New bishop is optimistic as he prepares to take reins of diocese

Bishop Frank Caggiano in what will become his office at the Diocese of Bridgeport headquarters after his Sept. 19 installation. — Laureen Vellante photo

Bishop Frank Caggiano in what will become his office at the Diocese of Bridgeport headquarters after his Sept. 19 installation.
— Laureen Vellante photo

Bishop Frank Caggiano, who will be installed as the new head of the Diocese of Bridgeport next month, has watched the video of his priesthood ordination ceremony just once.

Because he couldn’t see what was going on behind him — he wasn’t aware of his father crying during the ceremony until he did.

“I had never seen my father cry,” the bishop, 54, told Hersam Acorn Newspapers during a recent interview at the diocese offices in Bridgeport.

Bishop Caggiano said it struck him because he wasn’t sure of the reason at first. The son of two Italian immigrants, the bishop’s father had come to Brooklyn without much. He had high hopes for his son’s future success. So when he told his parents he wanted to become a priest, “dad wasn’t too keen on the idea.”

But when he saw his son become a priest, the bishop’s mother told him his father cried because he was so happy his son was happy.

“Dad came around. He came to realize the hard lesson — we want the best for the people we love but there is a giving up in that process. We must allow them to make their own decisions and tolerate a decision we may not agree with,” he said.

Bishop Caggiano also shared some of his father’s uncertainty.

Despite a life-long inner vocation, when he first graduated from the seminary, Bishop Caggiano went to the chapel and had a heart-to-heart with God.

“It was just me in the chapel, and I looked at the crucifix over the altar and I said, ‘Lord I will do anything for you. But this, I can’t do. Lord, I can’t do it,’” he said.

“God must have said to himself, let’s give him everything he thinks he needs,” Bishop Caggiano said.

So for just over a year, he worked in a corporate job, earned a good salary, used a company car, and an expense account — and came to realize something.

“What I thought I needed, I did not need,” Bishop Caggiano said.

He went back to the seminary and since then, “it’s just been a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

That experience included being ordained in the very chapel in which he first had doubt. “It shows God has a sense of humor,” Bishop Caggiano said.

Bishop Caggiano is a nearly life-long resident of a tight-knit community in Brooklyn.

“Even though I didn’t have a natural brother, I had a group of friends that became brothers to me. We played stick ball and went to baseball games. Baseball is a great love of mine,” he said.

In addition to an extra set of brothers, because the community was so close, Bishop Caggiano said he had 49 additional mothers to his own keeping an eye on him regularly. “It was very hard to escape,” he said, laughing.

Bishop Caggiano, whose parents are now both deceased, said “family was very important to us growing up.” He maintains a close relationship with his sister and his now-married niece, and Sunday family dinners and barbecues are frequent.

“We all come together and have some laughs. That kind of fabric of life gives its meaning. Life is about our relationships. Great friends, great family, great colleagues,” he said.

The bishop has called Brooklyn his home for most of his life, though he did spend five years living in Rome.

Ready for Connecticut

Despite that community tie, he said he had “no hesitation” upon learning of his new post as the head of the Diocese of Bridgeport. He replaces Bishop William E. Lori, who was transferred to lead Baltimore Catholics over a year ago. Caggiano said he returned to his lessons from the seminary.

“If it is God’s will, I’m doing everything God’s way. No matter what the challenges,” he said.

Greenwich’s Catholics are no doubt extremely anxious to learn about the diocese’s new leader and he is just as eager to get to work.

“I’m only beginning to learn. The grace of God is more powerful than any challenge. We will find a way. I come here with a tremendous amount of confidence,” he said.

Bishop Caggiano said he is also excited to grow and learn in an area so different from his home town — with more open space, suburbia and even farmland.

“It will stretch me,” he said, adding the consolation is that he is still not too far away and he can easily make it back for visits to friends and family.

When asked about the previous challenges the Diocese of Bridgeport has faced, Bishop Caggiano said he was not familiar with all the details of the history, but said he would not rely on “news reports” as his source of information.

“I need to do my own research, and we will deal with what it actually is,” he said.

The Diocese of Bridgeport is one of several U.S. dioceses that has struggled with allegations of sex abuse and cover-ups within its clergy. In addition, in 2006, Darien parish St. John’s was struck with upheaval when a private investigation revealed the pastor at the time, Rev. Michael Jude Fay, was allegedly using church donations to fund what some called an extravagant lifestyle. Fay was later sent to prison for stealing more than $1 million from the parish for a 37-month term. He later died in prison in 2009 at the age of 58 from prostate cancer.

Additionally Greenwich had its own brush with scandal when Michael Moynihan, the former pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish on North Street, was found to be taking church funds for his own personal use. An investigation found that while Mr. Moynihan had taken close to $300,000 to pay off a credit card and buy a boat. Last July he was sentenced to five months in federal prison, which he has served, followed by two years of supervised release. He was also ordered to perform 120 hours of community service and to pay $409,430 in restitution.

But Bishop Caggiano is now focused on the future.

As far as priorities for his leadership in the diocese, he said he believes the Diocese of Bridgeport faces the same challenges every diocese faces — one crucial one being evangelization.

“Telling people the good news of the gospel — there is a lot of indifference out there. People are overwhelmed, numb. People hear a lot of noise. We have to touch people’s hearts,” Bishop Caggiano said.

In particular, Bishop Caggiano said “young people are our hope. Our future.”

“They are living in a time where they are under challenge and attack from many different places. A lot of people sell them a bill of goods that leave many disappointed and wondering,” Bishop Caggiano said.

“The answer to that is the Lord and faith. The church as those answers,” he said.

Bishop Caggiano also said education is “very dear to my heart.”

“In my mind we have the best Catholic schools, and those schools are stable resources we have to start growing again,” Caggiano said. He added that he also hopes to support public school education as well in a collaborative form.

Bishop Caggiano also said he hopes to support the vocations within the church, whether it be a next generation of priests, current seminarians, or lay people to serve in leadership roles in their local parishes.

New chapter

The new leader of the diocese addressed the role of the church today and how it is viewed.

“The Catholic Church has gone through a period of difficulty in the last few years, but we are beginning to see a new chapter in the church,” he said.

That new chapter has a name and a face: Pope Francis.

Some of the biggest challenges faced by those preaching the good news are those who have had their hearts broken and feel alienated, and indifference, he said.

“When it comes to individuals, it has to be one person at a time. If your heart has been broken, let me walk with you in your journey in faith. That is how healing occurs,” Bishop Caggiano said.

It is indifference that Pope Francis is having the most effect on, Bishop Caggiano said — to fight indifference, one must get a person to take a second look.

“It is the work of grace, which Pope Francis has. It’s genuine. I saw it with my own eyes. There is no showmanship. It’s not scripted,” Bishop Caggiano said.

Bishop Caggiano recently was in Brazil with Pope Francis for World Youth Day.

Bishop Caggiano said one image “took his breath away” when traveling with the pope.

“A 12 or 13 year old boy stopped him on his motorcade, and whatever the boy said to him — the emotion on the pope’s face. It was red, with tears. That image is the catechism of what love means,” Bishop Caggiano said.

“That’s the opening, causing a second look,” he said.

“Pope Francis has the simplicity, the humility, the directness,” Bishop Caggiano said. The pope has taken several unusual steps, including choosing the name “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi, a new choice by a pope, because the saint is a lover of the poor. He also has opted to live in a Vatican guesthouse rather than the papal apartments to live in a community environment.

Pope Francis caused many to take a “second look” when he offered comments about homosexual priests to news organizations during his flight back to Rome from Brazil.

During a press conference on the plane, Pope Francis said: “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?” he said. “They shouldn’t be marginalized. They’re our brothers.”

The Catholic church regards homosexuality as a sin and has taken several public stances on it. For example, gay groups have been excluded from St. Patrick’s Day parades in New York and Boston.

“He’s not judging. That’s what the Lord taught. I’m not sure why this is news,” Bishop Caggiano said.

“The truth is the truth, which is so important in the life of the church. I need to encounter the person, then talk about their actions. The actions are not the person,” Caggiano said.

“Never forget the Lord will not always love your sins, but the Lord will always love you,” Bishop Caggiano said.

Installation

Bishop Caggiano, who has a Facebook group page, also plans on setting up a Twitter account to communicate with the diocese, which will become active the day of his installation as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport— Thursday, Sept. 19 — his mother’s birthday.

Bishop Caggiano said his mother was always thrilled with his priesthood and was a well-loved and familiar face in his Brooklyn diocese. In some cases, they were more excited to see her than him, Caggiano said.

His mother also taught him one more important lesson: how to cook.

What can he make?

“I make pasta! She taught me just enough. I’ll never starve,” he said, laughing.

 

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