Bishop Robert Deeley, who has led the Diocese of Portland for the past decade, announced his retirement during a news conference Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Bishop Robert Deeley is retiring in May after a decade of leading the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Pope Francis accepted Deeley’s resignation and has appointed the Rev. James T. Ruggieri as the 13th bishop for the diocese, which encompasses the whole state and includes more than 275,000 Catholics, the church announced Tuesday.

“I want to make it clear that it has been an honor and a joy for me to serve as the bishop of Portland for these last 10 years,” Deeley, 77, said during a news conference.

Deeley has led the diocese through ongoing lawsuits alleging the institution is responsible for dozens of cases of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of priests and other diocesan employees that predate Deeley’s tenure.

He was appointed by Pope Francis in December 2013. Before coming to Portland, he was a priest in Massachusetts and spent time in Rome at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Ruggieri, 56, is a priest in the Diocese of Providence, where he currently serves as pastor at St. Patrick’s and St. Michael’s parishes. He will be ordained and installed as bishop in a ceremony at the cathedral on May 7.


Deeley said that he is proud to have Ruggieri come to Portland.

“Bishop James has not been a bishop, but he has been a pastor and that’s the most important role in the church. He has cared for the people of that parish in Providence,” Deeley said. “He’s just been a good priest and being a good priest makes a good bishop.”

Ruggieri has been criticized by some of his parishioners in Providence for helping accelerate the departure of some of the church’s more progressive members, according to local reporting.


Deeley will continue to reside in Maine as Bishop Emeritus, the diocese said. He submitted his resignation letter in 2022. According to church law, all bishops must submit their resignation to the pope when they reach the age of 75, but the pope can ask them to stay on until a successor is chosen.

Deeley said he knew very little about Maine and had only been here a half-dozen times before he was named bishop.


“It’s a beautiful state and beautiful people. The different cultures of Maine give it that brightness that it has and I’ve enjoyed myself immensely,” he said.

Don Bisson, of Biddeford, a cantor in the Good Shepherd Parish, said he was surprised to hear about Deeley’s retirement.

“I found him to be a very apt bishop and someone who was very well-known and very well-liked in the community,” he said.

Bisson has seen the number of people attending Mass go down since the pandemic and hopes the next bishop will help draw people back to the church.

Bishop Robert Deeley, who announced his retirement Tuesday, is applauded by his successor Rev. James T. Ruggieri during a news conference. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When asked by reporters Tuesday what his biggest challenge was in leading the church, Deeley did not address the lawsuits over childhood sexual abuse and instead pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic, when shutdowns prevented congregations from meeting in person and later limited the number of people who could gather.

“We are a community. The church is a community, it needs to come together. It needs to gather together to draw strength from each other and from the Lord. And to not be able to do that for such a long period of time was very difficult for the church,” he said.


The diocese is facing dozens of civil complaints from people who say they were sexually abused by priests since a state law change in 2021 removed all remaining statutes of limitations for most civil childhood sexual abuse cases. The diocese asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to decide whether it’s fair to sue an organization over abuse committed by an individual, arguing that the church cannot be held responsible for the actions of its employees. The supreme court has yet to rule on the issue.

Deeley also was named in a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts last year alleging he was one of three high-ranking members of the church who were negligent in allowing a high school administrator to sexually abuse minors starting in 2011. Deeley was vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archbishop of Boston at the time.

Frank O’Hara, a Hallowell resident who attends mass weekly and has been critical of Deeley’s response to alleged abuse victims, said he is “intrigued and hopeful” about the new bishop.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen a bishop driving around the diocese in a food truck serving the homeless, which I understand this father did back in Rhode Island,” he said.


Ruggieri grew up in Rhode Island, where he earned a degree in religious studies from Providence College. He earned a masters degree in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. He was ordained as a priest in 1995 and has served in Providence ever since.


Ruggieri said Tuesday that he loves Hispanic ministry and working in a parish with immigrants from many countries, including Burundi and Rwanda. That experience has prepared him to work with immigrants who attend Catholic churches in Maine, he said.

But during his tenure there, some longtime parishioners have told the Providence Journal that they left St. Michael’s because of his rigid, authoritarian leadership style and a diminished focus on social justice. St. Michael’s had been known as a progressive, inclusive parish that offered a spiritual home to people alienated by the conservative Catholic Church.

The Rev. James T. Ruggieri will succeed Robert Deeley as the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When asked on Tuesday about his thoughts on changes in the church and more liberal decisions from Pope Francis, Ruggieri said “the Vatican is really not my world” and said some of those decisions have not been relevant to his daily pastoral life consoling the dying, comforting the sick and supporting schools.

“I’ve always been a loyal son of the church and I’ll continue to be for the rest of my life,” he said.

With help from parishioners and other supporters, Ruggieri founded St. Patrick Academy, a Catholic high school that allows families to pay what they can afford and 20% of students are first-generation immigrants, according to the academy.

“I recognize the importance of Catholic education at all levels, but especially at the secondary level because it’s still an age of formation for our young people,” he said.


Ruggieri said it’s too soon to say what initiatives he may bring to the Portland diocese, but he said he’s looking forward to settling in Maine.

“I know it’s a beautiful state with beautiful people and a vibrant church and I’m really thrilled to be here with you,” he said.

The Rev. Kyle Doustou, the pastor at The Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord in Old Town and Orono, said he was encouraged to hear from friends in Providence that Ruggieri is well-regarded there for his work with the poor and immigrants, and for his command of the Spanish language.

“I got the sense from person after person who knew him that Bishop-elect Ruggieri is a very humble, very holy, energetic priest,” he said.

Doustou is looking forward to a new chapter for the diocese.

“Every bishop brings with him a new emphasis and a new vision,” he said. “I think this young bishop will bring energy and also the flavor of ministry that Pope Francis wants out of his bishops.”

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