US oldest bishop greets election of Pope Benedict as good for the future

Bishop Aloysius Wycislo is turning 97 on June 17, and from his perspective as the oldest bishop in the United States, he says he is hopeful about the future of the Church and confident in its new pontiff.

Bishop Wycislo was a personal friend of Pope John Paul II and doesn’t really know Pope Benedict. Nonetheless, he said, he is “hopeful about where the Church is going.”

“It could be that Pope Benedict XVI might be the right person, fostering the church in the direction that God would have it be,” he told the Green Bay Press Gazette.

In an interview with the Green Bay Press Gazette, he commented that the Church has surely had its ups and downs, often related to the culture of the country where the Church is present, but it has persevered.

Likewise, he said, “The Church has often influenced the culture of a country.”

“It would seem today — at least it is my feeling — that culture may have influenced the church more than the church would desire. Holding fast to tradition and that which has proven sound is not always easy and does take strong leadership.

The Chicago native also commented on his experience at the Second Vatican Council and the way in which it foresaw the current challenges in the Church, such as the shortage of priests.

He said he was impressed with how the “Catholic laity have taken on seriously their responsibility for leadership in the Church.”

Despite these challenges, the 96-year-old bishop-emeritus of Green Bay said: “It could be that we are witnessing a stronger Church. It may be less in numbers, but those who are part of it are really active in that Church.”

While he has “never hesitated” to put women in leadership positions, he does not foresee the ordination of women in the Church.

He was ordained a priest in 1934 and in the 1940s was a field director for Catholic Relief Services. He and his staff were responsible for resettling between 600,000 and 700,000 refugees after World War II. He was consecrated a bishop in 1960. His appointment as bishop of Green Bay was in 1968.

Since his retirement in 1983, Bishop Wycislo says he continues to serve as much as he can. He continues writing and has just finished editing a manuscript that he wrote a few years ago. It consists of 300 pages of letters he wrote to his parishioners in Chicago during his sessions at Vatican II.

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