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June 15, 2005     572 Words

USCCB President Bishop William S. Skylstad: Still a Pastor at Heart

CINCINNATI—Last November, the U.S. Catholic bishops elected William S. Skylstad, bishop of Spokane, Washington, as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As head of the USCCB, Bishop Skylstad will continue to address the clergy sex-abuse crisis, travel around the world to develop and nurture relationships with our global Church family, and yet continue to be a team priest for Worldwide Encounter weekends. Despite a full plate, Bishop Skylstad says his most important role is simply to be a pastor to his people.

The life and career of Bishop William S. Skylstad are featured in St. Anthony Messenger’s July cover story entitled, “Inspired by Holy People: An Interview With Bishop William Skylstad.” Father Pat McCloskey, editor of St. Anthony Messenger, sat down with Bishop Skylstad in his Spokane office, where he discussed his career, his faith and his new job as president of the USCCB. After June 18, the article will be found at: AmericanCatholic.org.

Born in Omak, Washington, Bishop Skylstad grew up on a farm with three brothers and two sisters. Ordained for the Diocese of Spokane in 1960, he was an assistant pastor, a seminary teacher and rector, pastor and chancellor of the diocese before being named, in 1977, to head the neighboring Diocese of Yakima, Washington. In 1990, Pope John Paul II transferred him to Spokane, which had more than 86,000 Catholics in 2004. Last December, the diocese filed for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy protection in view of pending clergy sex-abuse lawsuits.

Such diverse pastoral, educational and administrative experiences aided Skylstad when he became a bishop. “I found my previous years of working with people in parishes to be very helpful and beneficial,” he says. “One of the primary roles of a bishop is to be a pastor, a shepherd of the people.”

Serving as USCCB vice president under then-president Bishop (now Archbishop) Wilton Gregory from 2001 to 2004, as well as chairing three of its committees and serving on two others, Bishop Skylstad learned how the conference works. Armed with a willingness to heal wounds left by the clergy sex-abuse crisis, Bishop Skylstad says, “We must continue to address the sex-abuse crisis in a way that helps us to serve God’s people. We need to restore trust and continue to implement the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People so that Church ministry takes place in a safe environment. We must reach out in a continuing way to those who have been hurt.”

Bishop Skylstad, despite obvious sadness over the clergy sex-abuse crisis, maintains hope for the Church. “As difficult and painful as these past three years have been, I still see them as moments of grace. We are seeking effective ways of helping people to come to a sense of peace and reconciliation—maybe even forgiveness as we look to the future.”

This humble bishop, who is a beekeeper and amateur radio operator in his spare time, still talks like a quiet parish priest when referring to the Church. Inspired by the many holy people he encounters in his ministry, he says: “In our parishes there are holy people all over the place. There are! Married couples, single people and some of our youth are tremendously inspiring.”

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