Pope Appoints New Archbishop For Hartford Archdiocese

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BishopHARTFORD – Pope Francis on Tuesday announced the appointment of Bishop Leonard Blair, the bishop of Toledo, Ohio, as Hartford’s new archbishop.

With Archbishop Henry J. Mansell past the mandatory retirement age of 75, the Archdiocese of Hartford has scheduled a press conference on Tuesday morning.

“Pope Francis appoints Bishop Leonard Blair as my successor,’’ Mansell tweeted this morning. “He has my heartfelt congratulations, prayers and support.”

Blair, 64, will officially be installed on Dec. 16..

Mansell, who turned 76 on Oct. 10, has served Catholics in Hartford since 2003, when he arrived from the Buffalo archdiocese to take over for retiring Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin. Earlier this year Mansell told WFSB’s “Face the State” program that in October 2012 he notified Pope Benedict XVI that he was ready to retire.

Church leaders will hold a press conference at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield at 10 a.m.

The Archdiocese of Hartford is made up of about 700,000 Catholics and 213 parishes. The diocese’s 500 priests are assisted by an additional 300 deacons. The church is the second-largest provider of social services in Connecticut, after the government.

The next archbishop will face a Catholic community with changing demographics, a shortage of priests and aging parishes where funerals are often more common than weddings. The Hartford archdiocese covers a sprawling region of affluent suburbs, rural communities and impoverished cities.

Rocco Palmo, whose “Whispers in the Loggia” is an influential Catholic blog, said the press release announcing Tuesday’s press conference “is almost universally the code that is used to convey a new bishop is going to named.”

“Those who are officially informed of the appointment are bound by what is called the ‘pontifical secret.’ You cannot divulge the news under pain of excommunication,’’ Palmo said.

The Rev. James Manship of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven, said Pope Francis has been clear about his vision for the future.

“He sends a pretty clear message to all of us,’’ Manship said. “It’s OK to be a poor church. It’s OK to take risks. He said to the young people in Brazil, ‘go back and make a racket.’

“He has given us a great example, to live a simple life and be close to Jesus and be close to the people.”

Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut and a Catholic, said Monday he anticipated the announcement of a new archbishop on Tuesday. He said he was not told of any details of Tuesday’s announcement.

“I don’t know for sure if that’s what the press conference is about, but I can’t imagine what else it could be,” Wolfgang said. “If it is the announcement of a new archbishop of Hartford, that is huge news for the Catholic faithful of the archdiocese and really, the entire state of Connecticut.

“The office holds tremendous importance for believing Catholics in the Archdiocese of Hartford,” Wolfgang said. “Every citizen in the state has a stake in this appointment.”

Mark Silk, professor of religion at Trinity College and director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, said the selections that Pope Francis makes are being closely scrutinized.

“Every appointment now is interesting because it gives some indication of whether and to what degree there is a new administration in Rome,’’ he said. “The appointment of bishops and archbishops sends a signal about what the priorities of the pope are. Many people have concluded that this is a different kind of papacy.”

The archdiocese has only had four archbishops since it was created as an archdiocese in 1953: Henry J. O’Brien, John F. Whealon, Cronin and Mansell.

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