- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - The new Roman Catholic bishop of Vermont said Monday he wants to move the church from maintenance of the status quo in the state to make it more missionary in nature.

“I think this is a real opportunity,” the Most Rev. Christopher James Coyne said at an introductory news conference. “Inside of each person is this kind of longing for more than just the ordinary things of life, and there’s an opportunity for us as a church to be present to them.”

Coyne offered no comment on the top Vatican story of the day: Pope Francis’ blistering comments about the bureaucracy that serves him. The pope said the Curia suffer from 15 “ailments,” with members who lust for power at all costs, live hypocritical double lives and suffer from “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that has made them forget they’re supposed to be joyful men of God.

Coyne, a 56-year-old native of the Boston suburb of Woburn, Massachusetts, who served as spokesman for the Boston archdiocese through much of the height of its sex abuse scandal, comes to Vermont from a previous posting as an auxiliary bishop in Indianapolis. He replaces Bishop Salvatore Matano, who moved from Vermont to become the bishop of Rochester, New York, in 2013.

Coyne’s work in saving souls and counseling the troubled might be said to have begun even before he became a priest. The graduate of Woburn public schools and the University of Lowell (now the University of Massachusetts Lowell) worked as both a lifeguard and bartender early in his career.

Vermont nominally has about 118,000 Catholics, though an average of about 28,000 attend weekend Masses. Coyne acknowledged that many have fallen away from the church and that polls have found Vermont to be the least religious state in the country. One by Gallup in 2013 found 22.2 percent of Vermont residents described themselves as “very religious,” versus a national average of 41.4 percent. For “somewhat religious,” the figures were 21.2 percent in Vermont and 29.2 nationally.

People “aren’t coming,” Coyne said. “They’re not coming through the doors. And they’re leaving through the doors. So, mission means we go out, we begin connect with people, talk to people, foster our community, to invite people to become part of who we are. I don’t have all the answers as to how you do that, but the very fact that you have the conversation changes the paradigm in terms of how we understand ourselves as parishes.”

He said he hoped parishes could host community gatherings in which both non-Catholics and those who had left the church could be invited to join or rejoin.

The bishop said he was happy to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to the church, but that he was obligated to give the church’s teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful. “I want to do it in a way that’s not hurtful, though sometimes by its very nature it’s hurtful,” he said.

He said he wanted to welcome women as “co-equal,” but as for women priests, “It’s been ruled by the church at this point as something that we’re not open to discussing, so I have to abide by that as the bishop.”

He said the question of whether priests should be allowed to marry was a matter of church rule, and not theology, noting that Eastern Rite Catholics and Anglicans allow married priests and indicating the Latin church might be open to a discussion about the issue.

He said he is an avid Patriots, Celtics and Bruins fan, but as for the Red Sox, “I divorced the Red Sox in ‘86,” after they lost the World Series to the New York Mets. “I consider them like an ex-wife. You know, I wish them all the best. I’m happy when they do well. But our relationship is passed.”

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