Archbishop pledges healing in Phoenix

Catholics say letter from diocese's interim leader is reassuring


Associated Press

PHOENIX – Parishioners said they were pleased Sunday by a message delivered at churches throughout the city in which the new, interim leader of the troubled Catholic Diocese of Phoenix promised to be "an instrument of reconciliation."

Frank and Tracy Pecora, who attended Mass at St. Mary's Basilica in downtown Phoenix, said they thought the letter by Archbishop Michael Sheehan hit the mark.

"It was very positive and encouraging," Mr. Pecora said.

In the letter, which was read at some Catholic services and distributed to worshippers at others, Archbishop Sheehan said brighter days are ahead for the diocese, which has been rocked by the resignation of its bishop and sex-abuse allegations against priests.

"Like the Phoenix bird rising from the ashes, the church of Phoenix will rise to new heights," Archbishop Sheehan wrote. "My heart goes out to all who are hurting."

Archbishop Sheehan, the leader of the Diocese of Santa Fe, N.M., was appointed to temporarily lead the Phoenix Diocese on Wednesday after Bishop Thomas O'Brien stepped down. Bishop O'Brien was charged last week in a hit-and-run that killed pedestrian Jim Reed, 43.

At the time of the accident, Bishop O'Brien was already facing criticism over an immunity deal with prosecutors that spared him indictment on obstruction charges for protecting priests accused of child molestation.

In a paragraph specifically mentioning Mr. Reed's family and abuse victims, Archbishop Sheehan's letter asked for forgiveness on behalf on the church. He also thanked Bishop O'Brien for his service.

"Under his leadership, the diocese has grown," Archbishop Sheehan wrote. "And now we pray for him in his time of darkness."

On Sunday, parishioners echoed Archbishop's Sheehan's often-quoted advice to put faith in God, not fallible human servants.

"I don't come to worship the priests or bishops, but to worship God," said Gloria Abril of Phoenix.

Ms. Abril said she has known Bishop O'Brien for 30 years. She said she thinks Archbishop Sheehan is a good fit for the diocese.

"He's good, he's fair and he's open. He's not dodging anything," Ms. Abril said. "This is a start of a new beginning, a new healing."