National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Cover story
Issue Date:  July 18, 2003

Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito
-- CNS
Next Palm Beach bishop known for fairness, pastoral style

Priests in the Brooklyn diocese -- faced with a canonical conundrum or other problem requiring chancery guidance -- knew what to do: “Just call Gerry.”

Gerry was Fr. Gerald Barbarito, then vice chancellor of the 1.6 million-member Brooklyn, N.Y., diocese. In 1994, the affable Barbarito was made an auxiliary bishop in the diocese, and five years later installed as bishop of Ogdensburg, N.Y.

On July 1 the pope named 53-year-old Barbarito as the fourth bishop in five years to the troubled diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., succeeding Bishop Sean O’Malley. O’Malley, soon of Boston and less than a year in the Palm Beach job, had begun to make reforms to reestablish the church’s credibility after his two immediate predecessors were accused of sexual misconduct.

Barbarito told a July 1 Palm Beach news conference that he expects to implement O’Malley’s changes, including a recently announced reorganization of diocesan departments.

Barbarito was the go-to guy in Brooklyn, recalled Msgr. Ronald Marino, because he is “meticulously fair” and “tries to be extremely pastoral in his approach to things.” Said Marino: “You never had the feeling that you were annoying him -- you were important to him.”

A sign of their affection: On a wintry New York day Brooklyn priests filled a chartered plane to attend Barbarito’s installation as bishop of Ogdensburg.

In just three-and-a-half years at Ogdensburg’s helm, Barbarito had a positive impact, even as he undertook some unpleasant tasks, said Michael Alteri, a Morgan Stanley financial adviser and chair of the Watertown Education Council. One of the first orders of business was to consolidate Catholic schools in the diocese’s largest jurisdiction, Watertown, N.Y.

“It was clear that we couldn’t support four grade schools,” said Alteri. As a sign of the dreary economics of northern New York State, Watertown’s population dropped a third -- from 30,000 to 20,000 -- between 1990 and 2000.

In establishing the education council, said Alteri, Barbarito provided a clear mandate: “Make sure you do your homework, look at all the variables, and do what’s in the long-term interest of Catholic schools in our area -- don’t put a Band-Aid on it.”

The process was painful -- “people don’t like change and this area is no different” -- but collaborative, said Alteri. Barbarito accepted the committee’s November 2002 recommendation to establish one grade school, one middle school, and maintain the high school.

“You can’t help but love the guy,” said Alteri. “You can see his sincerity the first time you talk to him. I’ll miss dealing with him.”

Meanwhile, 1,500 miles from the diocese of Ogdensburg, Barbarito addressed the July 1 news conference. “I am as surprised to be here as you are this morning,” said Barbarito. He learned the day before that he was being named to head the Palm Beach diocese.

“Aware of the great affection the people of God in Palm Beach had quickly shown to your predecessor, His Holiness was anxious that they should not be left one day without the pastoral leadership of a new pastor,’’ Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, papal nuncio, wrote Barbarito.

Montalvo noted that the Palm Beach diocese has “undergone … great trials in recent times.”

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, July 18, 2003

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: