For Brooklyn, “Columbus” Day Comes Early – In NY Homecoming, Pope Taps Brennan to Succeed “The Czar”
In the first Stateside move of the Vatican’s new working year, the most significant opening on the current US docket is off the table… and as Mets fans can always use good news, for once they’re in luck – the new shepherd of Citi Field is already one of their number.
At Roman Noon on this feast of the Archangels, the Pope named Long Island’s own Bishop Robert Brennan – the 59 year-old head of Ohio’s capital church in Columbus – as the eighth bishop of Brooklyn: the US’ fifth-largest diocese, its 1.8 million members comprising the nation’s largest non-metropolitan see. After less than three years in Buckeye Nation, Brennan succeeds one of the bench’s most formidable players, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who reached the retirement age of 75 in June 2019. Arguably the “central casting” image of a Brooklyn prelate – down to a hard-charging style that’s seen him widely referred to at home as “the czar” – today’s move comes a month after DiMarzio was cleared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of two allegations of sexual abuse dating to the 1970s in his native Newark, making him the only US prelate to date to emerge unscathed from an investigation under Vos estis lux mundi, the 2019 norms for cases of direct abuse or mishandling of cases by bishops. Nick being Nick, however, another piece of his final lap is an even bigger point of pride: never one to shy away from war (and the louder it is, the better), late last year DiMarzio took his longtime nemesis, now-former New York Gov. Andrew Curomo, to the Supreme Court, winning a unanimous “shadow docket” ruling that overturned the state’s pandemic capacity limits on church attendance as a violation of religious freedom.
Well beyond the transition at hand, the Brooklyn church itself has undergone a remarkable evolution over DiMarzio’s 18-year tenure, headlined by a torrent of gentrification that’s upended long-standing ethnic bastions with a stratospheric infusion of wealth and development, and the tensions that come with it. At the same time, while the diocese’s long history as the ultimate nexus of the American “melting pot” – which saw Brooklyn launch the global church’s first diocesan-level ministry for immigrants 50 years ago – has continued unabated, the reality of African, Asian and Caribbean emigres overtaking the earlier waves of Europeans and Hispanics has put new demands on the ecclesial talent pool, all as the aging infrastructure of the “city of churches” makes the solvency of its famously complex and sprawling apparatus an ever more urgent concern. Yet on the whole, much as the diocese has traditionally prided itself on being the church of “the peripheries” in the nation’s largest city well before Francis popularized the term, if anything, today’s Brooklyn and Queens is more at the center of New York power and consequence than at any time in living memory, a situation underscored by the pending handoff of the mayor’s office from one Brooklynite to another.