By Kathleen Gilbert
SCRANTON, Pennsylvania, August 31, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Scranton's Bishop Joseph F. Martino, one of the most vocal pro-life and pro-family defenders in the American Catholic Church, announced at a press conference today that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted his resignation. Martino cited wavering health triggered by stress as the reason for his resignation.
As Scranton's Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty is simultaneously retiring, the Pope appointed Cardinal Justin F. Rigali of Philadelphia to serve as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Scranton until a new Bishop of Scranton is named.
Martino said that the stress from dissent among members of his diocese led to his petitioning Rome to resign in June.
“For some time now, there has not been a clear consensus among the clergy and people … on my pastoral initiatives or my way of governance,” said Bishop Martino. In addition to causing him “great sorrow,” said the bishop, the stress from the friction caused him to suffer from insomnia and “crippling physical fatigue.”
Martino, 63, said the diocese ought to have a bishop “who is at least physically vigorous. I am not that bishop.” He thanked those who collaborated with him, and sought forgiveness for his shortcomings that were “due to my human limitations.”
Rigali, who was at the conference, expressed his “deep gratitude” for Bishop Martino's service.
Martino served as Bishop of Scranton for the past six years. During that time, he attracted attention in pro-life and pro-family circles across America with his staunch guardianship of the Church's teaching on abortion and homosexuality.
In February, Martino rebuked Scranton parishioner Sen. Robert Casey for supporting President Obama's abolition of the Mexico City Policy, simultaneously reminding Scranton's ministers of their obligation not to offer Communion to politicians who support pro-abortion policies. “Your failure to reverse this vote will regrettably mean that you persist formally in cooperating with the evil brought about by this hideous and unnecessary policy,” the bishop told Casey.
Later that month, when Scranton's Misericordia University hosted a homosexualist speaker, Martino told his diocese that the school had “seriously failed” in maintaining its Catholic identity, and called on the school to give an account of its moral teaching on sexuality.
In March, Martino again displayed his commitment to Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life by reminding St. Patrick's Day paraders that St. Peter's Cathedral would be off-limits to the revelry if organizers honored any pro-abortion politicians. The previous year's parade had honored pro-abortion Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Pro-life Catholic leaders have praised Martino as an outstanding example of fortitude among the American episcopacy.
“[Martino] has become a real hero for a lot of us,” American Life League president Judie Brown told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) earlier this year. “We finally have someone in Bishop Martino who is willing to stand up and lead and be a good shepherd – regardless of what the media says, regardless of what people think – simply because he knows that it's right to be as outspoken in defense of the Catholic Faith as he has been.”
In response to a question on how he viewed his own national legacy, Martino said today that his devotion to the sanctity of life was “a longstanding and visceral concern of mine, a principle of acting and being, and I never talked about that with any desire to attract to myself any following.”
Martino noted that, when once a local pro-life group wanted to honor him at a banquet, he declined the award: “You don't accept awards, I think, for what you're supposed to do,” he said. “I only did what I was supposed to do.”
The bishop also mentioned that he has received letters from pro-lifers who said his example had given them encouragement.
“Many times, pro-life people, because they are very dedicated and passionate, get 'sloughed off' as – the media sometimes, the secular media, and even sometimes in church circles – as people who are sort of 'pesky,'” he said. “I always found that rather difficult to handle.
“I think that they are, because of their passion, because of their devotion, they are very dear to the Lord and certainly deserve the encouragement, the prudent encouragement of the bishop.
“Not to any radical fringe – all groups have radical fringes – but to the mainstream people who want to work to overturn a profound cancer in our society, the sin of, frankly, murdering 50 million people,” he said. “And I think we have begun to become quite blasé about that, and that scares me above all. That scares me very much.”
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage: