In February, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Deeley and appointed the Rev. James T. Ruggieri the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Portland, an ecclesiastical district covering all of Maine and more than 275,000 people of the Catholic faith.

Ruggieri, 56 and from Rhode Island, was installed last week during a two-hour ceremony at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. Congregants from far and wide expressed enthusiasm about his ordination and installation.

In remarks made before his departure this spring, Deeley characterized his 10-year tenure as “an honor and a joy.”

Asked by reporters about any “challenges” in the role – a generously framed question – the former bishop chose not to make any reference to the wave of childhood sexual abuse lawsuits against his diocese since 2021, a historic and painful development that anybody would assume cast a pall over the experience.

Alas, no surprise there. Deeley hardly made reference to it while in the job.

Writing last year about the diocesan response to the decades-old abuse claims against it, this editorial board sharply criticized the “PR offensive” carried out under Deeley and the “stunning certitude” of an internal investigative body known as the “Office of Professional Responsibility” in its exoneration of priests alleged to have abused children in Maine.

“Contrast this with the response of the church to similar allegations 10 or 15 years ago,” the board noted. “Then-Bishop Richard Malone spoke of a ‘sad and shameful episode of Church history’ that would ‘continue for as long as victims were in pain.’”

The contrast is indeed stark. The oppositional, litigious approach taken by the Portland diocese to these civil claims has been, at times, chilling.

Bishop Ruggieri has a valuable opportunity to turn the page. He has a chance to do what Hallowell resident Frank O’Hara once asked of Deeley in a powerful op-ed in these pages: “to acknowledge victims in his own voice, not that of an attorney.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.