The new leader of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Wednesday called on the local church to “constantly return to repentance and belief” in order to move forward from its past mistakes.
“Jesus and only Jesus is our healer and our source of unity,” said Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. at his installation before a packed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City.
Pope Francis in September named Johnston, 56, to succeed Bishop Robert W. Finn, who resigned as leader of the diocese in April.
Finn’s departure came three years after he was convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest.
Previously the bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in southern Missouri, Johnston dedicated just a few minutes of a 20-minute homily to the challenge of healing the diocese. He did not address sex abuse directly.
But he stressed the need for repentance and “to look honestly at who we are, how we’ve failed and the people we’ve wounded.”
In his previous post, Johnston helped establish Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, which provided critical aid to victims of the 2011 tornado in Joplin. He later shepherded the creation of the Trinity Hills Catholic Worker House and Farm east of Springfield.
Known to be unassuming and plain-spoken, Johnston drew hearty applause and some laughter at Wednesday’s ceremonies.
He said the clergy and laity must work together: “Our goal is to get to heaven and drag as many people with us as we can.”