My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
On Sunday, June 16, I will celebrate my 75th Birthday. As Canon Law dictates, I must submit my resignation as Bishop of Brooklyn to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. The Holy Father usually does not immediately accept such a resignation, however, as it generally is the custom to do so when a successor is named. Normally, in today’s world that comes before the end of the 75th year.
Interestingly, it is only recently since the Pontificate of Pope John XXIII that Bishops are required to retire even before the change of Canon Law of 1983. I remember the words of Archbishop Thomas A. Boland who ordained me a priest for the Archdiocese of Newark when it came time for him to submit his resignation in the early 1970s. He said that it was like having the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. He was not very happy at that time.
On a more humorous level, as a seminarian, I visited the hometown of my paternal grandfather in Italy where Bishop Antonio Teutonico lived. He was 97 years of age and retired as Bishop of Aversa. With a smile on his lips, he calmly said, “Pope John may have forced me to retire, but he died!” Bishop Teutonico lived to be 103, the oldest bishop in the world.
I feel no constraint regarding the issue of retirement. It is a well-known fact, and everyone who retires must prepare themselves for that phase of life, which gives them another opportunity to exercise their talents in a different way.
Once retired, most probably I will be moving to the rectory of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph on Pacific Street, where I would reside. The Congregation of Bishops has issued and re-issued guidelines for the conduct of retired bishops, or bishops emeritus as they are called. In short, the guidelines basically say that a bishop emeritus should be seen, but not heard from. In no way should he interfere in the governance of the diocese. He should offer his services to the new bishop of the diocese and assist in any way that the new Ordinary requires.
My predecessor, Bishop Thomas V. Daily, lived those precepts to the letter. Unfortunately, his health declined and Bishop Daily was not able to assist for many years after his retirement, although he lived to almost 90 years of age. I will follow in his good example in assisting and not interfering.
It is my intention to return to the passion of my apostolic work, which is the migration issue. Today, more than ever, we need to understand the facts and research regarding what this issue truly is and promote advocacy to improve the lot of our immigrants and refugees who are prevented from coming into our country. Currently, I serve as chairman of the board for the Center for Migration Studies based in Manhattan and will give them more of my time to develop their capacity for research.
As I look back over the past 15 and a half years, I recognize not only the great challenges but also the great consolation it has been to be the Bishop in Brooklyn and Queens. The cultural diversity of our two boroughs is certainly a characteristic of what the Diocese of Brooklyn is all about as well as the tremendous development in Brooklyn and Queens since that time. These extraordinary changes have brought about a real change of environment with its challenges and difficulties for some.
As I look forward to the future, it will give me the opportunity to reflect on my past contributions and shortcomings as I enter this new phase of life. Clearly, it is the last quarter. We must all recognize that time is God’s greatest gift to us, and we cannot afford to waste any of His gift. We must use God’s time given to us to the best advantage, especially for the evangelization of the world that needs the presence of Christ so much.
I look forward to celebrating my birthday with the priests of the Diocese. It will be my pleasure to commemorate this milestone with my priests, as the bond between bishop and priest is one that always needs strengthening.
May I ask your prayers for me, as I put out into the deep of this new phase of my life in the future, asking that I might continue my Episcopal ministry in a different way. But one that will be fruitful and useful, not only to the faithful of the Diocese of Brooklyn, but also to the greater Church which each bishop serves.