SEATTLE — The Vatican today named a new archbishop to lead Western Washington Catholics, Bishop J. Peter Sartain of Joliet, Ill.
Sartain, 58, will replace Archbishop Alex. J. Brunett, who had been archbishop in Seattle since 1997. Brunett announced his retirement in January 2009 at the age of 75.
A native of Memphis, Tenn., Sartain served in the Diocese of Joliet for four years before his appointment to Seattle. He attended St. Meinrad College in Indiana, studied at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, and earned a licentiate of sacred theology in Rome in 1979.
In 2000, he was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark. In 2006, he moved to Joliet, a suburb of Chicago, where led a community of about 650,000 Catholics.
The Seattle archdiocese has grown steadily over the past 20 years, from about 350,000 Catholics to about 600,000 across western Washington.
Doug Delaney, Sartain’s executive assistant in Illinois, said the Joliet Diocese is sad to see Sartain go but happy for him.
“When the pope calls, you go,” he said.
The Spanish-speaking Sartain led efforts to welcome the Latino community to his diocese, Delaney said.
His new appointment, by Pope Benedict XVI, was announced in Washington, D.C., by Archbishop Pietro Sambi. Sartain will be the youngest archbishop in the U.S., according to the Seattle Times.
During Brunett’s nearly 13-year tenure, the Seattle archdiocese was more financially stable than dioceses that have been forced to close parishes. It has established five new parishes and opened five schools. The archdiocese’s annual fundraising appeal raised a record $13 million last year.
The archdiocese covers a large geographic area and is diverse ethnically, culturally, economically and politically. Much of its growth has come from immigration, especially Hispanics, who make up an estimated 1 in 4 of all Catholics in the archdiocese, according to The Seattle Times.
Sartain will have to manage the church’s continuing clergy sexual abuse crisis.
While the archdiocese has put child-protection policies and procedures in place that have won praise from a national bishops’ group, it has also been criticized by victims’ advocates, who say the archdiocese is too secretive and not doing enough to urge other victims to come forward.
The archdiocese has paid about $42 million in settlements, counseling and attorney’s fees to about 300 victims over the past 23 years, with about 70 percent of the money paid by insurance companies.