Passing of Bishop Moynihan: Matt's Memo

Syracuse Bishop James Moynihan.

I walked into the grand lobby of the Waldorf Astoria and found Bishop James Moynihan smiling his gentle smile. We were both in New York City in April of 2008 for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. The Bishop made the trip to Manhattan to be in the presence of the Pope. The Bishop always offered a familiar, gentle greeting.

We talked about the strength of the Holy Father. He was in the midst of pulling in the reins on the global church, focusing on a more traditional liturgy and core values of Catholicism. Bishop Moynihan respected the Pope and had met him on a couple of occasions prior to his elevation.

We also talked that afternoon about the Church apologizing for the acts of priests who abused children over the decades. Pope Benedict met with victims on that American tour. After a distinguished career as a priest and administrator, a dark spot in Bishop Moynihan's later years was his reluctance to see the abuse scandal from the point of view of the victims. His concern for the welfare of priests seemed to carry as much weight as his concern for the harmed children.

We had talked about this sensitive issue in Dallas during an interview circa 2002. That's when the United States Conference of Bishops met to adopt the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. That was the period when the nation was coming to terms with the extent of abuse within the church. Bishop Moynihan admitted he was learning what that abuse was about and working on how best to handle the offending clergy in the Syracuse Diocese.

We had other conversations along the way that were not about difficult subject matter. The death of Pope John Paul II offered another opportunity for him to share stories of his encounters with the Pope which included a push to elevate Mother Marianne Cope to sainthood. The twinkle in Bishop Moynihan's eye would come out as he shared the joy of the gifts of Pope John Paul II.

We have known the retired Bishop has been in failing health for some time. He was a man of faith. An imperfect person who believed in forgiveness. In the morning, Timothy Cardinal Dolan will arrive from the Archdiocese of New York to eulogize his colleague. His booming voice and broad smile will fill the Cathedral and surely uplift the Catholic community mourning the loss of one of their leaders.

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