Inland Northwest Catholics celebrated the installation of Bishop Blase Cupich on Friday, filling the McCarthey Athletic Center at Gonzaga University with applause, music and hope that better times are coming.
The installation Mass welcoming Cupich as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane was attended by more than two dozen bishops from around the country. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who serves as Pope Benedict XVI’s diplomatic representative to the United States, read the appointment papers and was the leading figure in the ceremony steeped in tradition and formality, along with Seattle Archbishop Alex J. Brunett.
A few thousand people filled the arena and watched as dozens of priests wearing white robes filed into seats on the main floor. The bishops, wearing miters and flowing, cream-colored vestments, were seated behind Cupich. The Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Honor Guard, wearing chapeaux – ceremonial hats adorned with an ostrich plume – also added flair to the installation, just the sixth in nearly a century in Spokane.
During his homily, Cupich set right to work trying to persuade the region’s 101,000 Catholics that they must not give up on their church despite what he described as their disgust and anger over the clergy sex abuse scandal that has bankrupted the diocese and now threatens some parishes with church foreclosures.
With schoolchildren seated throughout the crowd, Cupich – appointed to Spokane after 12 years as bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D. – told the adults at the gathering that the children would be watching to see how the church responds.
He focused on the story of Doubting Thomas, a disciple who struggled to accept the central tenet of the Christian faith – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until Thomas touched the crucifixion wounds of Christ that he finally believed.
Cupich, 61, equated these wounds to those inflicted on people who were molested as children by clergy.
While it’s been three decades since the last reported abuse occurred, Cupich said the issue is the calling of the modern church.
“We must touch these wounds,” he said, “as Doubting Thomas.” He called such action a risk that will heal the church and lead it through the crisis.
He has long been considered a leader on the issue for the church; he serves as chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.
His message was meant to reach far beyond the McCarthey Center. It was an appeal for the recommitment of parishioners, some of whom have left the church over the problems and others who are contemplating following suit.
It’s especially poignant at a time when the diocese may have to return to parishioners for more money as claims of abuse from decades ago continue to surface and get paid through a complicated bankruptcy process.
Cupich displayed a direct style that people afterward said they found comforting.
“He is well-spoken and confident,” said Fran Menzel, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s.
Her daughter, Becky Menzel, said he has an unenviable task.
“He’s going to have to make some very hard decisions,” she said. “I like what he had to say today.”