Tuesday, February 23, 2010

He Shall Be Peace: Bambera Gets Scranton... For Good

Good morning... and as expected, the gang up the Blue Route can officially start dancing: the Pope has named Msgr Joseph Bambera, 53 -- native son, "very much loved" pastor of two parishes, the day-to-day overseer of the Scranton diocese these last six months -- as Northeast Pennsylvania's tenth bishop.

Just shy of the six-month timetable Cardinal Justin Rigali set for the succession to the 350,000-member church, the apostolic administrator delivered, by all appearances with the cleric who was his first choice to succeed Bishop Joseph Martino, whose stormy six-year tenure ended with the embattled 63 year-old's early resignation on 31 August.

A former chair of the diocese's presbyteral council, regional dean and tribunal judge in addition to five pastorates, the bishop-elect quit Martino's curia in 2007 to return to parish life. Two years later, three weeks after the roof of one of his parishes caved in, Bambera re-emerged as Rigali's surprise pick to essentially run the diocese during the vacancy, after Rome's freshly-named administrator bypassed the leadership team Martino had left behind.

One of the Stateside church's most solid bastions, its "formidable challenges" on the personnel, pastoral and financial fronts as staggering as they've been decades in the making, the move gives Scranton a second native son among its last three bishops... and a particularly cherished one at that.

Since August, many testimonies to the nominee's traits -- prayerfulness, people-savvy, "good guy" -- have been quietly registered. Of them all, one -- from a local who's known the nominee for some four decades -- sums the rest up:
About Joe Bambera... he’s definitely not a prima donna, he’s a gentle soul with a quiet presence. His intelligence goes without question as does his goodness. He’s a really good guy and steady. Ever since ordination, Joe has taken on greater and greater responsibility in the diocese... he would be a great choice because he’s a hometown guy and knows the diocese and its people because they are his family. The priests trust Joe and they really need someone they can trust right now. This mess is not going to get cleaned up very quickly but the right choice in a bishop could save it from a cascade effect into total ruin. Joe would have the support of the priests, I think. That could make all the difference.
Within weeks of the Labor Day handover, Bambera set into patching up one of the higher-profile faceoffs of the Martino era -- the former bishop's withdrawal of recognition from the diocesan high-school teachers union.

The 2007 move sparked public protests, and even the proposal of statewide legislation which would've forced Pennsylvania's Catholic schools to recognize unions (a move that reportedly sent shockwaves through the Keystone State's church leadership).

After meeting with the delegate, union leader Michael Milz said he found the session "very encouraging."

And as he heads into the hot seat on a permanent basis, Bambera could use all the encouragement he can get.

In accord with the norms of the canons, the bishop-elect must be ordained and installed within four months of this morning's appointment. As previously noted, a 10am Eastern press conference has already been announced -- livestream link to come.

PHOTO: Scranton Times-Tribune/File