Bishop Gregory Parkes, who has led the Pensacola-Tallahassee Catholic Diocese since 2012, will be installed January 4 as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Appointed by Pope Benedict the XVI, Parkes became the fifth bishop of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Catholic Diocese. He succeeded Bishop John Ricard, who retired due to health reasons. The decision by Pope Francis to place him downstate, Parkes says, was unexpected.
“It’s something that you don’t think about a lot, but it is a possibility,” Parkes said. “So I would say that when the call came, it was a great surprise to me.”
Parkes, 52, succeeds Bishop Robert Lynch. who at age 75 was required to offer his resignation to Pope Francis, who then accepted it. Parkes goes from a small diocese with roughly 65,000 parishioners in 57 churches spread through 18 counties, to Florida’s second-largest, about 500,000 Catholics in five counties, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando, Citrus, and Pasco.
“I think the main challenge for me is going to continue to be personal and pastoral with as many people as possible,” said Parkes. “When you go to a much larger diocese you have some mega-parishes and bigger congregations. So you don’t always have that personal interaction that I’ve enjoyed for the last four years [in Pensacola-Tallahassee]."
Parkes, who had been a priest for only 13 years when named a bishop, said he saw the hand of God in his rapid ascension in 2012, as he does now with his move to St. Pete.
“We would believe that the Holy Father would have brought this decision to prayer, so in that sense we believe that it would be of God that this appointment is made,” Parkes said. “The timing of it [was] much quicker than I would have liked. I’ve come to love the Panhandle.”
Meanwhile, bishops continue to deal with the Church’s sexual abuse crisis, Parkes being among them. But at least one victims’ advocacy group doesn’t think much of their efforts, or lack thereof.
“We’ve seen nothing about Bishop Parkes’ record that gives us much hope when it comes to protecting kids, exposing predators, and deterring cover-ups,” said David Clohessy, the Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. In 2013 Bishop Parkes removed Monsignor Michael Cherup as pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Fort Walton Beach, over the alleged abuse in 1993 of a 15-year-old while Cherup was at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Pensacola.
“Bishop Parkes waited months before suspending [Cherup] after the first allegation came in, then let the accused predator-priest claim innocence in a parish bulletin,” Clohessy said. “Which may not sound like a great deal, but what it does, is discourage [sic] other victims, witnesses and whistle-blowers from coming forward.
“The bishops of the United States have made a solid commitment to protect all of our vulnerable populations,” Parkes responded. “Whether they be children our young people; the handicapped, the elderly.”
The question of what would be next in dealing with the scandal hung over the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI earlier that year. At that time, Parkes had been overseeing Pensacola-Tallahassee and its 57 parishes for just over a year.
“I have dealt with it, according to the guidelines of the Charter,” said Parkes. “Whether it was in a manner that was as timely as others would like it, that’s something I can’t answer for.”
As far as who will be the next bishop for Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese, candidates are submitted in groups of threes by the Apostolic Nuncio to Rome. The Congregation of Bishops is free to nominate anyone. While the Pope is not bound by the Congregation’s choice, he almost always trusts their judgment.
As he prepares for his new duties in St. Petersburg, Bishop Gregory Parkes offers this mini-homily as a farewell.
“I would just say that in our Christian faith, we should never lose hope. To realize that suffering, adversity and challenges are part of our lives. And so, through the Lord and our faith in Him there is always hope for us in our lives. There’s always a new tomorrow."