from Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein announced on Jan. 14 that Father Christopher J. Coyne has been appointed as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

As auxiliary bishop, Bishop-designate Coyne will assist Archbishop Buechlein in fulfilling the responsibilities of leading the nearly 225,000 Catholics in central and southern Indiana. (See more coverage and photos of the appointment of Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne)

While he becomes the second highest-ranking official in the archdiocese, he is not guaranteed or expected to be Archbishop Buechlein’s eventual successor, according to archdiocesan officials.

Bishop-designate Coyne becomes the first auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since Bishop Joseph E. Ritter received that appointment in 1933.

At 52, Bishop-designate Coyne has been a pastor, a professor of liturgy and homiletics, and the director of the Office of Worship and spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Boston.

“I’m grateful to the Holy Father,” Archbishop Buechlein said during the Jan. 14 press conference at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. “I consider this a late Christmas gift. We have a vibrant archdiocese with 151 parishes spread out over almost 14,000 square miles in 39 counties in central and southern Indiana. That’s a lot of territory for one bishop to be the shepherd of.

“As most of you know, I’ve had some health issues in recent years, including a bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, and that has curtailed some of my activities. Bishop-designate Coyne is a young 52, and I’m 72. I’m looking forward to the energy that he will bring to helping us carry out our mission.”

Bishop-designate Coyne exuded that energy at the press conference, displaying a combination of humor, humility and humanity during his remarks.

A lifelong, diehard fan of the New England Patriots professional football team, Bishop-designate Coyne opened his comments with a reference to the casual, game-day attire of the team’s head coach, Bill Belichick.

“I was going to wear a hooded, sleeveless sweatshirt to the press conference this morning, but the boss said no.”

After a burst of laughter from the crowd of reporters, news photographers, priests, archdiocesan officials and lay Catholics, Bishop-designate Coyne turned serious.

“I am humbled by the desire of the Church, through the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, that I become a bishop,” he said. “I already participate in the great priesthood, which I share with my brothers here, and to me that’s the greatest job ever.

“I’ve been a pastor for four and a half years in suburban Boston, and they’ve been the best years of my priestly life. And I will certainly miss the wonderful people of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Westwood.”

He then thanked Archbishop Buechlein for the opportunity to assist him. He also shared his desire to work with the clergy, religious and laity of the archdiocese to further the mission of the Church.

“While I come with almost 25 years of priestly ministry in many and various roles within the Church, I know I have a lot to learn,” he said. “I need to learn names, faces, policies and practices, histories and stories.”

He is now part of the history and the story of the archdiocese. He will be ordained as a bishop at St. John the Evangelist Church on March 2. He will become the 66th auxiliary bishop currently ministering in the United States.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis will become the 33rd diocese in the United States to currently have at least one auxiliary bishop, joining such dioceses as Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

The appointment of Bishop-designate Coyne was also celebrated by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Boston.

“Bishop-elect Coyne has served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston for almost 25 years, and during this time he has continued to demonstrate tremendous skill as a pastor and leader within the archdiocese,” Cardinal O’Malley said in a statement. “Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein is indeed blessed to receive one of Boston’s finest priests.”

As part of his time in the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop-designate Coyne was a professor of sacred liturgy and homiletics at St. John Seminary in Brighton. He also served as the director of the archdiocese’s Office of Worship from 2001 to 2002. And he was the archdiocesan spokesperson from 2002 to 2005—three years during which the priest sex abuse crisis in Boston reached its peak.

When he was asked about those three years during the press conference, Bishop-designate Coyne responded, “I was never asked to defend the indefensible, and I never did.

“What I learned from that is the importance of a priest to always strive to holiness, to lift up and care for those who are most vulnerable in society. One thing that I changed in my priesthood was that, in the midst of all that, when little children were brought up to Communion, I started to bless them, which I’ve never done before.

“I can’t even imagine why I didn’t in the past. But I would give them a blessing. It’s a reminder to me that the hands of a priest should always be a hand of blessing and never a hand of abuse.”

Archbishop Buechlein has appointed Bishop-designate Coyne as the vicar general of the archdiocese, which means that he will be the second highest-ranking official in the archdiocese. His appointment marks the end of Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel’s 17 years of service as the vicar general of the archdiocese.

The archbishop’s deep appreciation of Msgr. Schaedel’s service was evident in his comments.

“He has been outstanding in his ability and willingness to serve,” the archbishop said. “He has generously and without complaint stepped up to serve the people of the archdiocese when my illness has prevented me from doing so.

“He will receive a well-deserved sabbatical in Rome after which he will receive a new assignment. He will continue his position as vicar for religious, and will continue to be director of the archdiocesan Mission Office and the Office of the Propagation of the Faith. I can’t thank him enough for his faithful service to me and the archdiocese.”

The archbishop also expressed his gratitude to Bishop-designate Coyne for “saying yes to the Holy Father.”

At the same time, Bishop-designate Coyne vowed to strive to become a good bishop for the archdiocese.

“I pledge myself today to the service of God’s people here in [the archdiocese of] Indianapolis, and I hope over time to become a true son of Indiana,” he said. “Please know that my prayers are for you, and I ask only the same in return.” †

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