Bishop Praised for Candor, Compassion

Article excerpt

Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., got an editorial accolade recently in the Tampa Tribune for his handling of a couple of "high-profile scandals" that had surfaced just a few days apart.

In fact, Lynch was having a pastorally demanding week. His problems included a resigned priest who died of AIDS, a priest who embezzled parish funds to keep a lover quiet, a priest discovered to have been secretly married for 15 years and disclosures that yet a fourth priest, accused last spring of molesting someone years ago, had been sent to a rehabilitation center.

Lynch's demanding schedule began on Friday, Sept. 28, when he celebrated a funeral mass for a former priest, Michael Downing, 36, who had died of AIDS.

Downing, ordained in 1987, had served in three parishes when he learned in 1990 that he was HIV positive. He requested a leave of absence, took a job as a librarian and moved into an apartment with his partner. For the funeral however, Downing lay in liturgical vestments reserved to clergy.

Lynch referred to Downing as a brother for whom there would be peace after physical pain and uncertainty.

"This was a remarkable act by a bishop," said Franciscan Sr. Anne Daugherty who founded Tampa's Francis House, which she describes as "a respice," a daytime care facility for "men, women and children infected by or affected by HIV and AIDS."

"Our clients who are Catholic don't feel comfortable with the Catholic church," she told NCR, "so we're absolutely thrilled that the bishop would support Michael and his family during this time." Daugherty said she had written Lynch to thank him.

Four days later Lynch called a news conference to announce that a diocesan priest, Fr. Patrick J. Clarke, beloved pastor of an active parish, had taken a leave of absence amid revelations that that he had been secretly married for 15 years. Lynch learned of the marriage a few weeks ago when he opened an envelope and a copy of Clarke's marriage license, dated May 1, 1981, fell out.

Normally, Lynch doesn't open his mail and has instructed his staff to disregard anonymous letters. …