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St. Louis Archbishop Rozanski Installed, Acknowledges 'Scars Of Systemic Racism'

St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, center, will lead a community of more than half a million Catholics. Most recently, he served as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts.
Christian Gooden
pool photo
St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, center, will lead a community of more than a half-million Catholics. Most recently, he served as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Hymns and prayers echoed through the Cathedral Basilica on Tuesday afternoon, as the Archdiocese of St. Louis welcomed its 10th archbishop.

Dozens of clergy members, donning masks, filed into the pews of the cavernous cathedral to celebrate the installation of Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski. Usually a large celebration, the ceremony was closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pope Francis appointed Rozanski in June to lead the community of more than a half-million Catholics, once known as the “Rome of the West.”

The Baltimore native had served as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in western Massachusetts since 2014.

He succeeds Archbishop Robert Carlson, who had led the Archdiocese of St. Louis since 2009. Carlson announced his retirement last year after turning 75, the church’s mandatory age of retirement.

During Tuesday’s ceremony, Rozanski acknowledged the “devastating impact” of the coronavirus pandemic on communities around the world, including the tens of millions of people struggling with the fallout.

But he added that the church is facing another serious threat: racism.

“As a nation, and indeed, as a church, we find ourselves still struggling with the scars of systemic racism in our society,” Rosanski said. “This crime against human life and dignity is another, no less devastating, virus.”

The Rev. Matthew O’Toole, pastor at St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in St. Louis, said he feels confident that Rozanski will work to dismantle systemic racism.

“I think he'll be alert to and responsive to the pastoral challenges that we have, not only as a city and a community, but also as a church with racism,” said O’Toole, who attended Tuesday’s installation Mass.

O’Toole added that Rozanski’s years of experience working as a parish priest strike a favorable chord with clergy. “I think a lot of things that we priests are dealing with on a day-to-day basis will resonate with his own experience,” he said.

'Communities are not built from behind desks'

Rozanski, 62, became an ordained priest in 1984. In his 20 years as a parish priest, Rozanski said he “treasured” his time ministering in parishes and misses the close relationships he built before he became a bishop. However, he said his experience as a bishop allowed him to see the “wider aspects” of the church.

“Let us remember parishes are not built from behind desks, communities are not built from behind desks, [and] evangelization does not happen from behind a desk,” he said.

As Rozanski transitions into the role, he said his goal is to learn more about the St. Louis community and needs of its residents.

“I wouldn't want to have any preconceived notions, but I'm open,” he said. “I want to learn and then help to form a vision as we move the church into the future."

Allegations of sexual abuse continue to plague the Catholic Church, an issue that also impacted Rozanski’s prior diocese. Two priests and a former bishop in the Springfield Diocese were accused of sexual abuse. Rozanski said awareness is key and pointed to guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Having people who can recognize those signs and who feel that they can come forward and say something, that's an important part of not only prevention, but of quick reporting of any suspicion of sexual abuse,” Rozanski said. “Working with civil authorities is an important part of what we need to do, because this really has to be a partnership.”

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Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.
Shahla Farzan was a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award.