By Timothy Bolger, Rashed Mian & Christopher Twarowski
Pope Francis named Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown, Pa., to replace retiring Bishop William Murphy as leader of the Rockville Centre diocese, which includes 1.4 million Catholics on Long Island.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s U.S. ambassador, announced the decision Friday morning in Washington, D.C. Barres, 56, will become the fifth Bishop of Rockville Centre following a Mass of Installation at the Cathedral of Saint Agnes on Jan. 31.
“I must thank the priests and the entire people of God of the Diocese of Allentown, where I have had the great blessing of serving as bishop for the last 7 ½ years,” Barres said in a statement. “You will all always be in my heart, my memories, my prayers and my masses as I remember our days of ‘holiness and mission’ together.”
Murphy, 76, is retiring 15 years after being tapped to lead the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which ranks as the sixth-largest Catholic diocese in the nation. Under its umbrella are 133 parishes plus 1 campus parish, 57 Catholic schools, a Catholic college, and Catholic Health Services (CHS) of Long Island, which has six hospitals, three health care centers, four nursing homes, a home care and hospice network and a community-based agency for persons with special needs.
The outgoing diocesan leader has been no stranger to controversy, long criticized by child abuse watchdogs for allegedly protecting priests and clergy members accused of sexually abusing children and covering up their alleged crimes. Before his appointment by Pope John Paul II to succeed the late Bishop James T. McHugh to head the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 2001, Murphy served as Auxiliary Bishop of Boston—the epicenter of a sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church’s ranks ultimately exposed as a national and global crisis due to a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Boston Globe (basis for the 2015 Academy Award-winning film Spotlight).
Barres, a native of Larchmont in Westchester County and graduate of Princeton, had formerly served as a priest in Wilmington, Del. and was installed as the fourth bishop of Allentown in 2009. Accompanied by Murphy at a press conference within Monsignor Kelly Parish Center adjacent to St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre on Friday, he recalled fond memories of visiting Jones Beach with his family during his childhood and watching “The Doctor” Julius Erving dominate the court at Nassau Coliseum as a member of a CYO basketball team.
Barres also stressed the importance of parishes in supporting the global mission of Pope Francis—adding that he’d even chosen Francis as his confirmation name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.
“I have a passion for parish life and will always have the heart of a parish priest,” he said. “I am looking forward to experiencing the vibrant, welcoming, New Evangelization parishes of the diocese and reaching out together as Eucharistic Bridges of the Divine Mercy to the wonderful inactive Catholics in our midst.
“Pope Francis says that ‘Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s Mercy—Mercy is the beating heart of the Gospel and Mercy is the Mission of the Church,'” he continued. “Our parishes are the living bridges and ‘oases’ of that Mercy, Communion and Mission to the world. In our parishes, our families are enriched by the inspired Word of God, the cosmic power of the Mass and the Eucharistic community of faith.”
“Vibrant parish life in turn inspires and equips our families to bring their Catholic faith into the neighborhood, the workplace, the public square and every inch of our global society,” added Barres.
The new bishop-designate emphasized the power families wield in transforming the world and breaking “the chains of global indifference, consumerism, superficial living,” additionally explaining Catholics’ role in helping improve lives and resolve hardships in countless predicaments across the globe:
“We live the parable of the Good Samaritan first within our own marriages and families and then to the poor family, the family living in the crucible of war, violence and persecution, the hurting family, the grieving family, the family reeling from tragedy and trauma, the family that has experienced the agony of sexual abuse and all forms of abuse including abuse by clergy, the broken family, the immigrant and refugee family separated by long distances, the family tending to members that deal with serious sickness and health issues, the family of the war veteran suffering with PTSD and the family taking care of an elderly relative with Alzheimer’s/Dementia.”
“It is my deep conviction that [Barres] will be a Bishop for all of us without exception,” said Murphy. “He has shared with me his love of youth and his care for the elderly. He has a keen sense of parish life and has a special expertise in education.”
Murphy also touted Barres’ support of the nonprofit Catholic Charities mission to help the needy, parish outreach and interfaith cooperation as the fourth Bishop of Allentown, where he worked to strengthen Catholic schools, enhance evangelization and improve the financial condition of the diocese.
Featured Photo: Pope Francis named Bishop John O. Barres (L) of Allentown, Pa., to replace retiring Bishop William Murphy (R) as leader of the Rockville Centre diocese. (Long Island Press / Rashed Mian)