Brazilian Bishop to lead F.R. Diocese
Edgar Moreira da Cunha named to throne
FALL RIVER — The Diocese of Fall River is up for new leadership in September as Bishop George Coleman steps down and Bishop Edgar Moreira Da Cunha takes his place.
“I express my gratitude to the Diocese of Fall River,” said Bishop Coleman during a press conference last Friday, before telling the next head of the diocese, “Welcome to the Diocese of Fall River. Welcome to your new home.”
Coleman submitted his resignation on his 75th birthday, in accordance with Church canonical law.
Da Cunha, who his the first and so far only Brazilian bishop in the U.S., as well as fully trilingual in English, Spanish and Portuguese, took to the podium soon after.
“I see this as a gift from God,” he said. “I am eager to get to know and to work for the good of God’s people in this area.”
Bishop Da Cunha, a native of Nova Fatima, Bahía, Brazil, was born on Aug. 21, 1953. He attended the minor seminary there, known as St. Joseph’s, and progressed to study philosophy at the Universidade Católica do Salvador in Salvador, Bahía.
Da Cunha received his master of divinity degree in theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, New Jersey. He took his vows on March 27, 1982, at the Church of St. Michael in Newark.
He was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archidiocese of Newark in 2003 and was elevated to the post of vicar general for the same archdiocese on June 6 of last year.
In an interview with O Jornal, Da Cunha said the call to serve in the priesthood has been with him since he was a young boy.
“There was a seminary in my hometown,” he said. “Seeing other young people in the seminary, I felt attracted to the priesthood and the work of the Church. It was kind of a natural progression in my life.”
The Catholic Church had been central to his life ever since.
“I was born and raised Catholic,” he said. “Seeing the service that the Church provides. Seeing the love of God.”
Of course that does not mean he has not had moments of doubt in terms of taking on his vocations and his opinion on the Church.
“Our faith grows and is purified as we face the challenges of life,” he said. “We all have questions. … I was always convinced, after all that I went through, that this was what God had planned for me.”
The new bishop of Fall River is not the only news bringing the Catholic Church into the headlines.Pope Francis attracted a maelstrom of attention when he met with the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy and asked them for forgiveness earlier this week.
“I think he [the Pope] did the right thing and I applaud him for it,” said Da Cunha.
The Archdiocese of Newark, Da Cunha’s current diocese, has had 42 accused or confirmed cases of clerical sex abuse against children, according to www.bishopaccountability.org, a victim advocacy group. The same organization counts a total of 32 cases for the Diocese of Fall River.
During the press conference last Friday, Da Cunha was asked to respond to a statement by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) claiming that the newly named bishop “has shown no real courage or compassion in one of the worst archdioceses in the U.S. for clergy sex abuse victims.”
“I disagree with that,” he said.
SNAPs’ accusations were largely based on a policy regarding the funerals of the priests who had been removed from service as a result of accusations, approved by Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark in March of this year. The policy requires that they not be buried in the parish where they served and that public announcements be kept to a minimum.
In a letter sent by Da Cunha in regards to the policy upon its proliferation, he said that its intentions are to allow for “sensitivity to the family of the deceased priest as well as to avoid possible negative publicity or further embarrassment to the family and the Church.”
While SNAP criticized the move, Da Cunha defended it in his interview.
“We were doing that for several reasons,” he said. “First of all, it is to be sensitive to the people involved. … The priest is already dead, but everyone deserves some respect in death.
“We are not just worried about negative publicity, but we are worried about the good of the family, the good of the Church and the good of the victims.”
When asked whether he would apply a similar policy in Fall River, Da Cunha emphasized the focus on healing current wounds and protection of the flock.
“I have met with victims of abuse, and talked to them and showed my concern for them,” he said. “We first of all want to avoid any further abuse. … As for the victims, we want to reach out and help them heal their wounds.”
Nonetheless, Da Cunha expresses a love for the Church and its mission, which he recognizes does have to evolve over time.
“The way our faith was practiced as I was growing up was somewhat different from how it is practiced today,” he said. “There is change in our media, so the world has become much more secularized from when I was growing up. … The way the faith is expressed is a result of its place and time.”
A Mass celebrating Da Cunhas’ enthronement will take place on Sept. 24, at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River.