Friday, August 28, 2009

In Scranton, the Curtain Falls

"You must be on vacation," say the e.mails....

Nope -- just being responsible with a very delicate story.... But, so it seems, away we go.

After a controversial six-year tenure -- and three months of forest-fire grade buzz behind the scenes -- both TV and the papers just up the Blue Route are now airing the same intel received here early yesterday:
Bishop Joseph F. Martino is expected to resign as head of the Diocese of Scranton next week, sources within the diocese confirmed to The Times-Tribune....

[T]he diocese may be be directed by Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali of Philadelphia, the metropolitan for this area, until a successor can be appointed by the Vatican.
Further corrorborating the first leaks (which included all of the above), the diocese has just announced an invitation-only press conference for Monday morning, to be held at an undisclosed location.

Beyond that, the Scranton chancery is declining all comment. Even so, a separate report received here says that the diocesan consultors have been summoned to meet before the 10am presser, a move which likewise points to a change of command.

The cloud of speculation over Martino's future first appeared in June after the 63 year-old prelate was spotted in Rome, where, according to multiple reports, he met with officials at the Congregation for Bishops after the dicastery's intervention was sought.

At the helm of one of the nation's most staunch, reliable bastions of Catholicism, while the kind, bookish cleric's fierce advocacy for the pro-life cause has won him fervent admiration from church conservatives nationwide, the 350,000-member Scranton church has been roiled since Martino's 2003 arrival by swaths of contentious parish and school closings, strained relations with the presbyterate, a perceived indifference to the media, clashes over the diocese's de-recognition of the local union for Catholic high school teachers (a move upheld by the Vatican) and, most famously, a steady stream of statements on politics, parades and public officials which served to draw lines in the sand in the socially conservative, heavily-Democratic area, home to both the revered Casey clan and, in his boyhood, Vice-President Joe Biden.

Earlier this week, reports emerged that Martino was vacating the ordinary's traditional downtown residence at St Peter's Cathedral and relocating to the diocese's former seminary at Dalton, 15 miles outside the city. Additionally, however, several sources have indicated that many of the bishops's effects were likewise moved to St Charles Borromeo Seminary in his native Philadelphia. Fluent in six languages and made a bishop before 50, the church historian served on the faculty at the Overbrook house as a young priest, and is known to return there often in his downtime.

Likewise expected Monday is the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty, the oldest active American prelate, who reached the retirement age of 75 in April 2007. The shy, well-liked prelate was elevated to the episcopacy in 1995 under Martino's beloved predecessor, retired Bishop James Timlin.

SVILUPPO: Spotted this morning in the city's streets -- and in mufti, no less -- Martino was all smiles:
[W]alking on Penn Avenue today on his way to an appointment, Bishop Martino, wearing a polo shirt and no clerical collar, said he cannot comment on news of his resignation.

"I'm very sorry. You'll have to work with Bill Genello, OK," he said, referring to the diocesan spokesman....

Bishop Martino said today he is moving to Dalton "because it's quiet out there" and referred to the disruption caused by last week's fire at the Community Bake Shop Building two blocks away from the rectory.

"After the fire the other night, I decided I need a little quiet in my life," he said.
PHOTO: Scranton Times-Tribune(2)