LA CROSSE, Wis. –– “It’s all yours, Bill.”
These were the words Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee spoke to Bishop William P. Callahan as, for a brief moment, the two men stood together at the front doors of the La Crosse cathedral waiting for the procession to go forward.
Technically, the handover took place later during the Aug. 11 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman to install Bishop Callahan as the Diocese of La Crosse’s 10th bishop.
A Conventual Franciscan friar from Chicago and an auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee since 2007, Bishop Callahan officially took possession of the diocese when he sat in the cathedra — the bishop’s chair – for the first time and received his crosier from Archbishop Listecki, his predecessor in La Crosse before he was appointed to Milwaukee.
Yet from the new bishop’s joyous smile even before the liturgy began, as he clasped his immediate predecessor’s hand at the threshold of the cathedral, there was no doubt that the handover was a reality already in the making.
His was a smile that only grew wider when Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume – representing Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio to the United States – read from the papal bull appointing Bishop Callahan to La Crosse.
Pope Benedict XVI’s words were met with thunderous applause from the thousand-plus clergy, dignitaries and lay faithful from throughout the diocese and elsewhere who packed the cathedral for the invitation-only liturgy.
“I knew that I was turning the diocese over to someone who would love this community that I have grown to love,” Archbishop Listecki said afterward in an interview with the diocesan paper, The Catholic Times. “And I know that this community will love its new shepherd.”
In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Callahan soberly acknowledged the “justifiable anger, disappointment and frustration concerning the issue of the sexual abuse crisis.”
“No pain we feel as a church can ever equal the pain of those who have been harmed by clergy sexual abuse,” Bishop Callahan said. “To the victims and survivors of such abuse, I apologize for the harm that has been done. I apologize personally, sincerely and humbly. We cannot replace that pain, but we can work together with those who have been hurt to bring about some healing.”
“Most importantly,” he continued, “we pledge our firm resolve to do everything possible to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again. As Pope John Paul II said: ‘There is no place in the priesthood for anyone who would harm a child.’ I agree.”
He urged Catholics throughout the diocese – who were inundated with media reports of a priest’s arrest for alleged possession of child pornography only weeks before the installation – to stand with him in difficult times “with a sense of heroism and commitment.”
Bishop Callahan thanked the pope for entrusting the Diocese of La Crosse to his care. He also acknowledged the presence of two of his predecessors: Archbishop Listecki and Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Vatican’s high court, who served as La Crosse’s bishop from 1994 to 2004.
Also present for the installation Mass was Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who was archbishop of Milwaukee when Bishop Callahan was named an auxiliary bishop there, as well as more than two dozen other active and retired bishops from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.
Several hundred clergy vested for the Mass, including many priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and friars from the Chicago-based Conventual Franciscan Province of St. Bonaventure, to which Bishop Callahan belongs.
In his homily, Bishop Callahan praised religious men and women and priests of the diocese for their service in the Lord’s vineyard. “I promise you that I will be steadfast in my support for you and do my best with you as spiritual father, brother and friend,” he told the priests of the diocese.
To the lay faithful of the diocese, whom he greeted at a reception after the Mass, Bishop Callahan directed the famous words of St. Augustine: “With you, I am a Christian. For you, I am a bishop.”
“I will seek you out whether you’re in a cow barn or an office building, on a hay bailer or operating an MRI machine,” he said in his homily. “Wherever you are, you are God’s own creation, special and unique; you are redeemed by the precious blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I am your bishop.”