Monday, December 01, 2008

In Sacto, the Chair Passes

On the 15th anniversary of his appointment as Sacramento's eighth ordinary, Bishop William Weigand took the chair one last time in the California capital's Blessed Sacrament Cathedral yesterday before ritually handing the reins of the 900,000-member diocese to his coadjutor of a year, Bishop Jaime Soto.

A diocesan bishop since 1980 -- when he was named to Salt Lake at 43 -- the long-planned transition formally took effect Saturday morning when the Vatican accepted the resignation of the 71 year-old prelate, who's said he's been looking forward to "a break" after 28 years in the hot seat, particularly following a 2004 liver transplant.
"It's been a great honor and privilege to be your bishop," Weigand said. He cited many changes in the diocese during his years as bishop, including the renovation of the cathedral, the opening of Cristo Rey High School, and the first diocesan synod held in the diocese in 75 years.

The normally reserved Weigand became emotional as he listed "what God has accomplished through us." Near the end of his homily, Weigand looked at Soto and said: "You are inheriting a very special flock."

When he was done, worshippers gave Weigand a standing ovation.

Weigand, 71, announced his retirement earlier this year, saying his age, health and the knowledge that he was leaving the diocese in good hands helped him make his decision to step down.

Soto, 52, who has served as coadjutor for a year, will become the ninth bishop of the Sacramento diocese.

Parishioners said Weigand will be missed.

"He's very caring and compassionate and deeply devoted," said Angelo DeStefano, a member of St. Mary's of Sacramento.

Weigand's tenure has not been without controversy. In 2004, Weigand publicly asked Gov. Gray Davis to "have the integrity" to stop receiving Holy Communion until he changed his stance on abortion. He also dealt with the clergy sexual abuse crisis. In 2005, the Sacramento diocese paid $35 million to settle 33 claims of abuse.

Weigand mentioned the challenges he faced during his years as bishop, including a health crisis. In 2005, he underwent a liver transplant.

Weigand plans to travel during his retirement but will make his home in Sacramento. "My heart longs to spend more time with the Lord," Weigand said.

After the homily, Weigand's coat of arms was replaced with Soto's, which reads: "Gozo y Esperanza," – "Joy and Hope" in Spanish. The staff was handed over, and Soto took the bishop's seat.

"It has been an honor to serve with you and be guided by you," Soto said.
May Weigand have his predecessor's vitality and length of days; Francis Quinn, the diocese's seventh bishop, remains well and kickin' at 87, ministering until recently from an RV to Native American communities in Arizona.

In a strange twist of irony, however, the weekend's top-story on the Central Valley's church-beat wasn't the Sacto handover... but the local parish priest who urged his flock to repent for voting "pro-abortion." (On a related note, the USCCB president, Cardinal Francis George OMI of Chicago, was received in private audience this morning by Pope Benedict... for the second time in a month.)

And so it is, and so it goes.

PHOTO: Carl Costas/Sacramento Bee