Wednesday, July 30, 2003

N.Ky. bishop's first year marked by crisis, grace

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Bishop of Covington Roger J. Foys in the lobby of the Catholic Center, Erlanger, with a portrait of Pope John Paul II in the background.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
ERLANGER - Bishop Roger Foys' favorite role as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Covington - a post he's had for a year now - is that of pastor.

But getting to know the 90,000 Catholics, the priests, deacons and other religious on his 53-parish tour of the diocese is also the most challenging.

Despite national attention to a church scandal, sex abuse is not what he's hearing about from parishioners.

"What I'm hearing is, 'We love our pastor, don't move our pastor,'" he said. "So I tell them, if I can go 17 or 18 years without moving anyone, I'll be fine."

Foys, who turned 58 Sunday, has had an eventful tenure so far, marked by his one-year anniversary this month. He's already dealt with the diocese's brush with the sex scandal, christened a 125-foot bell tower at All Saints Church in Walton from a crane - his knees shaking under his robes - and come to appreciate the diocese's schools and retreat program.

Born: July 27, 1945, in Chicago.
Education: The University of Steubenville, Ohio, and St. John Vianney Seminary in Bloomingdale, Ohio.
Ordained: May 16, 1973, at Holy Name Cathedral in Steubenville.
In a recent interview, Foys talked about his first year, local issues, national concerns and the future of the diocese and church.

He doesn't foresee the need for any closures or consolidations of schools or parishes in the near future, although a task force is constantly studying trends.

"I'm not one who likes to close things; I'll say that. As long as a parish or a school is able to be sustained, then I think we need to keep that there," he said. "Our main goal, my main goal, is always to provide a Catholic education for any child who wants one."

There had been talk of selling the Marydale Retreat Center as a possible site for Convergys, but it was taken off the market in June. Foys said the retreat program will continue at Marydale, but isn't ruling out a new location in the future.

While most dioceses in the United States, including the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, have a priest shortage, Foys said Covington isn't facing a crisis.

"We're very fortunate that the vast number of our retired priests still live in parishes and still help out," he said.

But the diocese is still taking an active role in recruiting with a vocations director.

"And we encourage parents, and grandparents and parishioners to look in their own parishes and families for young men and to encourage them," Foys said. "Sometimes all it takes is a parent or a friend to say, 'Have you ever thought about going into the priesthood?'"

As for the sex scandal, Foys has already dealt with a case filed the day before he was named bishop with a settlement of $50,000 to a groundskeeper who said two priests molested him in the 1970s and 1980s. The attorneys praised Foys for his role in settling the suit.

"I express a willingness in every case to meet with every victim personally," he said.

"I really think we're right on track with recognizing and addressing the problem."

But he doesn't think abusers can be cured.

"If there is even one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a child, that priest can no longer function publicly as a priest," he said.

In the end, he thinks the church will become holier for having dealt with the sex abuse crisis.

While Foys calls his first year "exciting and grace-filled," he looks to have more on his plate in this year, with the diocese's 150th anniversary and a synod.

He expects the synod, a discussion of issues and policies, to touch on liturgy, schools, parish programs and other topics.

He doesn't think he'll eversee a female or married priest, and thinks the Holy Spirit will do a fine job selecting the next pope.

"I really believe the Holy Spirit works in the church," he said. "The history of our church shows us that the Spirit has always provided a Holy Father who met the challenges of his time."

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