Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cincinnati's Archbishop Dennis Schnurr says he’s ready for challenge

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Dennis Schnurr managed 350 people as an official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. Later, as the bishop of Duluth in northern Minnesota, he had a staff of 12.

The man who hails from an Iowa town of 600 soon will be archbishop of a diocese of 500,000 Catholics.

Schnurr said he’s comfortable in both big cities and small towns, and that will serve him well when he becomes archbishop of Cincinnati, whose province swings from the Queen and Gem cities to the farming towns of Auglaize and Mercer counties.

“I’m excited about getting to know the people,” said Schnurr, 61, who has been Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk’s heir apparent since he was named Cincinnati’s coadjutor archbishop in October. “How you get to know 500,000 people? I don’t know. But we’re working on it.”

In his hometown of Hospers, Iowa, Schnurr didn’t have to work hard to know the people in his church. He was one of only four Catholic boys in the parish. The others were his two brothers and a cousin.

By his junior year in high school, he knew he wanted to be a priest. After his seminary training, he was ordained in 1974 in the Sioux City diocese and that is where Schnurr expected to serve for the rest of his life. “Growing up in a town of 600, you don’t envision becoming a bishop or archbishop,” he said.

But he quickly moved up the hierarchy locally, then joined the staff of the national church offices in 1985. It was there, in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, that he worked closely with Pilarczyk, who years later advocated for Schnurr to replace him in Cincinnati.

“Archbishop Pilarczyk had no little say in this,” Schnurr said. “I think he even stated in a press conference that I was first on his list (of prospective replacements).”

Pilarczyk said Schnurr is “a very bright man, very dedicated. He’ll do well. He’s going to be a good archbishop.”

Schnurr has already signaled some of his interests. In March he appeared at a pro-life event outside a Kettering abortion clinic. On Aug. 20, he announced he’ll host a series of meetings called “We Miss You,” to explore reconciliation between divorced Catholics who remarry and the church through annulment of failed marriages. One of the meetings is set for Sept. 16 at Centerville’s Incarnation Church.

Schnurr said his priorities as archbishop will include working to strengthen marriages, improving religious education, encouraging youth to enter religious life and working with the archdiocese’s growing Hispanic population.

He said there were no new local cases of child sex abuse by priests during his 2001-2008 tenure as bishop of Duluth, but he met with victims and "went to some parishes that were particularly devastated” by the scandal. “The deep wounds take a long time to heal.”

Abusive priests “betrayed the church,” he said, and he wants people to know, “This is not what the church is about. The circumstances will not be there to allow the abuse to take place again.”

Schnurr acknowledged that he will be taking over the Cincinnati archdiocese at a time of upheaval for the church.

But, he said, “If you look at the history of the Catholic church — 2,000 years — there was never a time when there weren’t challenges.” Dayton Daily News

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