Springfield Roman Catholic Bishop Mitchell Rozanski is leaving western Massachusetts to become the Archbishop of St. Louis. The announcement was made by the Vatican on Wednesday.
Rozanski came to Springfield from his native Baltimore in 2014. During a Wednesday morning press conference in St. Louis, Rozanski said he was grateful to the people of western Massachusetts "for their welcome to me when I first arrived, for their collaboration with me over these six years."
"I want them to know," he continued, "they are in my prayers as they now experience this time of transition."
During Rozanski's tenure, the Springfield Diocese faced criticism from the Hampden District Attorney for not turning over all claims of clergy sexual abuse for investigation.
Last month the church agreed — in a deal with local prosecutors — to turn over all information about allegations. Rozanski announced the formation of a panel to look into how abuse clames are handled by the diocese.
When talking about the new group during an interview on WGBY, Rozanski acknowledged some short comings.
"We can do better in responding to victims who come to us, and in being able to deal with this scourge of any type of abuse that comes to our attention," he said.
Some sexual abuse survivors and advocates have criticized Rozanski for a lack of transparency in dealing with allegations. Olan Horne of Chester, Massachusetts, is both a survivor and advocate. He said he heard from many who were outraged by Rozanski's promotion. He called it "a getaway job."
"At one point, I was outraged, and I have to tell you, it was absolute shock because the headline this morning for me was the bishop has been moved, and we've been asking for a resignation for 3 1/2 years due to his handling — his lack of his handling — of cases here," Horne said.
During his introduction in St. Louis, Rozanski was asked about the transparency issue. He cited the deal with the district attorneys, and his commissioning of a yet-to-be-released report by retired Superior Court Judge Peter Velis. Velis is looking into how the diocese handled past clergy abuse claims, including one against former Bishop Christopher Weldon.
"Healing begins with transparency," Rozanski said. "I know that we can't seem to do things perfectly, but we're trying as best we can to be as transparent, as proactive as we can."
As Rozanski gets ready to depart Springfield and take over in St. Louis in late August, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno wished the 61-year-old bishop well.
"I’ve had a wonderful spiritual and working relation with Bishop Rozanski," Sarno said in a statement. "He has always put forth a very carrying, calming and reassuring leadership style."
Sarno and Rozanski did not always see eye-to-eye. During his first year in Springfield, Rozanski announced he was reconsidering a project to rebuild Cathedral High School. The school had experienced declining enrollment through the years, and its building had been destroyed by a tornado in 2011.
"We had a deal," Sarno said in November 2014. "We had a deal with [Rozanski predecessor] Bishop [Timothy] McDonnell, and I would be hopeful that they respect that deal and get the job done, and get Cathedral build — ASAP — no questions asked."
Ultimately Rozanski decided to build a new high school in Springfield, but make it a merged school with Holyoke Catholic. It was eventually named Pope Francis High.
Rozanski takes over an archdiocese in St. Louis with about 500,000 Catholics, more than double Springfield. He will be the 10th archbishop of St. Louis.