Bishop Anthony G. Bosco, known for his quick wit, technical innovation and emphasis on lay leadership during 17 years at the helm of the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, died Tuesday night at the age of 85.
He passed away in his Unity home while watching his beloved Pirates, with his faithful West Highland white terrier, Joshua II, at his side.
"He died the way he would have wanted to," said Monsignor Roger Statnick, pastor of St. Sebastian in Belle Vernon, and for years one of his closest aides.
Bishop Bosco sought to spread the gospel by empowering the laity and using popular media. He co-authored a 1987 statement on AIDS that was hammered in Rome for saying that condoms had a role in prevention, but he never disavowed it. Some church members heaped criticism on him for merging parishes in rapidly shrinking mill towns, but he answered nearly every letter and email personally.
"His vision was the Second Vatican Council's understanding of the church as involving everyone in the movement of the mystery of God in the world," Monsignor Statnick said.
Bishop Lawrence Brandt, who succeeded him in Greensburg in 2004, called him a "faith-filled humble servant of the Lord who loved his priesthood and the church."
His body will be received at 3:30 p.m. Monday in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, Greensburg. Visitation will follow from 4-9 p.m., with evening prayer at 7 p.m.
Visitation will continue from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday. Bishop Brandt will celebrate Mass at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and viewing will continue from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia presiding.
Bishop Bosco was the son of a North Side tailor. Ordained in 1952, he loved his three years at St. Patrick in Canonsburg so much that he wept the night before he left for Rome to study canon law on the orders of Bishop John Dearden.
He returned to work in the chancery but treasured a pastoral outlet as an assistant chaplain at Mercy Hospital. During Vatican II, he often went to confer with Bishop John Wright in Rome, where he was inspired by the vision of the church as the people of God, engaging the world with the news of the gospel.
When he became an auxiliary bishop in 1970, he chose as his motto "To serve, not to reign."
With cable television in its infancy, he launched a diocesan teaching program.
Bishop Bosco mentored a seminarian who rose to become bishop and is now Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
"I always found him a friend. You could go to him for advice. It would be direct, but sound," Cardinal Wuerl said.
Bishop Bosco advised him never to run away from tough questions from the media.
"He said you have to be prepared to face the issues. The important thing is to know what you're talking about,'" Cardinal Wuerl said.
In 1987, Pope John Paul II assigned him to Greensburg. Father Ronald Lengwin accompanied him there before the announcement.
"On the way, he stopped at the cathedral in Greensburg and prayed. I remember the deep emotion and deep feeling in that prayer. I had never seen that side of him before. He was always the man with the sharp wit and the quick laugh. Now I saw the depth of his faith," he said.
He was very different from his grandfatherly predecessor.
"He was interested in media technology," said Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, his former chancellor. "He brought new ideas, new ways of thinking. His big push was involvement of the laity."
He had his staff reinvent the parish council, transforming it from a body that voted on nuts-and-bolts details to a "pastoral council" that worked by consensus to set a long-term vision. Mary Ann Gubish designed the overhaul as director of the Office for Parish Life, and the model has been adopted worldwide.
"The man loved to empower people. He wasn't at all intimidated or threatened by anyone else's gifts," she said.
He started a television program, and his columns in the diocesan newspaper won high praise for depth and humor.
"He wanted the church to engage people. The phrase we developed was 'the journey of a lifetime.' His idea was that we are on a journey of faith, discovering ourselves, discovering our relationship to Jesus Christ," Bishop Persico said.
He quickly computerized diocesan operations, christening his own desktop HAL, after the menace in "2001: A Space Odyssey." He linked all parishes by email and commissioned a cutting edge website in the mid-1990s.
"We believe we are helping God to be on the Net," he said.
As chairman of the U.S. bishops' communications committee, he drew national attention and Vatican scrutiny.
In 1987, he was co-author of "The Many Faces of AIDS," which said it could be appropriate to provide "factual information" in a moral context about condoms. Although the Catholic Church had no official teaching on condom use for disease prevention, the U.S. bishops relegated it to obscurity after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, then head of the Vatican's doctrinal office, denounced it.
"I haven't changed my opinion on it one bit," Bishop Bosco said in 2002. Catholic health workers had told him that "if you try to persuade [some sexually active carriers] to be abstinent, you don't get anywhere with them," he said. "Well then, in the name of God, at least don't spread the infection."
In 1988, he previewed the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ," which some Christians planned to protest for its depiction of Jesus having a sexual fantasy.
He pronounced it "boring ... but probably not blasphemous." He predicted a quick death at the box office if no one protested.
He was a founding board member of VISN, an interfaith cable channel that ultimately became part of the Hallmark Channel. He wanted the bishops to present a broader depiction of faith than that offered by Mother Angelica on her independent EWTN.
He wasn't always loved. A group in Monessen was so angry about the merger of five parishes that it put up a billboard denouncing him.
He advocated a new translation of the Mass that would have used gender-neutral terms, such as changing "brothers" to "brothers and sisters." Rome rejected it.
"I think it's the F-word -- feminism -- that frightens some people," he said at the time.
He was among the first bishops in the nation to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for priests who had molested minors.
In 1992 he adopted Joshua, a West Highland white terrier.
"He was like a parent with a child," said Pamela Merlino, his longtime secretary.
As retirement approached, he didn't want to abandon Joshua to enter a retirement center and built a house where they could live together. Joshua sat in the chapel when he said daily Mass and was beside him on his piano bench as he played Gershwin. He took Joshua to be a therapy dog at a Catholic nursing home.
He was devastated when Joshua died five years ago, Ms. Merlino said. But eventually he adopted a Westy pup, Joshua II.
He taught at Seton Hill University and was still teaching an online religion class for the University of Dayton. He led a neighborhood Bible study.
The bishop, who sometimes grumbled that the hierarchy preached to the choir, was delighted with the election of Pope Francis, Monsignor Statnick said.
"He was encouraged by Pope Francis' simpler style and clear, direct language," he said.
Bishop Bosco is survived by a brother, James J. Bosco of Kalamazoo, Mich.
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416. First Published July 3, 2013 10:15 AM