Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan on Saturday sounded out the themes of his plan to heal and rejuvenate the Catholic community in his first Mass as acting bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.
Sheehan, who replaced Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien when he announced his resignation June 18, said he would not tolerate sexual abuse by anyone inside or outside the church.
The archbishop also said he will reach out to victims of sexual abuse by Valley priests and encourage the good work of current church leaders.
"I want to be a bridge builder," Sheehan said after the Saturday Mass. "I want to bring hope."
Sheehan will bring his words of healing to Mesa at 6 p.m. today at St. Timothy Catholic Community.
O’Brien’s resignation followed his arrest on suspicion of fleeing a fatal accident. Last month, he signed an unprecedented agreement with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in which he admitted to allowing priests accused of sexual misconduct to work with children.
During the Saturday Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, Sheehan expressed sorrow for the victims of sexual abuse and said the church would do anything in its power to heal their wounds.
"I will not tolerate sexual abuse by priests or anyone else in the Phoenix diocese," he said to the parishioners, many of whom were turning their heads during the service to look at the television cameras in the balcony. "And I would never dream of putting an abuser back in a priest position."
Sheehan said he spoke with one victim who was angry that the name of the priest who had molested him was still on the wall of his church. The archbishop told the victim before Saturday’s Mass that the priest’s name would be removed immediately.
Sheehan stated that people are not perfect and parishioners should put their faith in the church and not its priests.
"I can’t change the past, but we can do a lot for the future," he said to the applause of the congregation.
Hundreds of people filed the cavernous cathedral, where parishioners were jubilant, praising Sheehan for his leadership.
"I was really moved," said Eddie Lopez, a longtime member of the church, after the Mass.
Other churchgoers were confident in Sheehan’s ability to lead the troubled diocese.
"I think the other bishop lost his senses," said Tom Lane, referring to O’Brien. "He got goofed up and didn’t know what was going on." Lane has been attending church at the cathedral for nearly 50 years and believes the archbishop can heal the Catholic community. "I think he’ll clean it up," he said.