Zubik named bishop of Diocese of Pittsburgh

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(Published at 6:08 a.m.; updated at 10:47 a.m.)

Bishop David Zubik of Green Bay, Wis., a popular former auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh, has been named bishop of his hometown Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Bishop David Zubik
Related coverage

Past bishops of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh
Reader forum: What do you think of the selection?
Announcement from the Diocese of Green Bay, including a description of Bishop Zubic's tenure there
Post-Gazette archives: Pittsburgh's auxiliary bishop to take over Green Bay diocese, 10/11/03

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Listen to the press conference (Warning: Large file -- 14.4MB)

His Mass of installation will be held Sept. 28 in St. Paul Cathedral, Oakland. Today's announcement was made at 6 a.m. in Washington, D.C., by Msgr. Martin Krebs of the Vatican nunciature.

At a news conference this morning, Bishop Zubik called his appointment "a blessing that I will not take lightly."

"As I stand here today with my heart racing and knees knocking, I am both stunned and excited."

He gave thanks to his predecessors in Pittsburgh, especially Donald Wuerl, who last year became the archbishop of Washington, D.C. Bishop Zubik worked with Archbishop Wuerl for 16 years in administration of the diocese, and Bishop Zubik called him his mentor.

He also saluted Auxiliary Bishop Paul Bradley, who has been the administrator of the diocese since Archbishop Wuerl's departure. That drew long applause from people who had gathered for the press conference.

Bishop Zubik said that some people say that when a bishop is appointed, there is always a guardian angel. Then he became choked up and paused before saying his angel was in heaven, his late mother, whose mausoleum he visited early today.

He also referred to his father, calling him an outspoken Steelers fan in Green Bay. Although the bishop was informed of his appointment July 9, he couldn't tell his father until yesterday because he feared all of Pittsburgh would know before it was official.

Bishop Zubik also joked with the reporters, saying he was amused that newspapers immediately had him on the list of candidates to succeed Archbishop Wuerl.

"I never thought I had a chance of coming back to Pittsburgh," he said, partly because he had not been in Green Bay very long.

The new bishop is being hailed as a holy man who knows the diocese inside and out. The Ambridge native spent most of his ministry here and held top posts under Bishop Wuerl, who became archbishop of Washington, D.C., in May 2006. His selection is considered a vote for administrative continuity in a diocese that is viewed as one of the best run in the nation.

"I was truly honored to serve the wonderful people of Green Bay. Green Bay became my new home. Now, Pittsburgh is my home again," Bishop Zubik said in a steement released early today. "I love the church of Pittsburgh. I love being part of the [priesthood] of Pittsburgh once again, I love the people of Pittsburgh, it is a wonderful church -- very much alive in Christ."

Archbishop Wuerl, who is belived to have been instrumental in the appointment, said, "Personally, I rejoice with the news of this appointment. I am very pleased for what it will mean to the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop Zubik knows, loves and has served the church of Pittsburgh, and has walked with it through all of its many moments of challenge and development for the past 20 years. My prayer is that God will bless him and his ministry and, of course, the church of Pittsburgh."

"I think this appointment will be greeted with the most amount of happiness in the widest circles in Pittsburgh," said the Rev. Louis Vallone, pastor of St. John of God parish, McKees Rocks.

In Green Bay, Sister Mary Jo Kirt, a "parish director" who runs a church without a resident pastor, said he would be missed.

"He is a very prayerful, spiritual leader. He is strong in working for social justice, and for the spiritual renewal of the people," she said.

Bishop Zubik fits a pattern of Pope Benedict choosing intellectually savvy men with diplomatic personalities, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center, who studies the Catholic hierarchy.

Pope Benedict is "not looking for people who are aggressive or confrontational," he said.

The grandson of Polish and Slovak immigrants, he is the only child of retired grocer Stanley Zubik and the late Susan Zubik.

He entered seminary after graduation from St. Veronica High School, Ambridge, finishing his studies at St. Mary Seminary, Baltimore.

Ordained in May, 1975, he spent five years as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart parish, Shadyside. He then became vice-principal of Quigley High School, Baden. Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua chose him as his secretary in 1987.

Under Bishop Wuerl, he rose to become general secretary and vicar general of the diocese, overseeing day-to-day operations. Pope John Paul II made him an auxiliary bishop in 1997, and bishop of Green Bay in Oct. 2003.

There he is in the midst of a reorganization intended to reduce the number of parishes from 182 to 161 by 2010. He had a major role in a similar reorganization here in the 1990s.

Although the mergers and closures of schools and parishes have sparked protests, Bishop Zubik's people skills have taken the edge off parishioners' anger, said Paul Wadell, professor of religious studies at St. Norbert College, DePere, Wis.

"He sees himself foremost as pastor of the diocese and has reached out to people to try to be a supportive presence. I think he's been a very good listener," he said.

Green Bay has 346,000 Catholics in 16 counties with 111 active diocesan priests for 168 parishes. Pittsburgh has 764,000 Catholics in six counties, with 282 active diocesan priests for 214 parishes, according to the 2007 Official Catholic Directory.

Bishop Zubik also had to respond to a malaise that had settled over his diocese because his predecessor was a former auxiliary bishop of Boston who a grand jury report had castigated for impeding criminal investigations of suspected child molesters.

He met early on with representatives of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. But that group has criticized him -- and most U.S. bishops -- for not naming priests who were accused of sexual abuse but never sued or charged with a crime.

He has apologized publicly to abuse victims. Last fall he held a "prayer service of apology" to anyone ever hurt by the church.

"I think of people who have been offended by sharp remarks, perhaps in the sacrament of Confession or during a church meeting. I think of anyone who feels they were treated unjustly in the church's employment," he said in issuing the invitation.

Dr. Wadell believes "he did a good job of turning things around in terms of creating a better atmosphere in the church."

He has gained experience with laity running parishes without resident priests, a measure Pittsburgh has just begun to try.

On the political front, Bishop Zubik was featured in the Washington Post just before the 2004 presidential election, when he urged Catholics to consider church teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage when they went to the polls.

However, he has said that while Catholic politicians who support legal abortion should refrain from going to communion, he would not order his priests to refuse them if they came forward.

He has been vocal against the death penalty and in favor of immigration reform. In May he opposed a proposed Green Bay ordinance to deny professional licenses to businesses that hired illegal immigrants.

Nationally, he is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on the Laity, and their liaison to the National Advisory Council of lay Catholics and rank-and-file priests who review and critique projects that the bishops are working on.

"The fact that he has that assignment shows that he's someone who is good at working with lay people," Father Reese said.

Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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