The Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley began his tenure as leader of Maine’s nearly 200,000 Roman Catholics on Friday by knocking on the heavy exterior wooden door to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
He was greeted by outgoing Bishop Richard Malone and the Rev. Louis Phillips, rector of the cathedral, who presented Deeley with a crucifix, which he kissed reverently, and a small bottle of holy water, which he used to sprinkle himself and those around him.
Deeley made his way up the wide aisle, flanked by dozens of Catholic bishops and other dignitaries from across the Northeast, before arriving at the marble steps that lead to the altar.
There, Malone introduced Deeley briefly, then turned things over to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston. O’Malley also welcomed Deeley before introducing Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Pope Francis’ representative to the United States. Vigano read the letter from the pope announcing Deeley’s installation as the 12th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
O’Malley presented him with a staff that once belonged to David Bacon, Maine’s first bishop. Deeley was led to the throne-like chair, upholstered with green fabric, at the back of the altar. Before he sat, the hundreds who filled the cathedral pews stood and applauded their new leader.
Friday’s nearly 2½-hour installation was a ceremony of considerable tradition and pageantry. For Deeley, 67, originally from Cambridge, Mass., it was his first chance to address the state’s faithful as their bishop.
His installation homily began with nods to history – of the cathedral, of the Maine diocese and of the Catholic Church itself.
Deeley then thanked his family, many of whom attended, as a “source of great blessing,” Pope Francis as a “man who, with his every word and gesture, proclaims the gospel of joy he preaches” and Malone for his service.
“Know that you are always welcome back here in Maine,” Deeley said to him.
He thanked the priests of the Maine diocese, “these men (who) serve our people so generously and with such dedication.”
“These years have not been easy for priests,” he said, before acknowledging the sex-abuse scandal that has cast a shadow over the church for more than a decade. “The grave failings of some of our number have been both a cause of shame and humiliation to the many.”
Finally, he addressed church members, both those in attendance and the many more watching and listening from home. He said his installation serves as a reminder for all Catholics to be supportive of one another.
“When you pray for me, you pray for our church here in Maine,” he said.
Deeley made it a point not to outline any direction or agenda for his tenure.
“We need to do that together. I need to hear from you. We need to get to know each other,” he said. “There will be challenges we will have to encounter.”
The new bishop went on to say that any direction he sets would come from Scripture. He echoed the spirit of Pope Francis, who has, during his short tenure, urged Catholics to be more compassionate, particularly, Deeley said, to “those who are poor, marginalized, lonely or forgotten.”
He also talked of evangelizing and affirmed the church’s position, in a subtle way, on two social issues on which some Catholics disagree with the church.
“We must continue to bear witness to the dignity of human life and every human person from conception to natural death, the dignity of Christian marriage and the good of children which is intimately part of this sacred union,” Deeley preached.
He further urged some of the young people in attendance to consider the priesthood, acknowledging the difficulty the church has had in recent years recruiting young priests.
Deeley closed his homily by asking those in attendance to “pray that I will be a worthy and joy-filled shepherd.”
The ceremony continued for more than an hour after Deeley’s words with the receiving of communion, and a host of hymns sung by a choir and those in attendance. When the ceremony ended, Deeley led the recessional out of the cathedral.
Many were expected to gather at an informal reception at Ocean Gateway.
Jerome Lessard of Alfred was among those who attended the installation. He said he was pleased with Deeley’s remarks, especially about continuing to evangelize and bring new members into the church. While Catholics still make up the largest religious bloc in Maine, the church’s numbers have dwindled by about 33 percent in the last decade.
Ernie Klein of Boston said he is a friend of Deeley’s, and that he expects Maine’s new bishop to be a “man of action.”
Deeley is expected to spend his first few weeks or even months touring Maine and visiting its many Catholic parishes. For those hoping to hear more from him soon, Deeley will celebrate the 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Sunday.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: