November 07, 2005

Bishop says outreach key to church's future

Courier News

Staff Writer

"Middle management" is how The Most Reverend Paul G. Bootkoski, the bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, refers to himself.

And like any member of middle management, he must tread the narrow line between satisfying the dictates of corporate headquarters in Rome and growing his business, which in his case is a $12 million a year enterprise with 108 parishes, 46 Catholic schools and more than half a million parishioners in Central Jersey.

Bootkoski, 65, spoke with Courier News editors on Tuesday about the challenges facing the diocese and his vision for the future.

While other dioceses in the state are shrinking -- with church closings becoming a regular occurrence -- the diocese is growing. When it was established 25 years ago, it had 411,000 members; today it has 557,000 members in Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties representing about 42 percent of the population.

But the growth presents challenges, among them the lack of a sufficient number of priests; the need to establish new parishes in areas where the population is growing, such as Hunterdon County; the desire not to close churches in areas where congregations are shrinking; and the need to reach out to young people.

And, while he must accomplish all of the above while continuing to tread that narrow line, the task is one that the affable bishop -- ranked 20th on a list of the state's 100 most politically influential personalities -- appears to have more than enough vision and political savvy to handle.

While other bishops have turned to hardball legal tactics to deal with sexual abuse allegations, Bootkoski has reached out to victims and appointed members of a survivors' group to an advisory board that examines sex abuse claims.

Posted by kshaw at November 7, 2005 06:47 AM