With a towering physical stature and soft spoken, solicitous style, Archbishop Joseph Naumann knows he has a difficult task before him as he takes over the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on an interim basis after the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn.
He's encouraging the grieving and still angry parishioners to reach toward their faith.
"I think we need to ask the Lord to help each of us to heal. There are people who have experienced wounds on both sides," Naumann said in an interview Monday at the Diocese headquarters in downtown Kansas City.
Naumann – who has been the Archbishop of the Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas for almost 11 years - says he was surprised when he was summoned last Tuesday to become interim administrator effective immediately.
Naumann says he does not feel it’s his job to bring changes to the diocese, not to “be an innovator … or obligate the new Bishop with something I thought was a good idea.”
Rather, Naumann sees his job as keeping what he called “the normal life” of the church moving forward.
“An example would be the new high school planned in Lees Summit and there’s a effort to raise revenue for that. On a project like that there will have to be some decisions to move it forward.”
In addition, Naumann says he will focus on healing a diocese wrought with sadness and anger.
“A great resource is our prayer. Prayer can be helpful to become focused on moving forward and not (revisiting) those things in the past," Naumann says, “unless we can learn from them."
In conversations with local Catholics, many have expressed relief at the resignation of Bishop Finn. Many, however, still feel betrayed by his leadership.
In 2012, Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report suspected child abuse involving a local priest. Many also resent the millions of dollars in church funds that have gone toward the legal defense of the Bishop and claims of sexual abuse, and as a result are reluctant to donate to the church. To those people, Archbishop Naumann says this time provides an opportunity.
“At this point," he says, “if there are people who chose not to give because of Bishop Finn’s leadership, this may be a moment to re-examine that."
Naumann says as part of the healing process he will emphasize the teachings of Jesus, of grace and forgiveness. The community must foster the faith of its young people and Catholic schools, he says, do a great job at that.
Naumann was ordained a priest in St. Louis in 1975 and served in a number of parishes before becoming an auxiliary bishop there. He was appointed to come to Kansas City, Kansas in 2004 to serve under then Archbishop James P. Keleher who retired at the age of 75.
He says he will divide his time between the Kansas City-St. Joseph and Kansas City, Kansas Dioceses.