Pope appoints Washington auxiliary bishop to head Richmond Diocese

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This story has been updated.

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has named Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout, 55, as the 13th bishop of Richmond.

He succeeds Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, who was Richmond's bishop from 2004 until his death in August at age 75.

The appointment was announced in Washington Dec. 5 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Knestout's installation Mass will be celebrated Jan. 12 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said in a statement, “I offer my sincere congratulations and prayerful best wishes to Bishop Knestout on having been appointed by the Holy Father as the 13th Bishop of the Diocese of Richmond. Having known Bishop Knestout for many years, I have witnessed personally his pastoral zeal and administrative skills. All who know him will attest to his faithfulness and love of Our Lord Jesus and His Church. I look forward to working closely and collaboratively with him as a brother bishop in the Virginia Catholic Conference. The VCC will benefit greatly from Bishop Knestout’s wisdom and expertise, and together we will strive to provide leadership that will amplify the Catholic faith to the public square.”

Four hours after Pope Francis named him Richmond's new shepherd, Bishop Knestout was introduced to the people of the diocese via a news conference at the pastoral center. The briefing also was livestreamed from the center.

After praying the Prayer to the Holy Spirit, the bishop thanked Pope Francis for naming him to Richmond. This was followed by a heartfelt expression of gratitude to his 90-year-old mother, Caroline, and his late father, Thomas, and to his eight siblings.

He went on to recognize the three archbishops of Washington he has served: Cardinals James A. Hickey, Theodore E. McCarrick and Donald W. Wuerl, the current head of the Washington Archdiocese.

He compared the 10 years he worked with Cardinal Wuerl as "a graduate level education" that he said was "replete with a myriad of experiences."

Among those experiences were assisting in the hosting of Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and Pope Francis in 2015; participating in an archdiocesan synod and its implementation; and working with a diverse group of people who serve the church.

Bishop Knestout also acknowledged Msgr. Mark Richard Lane for "his sensitive and wise pastoral leadership" during the four months following the death of Bishop DiLorenzo in which he served as Richmond's diocesan administrator.

"The faithful of the diocese are profoundly grateful for your service," he added.

He also acknowledged Bishop DiLorenzo as one "who served this diocese with devotion, steadfastness and a pastor's heart."

Bishop Knestout, a Maryland native, noted that he was born and formed in the faith in the Washington area, and "now I'm called ... to a new home, which I embrace with all my heart."

He said he planned to take to heart Pope Francis' advice to U.S. bishops during the pontiff's 2015 visit to St. Matthew's Cathedral in the nation's capital, when the pontiff encouraged them to "be pastors close to people."

Bishop Knestout said he plans to take time to visit and get to know the people of his new diocese, which covers more than 36,000 square miles. It is comprised of 74 counties in the southern three-fifths of Virginia. It is one of two Catholic dioceses in the state; the Arlington Diocese covers Northern Virginia.

There are just over 222,000 Catholics in the Richmond Diocese, or 4 percent of the total population of more than 5.1 million. It is the nation's eighth oldest Catholic diocese and was founded in 1820.

Bishop Knestout noted the division affecting much of the country today — which was a flashpoint in August in the Richmond Diocese when a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville erupted in violence. He said he would work to promote a spirit of unity and charity in the diocese so "that we see the dignity of each human being ... created in the image and likeness of God."

"Bishop Knestout carries with him the affection, respect and admiration of all of us with whom he so generously gave his time and efforts," Cardinal Wuerl said in a statement.

Bishop Knestout has been an auxiliary of the Washington Archdiocese since 2008.

"During all of this time, he has demonstrated his pastoral skills, his commitment to the church and her teaching, and his devoted service to those entrusted to his care," the cardinal said.

Bishop Knestout was born in Cheverly, Md., June 11, 1962. He attended Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., where he earned a master of divinity degree in 1988 and a master of arts degree in 1989.

He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington June 24, 1989, and after two appointments as associate pastor at Washington area parishes, he served 10 years (1994-2004) as priest-secretary to Cardinal Hickey, then head of the archdiocese. He was executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry from 2001 to 2003, then priest-secretary to Cardinal McCarrick, from 2003 to 2004.

Other assignments included being archdiocesan secretary for pastoral life and social concerns (2006-08). He was named a monsignor by St. John Paul II in 1999, was appointed moderator of the curia in April 2007 and assisted Cardinal Wuerl in overseeing administrative affairs.

On Nov. 18, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI named him an auxiliary bishop of Washington.

He has been a member of the Maryland Catholic Conference's administrative board and episcopal moderator of the American Catholic Correctional Chaplains Association.

 

Contributing to this story were Brian Olszewski in Richmond and Mark Zimmermann in Washington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017