Buffalo, NY – A "pumped up" Bishop Edward Kmiec took his place as head of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese Thursday with a call to bring back members who have been disillusioned.
"We need to eliminate alienation, conflict, separation and polarization in our midst," said Kmiec during his installation as the diocese's 13th bishop.
Kmiec, 68, succeeds Archbishop Henry Mansell, who was installed in December as the Archbishop of Hartford.
Meeting with reporters earlier Thursday, Kmiec indicated he would not make any immediate changes of significance, saying he has much to learn about the issues affecting his flock of 708,000 _ more than half the population of the western New York region.
"I think it would be presumptuous of me to go leaping in and say I have all the answers," said Kmiec, who had been bishop in Nashville, a diocese roughly one-tenth the size of Buffalo, since 1992.
Some 300 priests and bishops, along with elected officials and clergy from other religions filled St. Joseph's Cathedral for the ceremonial installation, which included a procession of priests and the reading of a letter from Pope John Paul II, who appointed Kmiec.
"Welcome to New York, we already love you," said Cardinal Edward Egan.
In his first homily to the congregation, Kmiec said he often tells young people that bishops can get pumped up, too. "Dear friends, I assure you I am pumped up today," he said to laughter.
"As we make this new beginning today," he said, "what a worthy purpose to pursue in our institutions and parishes and homes a welcoming and inviting spirit to recover in Christ's love those souls who may have lost their way in disillusionment or for other reasons in our troubled worldly cultural environment.
"What a pleasing gift to God that would be," Kmiec said.
The Roman Catholic church has been under pressure in recent years to regain credibility and membership following revelations that thousands of priests were accused of sex abuse from 1950 to 2002.
In the Buffalo diocese, there were 93 complaints of sexual abuse against 53 priests during the time period, officials reported. None of the accused clergy remains in active ministry.
Kmiec said the church must convince people "that we are very serious about this."
A native of Trenton, N.J., Kmiec said he was drawn to the priesthood during his days as an altar boy. The son of Polish immigrants, he is the first Polish-American ordinary bishop to lead the Buffalo diocese, which has a large Polish-American population.