Distressing departure creates uncertainty

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Welland Tribune

10 April 2010


My heart is heavy today. The bishop of my diocese, James Matthew Wingle, has resigned. I am at a loss to understand why.

I know this bishop from a distance. Closer than some. Farther than others. Somewhere in between, I suppose.

In December, I sat next to him at theVineyard Christmas dinner. Vineyard is the diocesan newspaper, to which I am a contributor.

The evening was laid back and relaxed, as were so many others that were held over the years. He was outgoing, welcoming, affable, eloquent.

I recall some of our chatter and conversation during dinner at Dom’s Resto Bar in downtown St. Catharines: spousal illness, joys and trials of young

adulthood, unemployment and underemployment in Niagara.

I talked.

He listened. When needed, he offered understanding and comfort.

As in past years, Bishop Wingle was asked to say a few words. Some people are meant to be after-dinner speakers. Bishop Wingle is one. He rose to his feet. He is quick on his feet. He regaled us with humorous stories, cracked a joke or two.

He offered warm words of praise to the people who pool their talents and time to put out theVineyard,all volunteers.

When my father died in October, 2008, Bishop Wingle came to his wake. He did not know my father. But he knows my wife and I. He hugged us, shook the hands of others in my family and offered condolence. He said a few words to my mother, put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She smiled a weak smile, but still a smile. I was moved and grateful for his attendance. He did not have to be there. Gestures like that are not forgotten.

We shared a common interest: roses. We talked about them on occasion. He lamented the bad luck he had trying to grow them. He admitted frustration over black spot and rust. He asked for tips. I shared some secrets. I recommended dependable, hardy roses to put on his list. In return for my tips I asked for his prayers. I believe I got the better of the deal.

This bishop, when he wanted to, could be so much a man of the people. When he came to a parish like Sacre Coeur, the French parish on Welland’s Empire St., in the heart of what was called Frenchtown, he spoke “en francais” and he did so fluently, many people have said. When he came to a parish like St. Mary’s on Hellems Ave., which still serves Italians in our community though not nearly the number as decades ago, he spoke to them in Italian, also fluently.

He was skilled at fitting in that way.

He came to Soup’sOn!, the annual social justice scholarship fundraiser held at my parish, St. Kevin. Not just this year, but six or seven previous years as well. For one thing, he liked soup. For another, he liked mingling with people.

Three years ago, he won one of the half and half draws that were held at the luncheon. When his number was called, he went to the front of the parish hall to claim the prize, about a hundred dollars.

He returned his winnings to the organizers. The draw was a fundraiser for the parish food bank. His winnings went to the food bank.

News of his resignation broke on Wednesday of this week. In his letter he said, “I am no longer able to maintain the necessary stamina to fulfil properly my duties.”

I don’t think I am exaggerating in saying this decision came as a bombshell. The after-effects still are rippling across the diocese, a diocese that Bishop Wingle, in his letter to clergy, deacons, religious and the faithful, said he loved.

There is deep sadness and great distress here now for various reasons.

One of them is optics. Some people choose to see this week’s events in St. Catharines diocese through a bad light. It does not look good, they say.

Another is timing. Because of sexual abuse scandals in Europe and the U.S., and the pope’s alleged complicity in cover-ups, the timing for a move such as this could not have been worse. This is what people have been thinking, then whispering, then saying.

These events: the bishop’s letter of resignation, the acceptance by the pope, the bishop’s speedy departure unfolded all too quickly, which is adding to the mystery.

Though not yet despairing, I am distressed, I am

disillusioned. I am distraught about having been left hanging in such a way.

The bishop of my diocese has resigned. And as so many others are, I am at a loss to understand why.

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