Friday, June 12, 2009

Live from Bourbon Street

Lest anyone was wondering about last night's quote, now you know.

More importantly, though, Greg Aymond returned to very familiar turf this morning in his first appearance since being named archbishop of New Orleans before dawn.

Held at the house he rectored for 14 years, the traditional Appointment Day presser (video) at the Crescent City's Notre Dame Seminary came complete with impromptu intervention from an elated, 96 year-old Archbishop Philip Hannan, who ordained Aymond a priest and paved his third successor's upward path.

Meanwhile, longtime religion-scribe Bruce Nolan's afternoon wrap for the venerable Times-Picayune is a keeper:

Standing in between the archbishop he will replace and the one that ordained him 34 years ago, Bishop Gregory Aymond said this morning he will not "second guess" retired Archbishop Alfred Hughes' decision to shut down and consolidate several Catholic parishes as part of a controversial post-Katrina recovery plan.

However, Aymond said he will work toward "reconciliation" with anyone who has been hurt or angered by the archdiocesan reorganization....

When [retiring Archbishop Alfred] Hughes took the podium, he alluded the tumultuous events during his tenure -- the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 2002 clergy sexual abuse scandal, Hurricane Katrina, the post-Katrina re-organization and the current economic downturn.

Hughes said he understands his decisions were often controversial and occasionally hurt long-time Catholics in his care.

But he said he made all his decisions after "careful consideration and prayerful discernment."

"I want publicly to express my sorrow and beg forgiveness for those who experienced continued hurt or also experienced anger," he said. "I have never wanted in anyway to hurt anyone. Obviously, difficult decisions do hurt people in ways that we don't want."...

During a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, Aymond was asked about a 1999 case in which a man told Aymond and other church authorities that Brian Matherne, a coach at Sacred Heart School in Norco, had for years molested his son, who was then 24.

Aymond and other officials tried unsuccessfully to speak to the young man, and failing to do so, left the coach in his job for months after receiving the complaint.

The youth later told his story directly to the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office. Matherne was eventually arrested, pleaded guilty to multiple sex abuse charges and is in the middle of serving a nearly 30-year prison term in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issued a statement just hours after the Vatican announced the new appointment claiming Aymond only "postures as someone who takes clergy sex crimes seriously."

"But he acts in largely the same reckless, callous and secretive manner that most bishops long have and still do," the statement added.

Aymond said, "We did everything we could do legally and followed the law. I'm open to meet with those offended and hurt (by the handling of the case)" and with all victims of sex abuse....

In New Orleans, Aymond will be charged with managing the next phase of the Catholic church's recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

The storm drove away nearly a quarter of its former membership and left it with nearly $300 million in physical damage.

Hughes has set the church on a recovery path that consolidated what were once about 142 parishes into 108 -- but not without bitter controversy that still endures.

Indeed, scores of families in two closed parishes have said they have been waiting for Hughes' departure to ask his successor to reopen their churches, at least part-time.

His inbound plane delayed, the archbishop-elect is rushing back to his home of the last decade for a 4pm media meetup in Austin, where he's scheduled to celebrate a confirmation tonight.

Earlier this morning, Aymond sent a letter to his collaborators in Texas' capital... here's a snip:
This letter is very difficult to write. I wish I could communicate this message personally, but that is not possible.

I have been informed by Archbishop Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio, that our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has named me Archbishop of New Orleans.

Needless to say, this appointment creates in me very mixed feelings. I have been privileged to serve as the Bishop of Austin for the last nine years. Central Texas has become home. I have worked with a great group of priests who have become my brothers. The deacons, religious, diocesan and parish staffs have been most supportive and genuine co-workers in ministry. I have enjoyed our ministry together and being a part of this vibrant, fast-growing diocese. I am very grateful to God and to each of you.

I also feel humbled that the Holy Father has asked me to serve as Archbishop of New Orleans. In recent years, the city has gone through many changes and I am aware of the challenges ahead.

Today I write primarily to thank you for your ministry and to request your prayers for me in this time of transition....

I hold you and all the people of this diocese in my heart and in prayer. Please lift me to God in your prayers.
PHOTO: Ted Jackson/New Orleans Times-Picayune