HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The Vatican announced who will be the next archbishop of Hartford.
Pope Francis appointed Most Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, who has served as Bishop of Burlington, Vermont, since January 2015, as coadjutor archbishop. He will succeed Archbishop Leonard Blair when he resigns in 2024.
The coadjutor role will allow Coyne, 65, to work alongside Blair over the next year to become familiar with the clergy and culture in Hartford.
Blair, who has served as archbishop of Hartford since 2013, will turn 75 years old next year. Under church law, an archbishop resigns at 75.
Coyne, 65, was ordained to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Boston in June 1986. His offices have included serving as a pastor in Newton and Westwood, Massachusetts. He has also been a bishop for the southern region of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Coyne will lead half a million Catholics in Hartford, New Haven and Litchfield counties. He said the biggest challenge is impacting churches everywhere — low attendance and getting people back into pews. He said this starts with a welcoming presence.
“People who don’t divide, be people of peace, people of hope,” Coyne said. “Don’t add to the divisions that are there, and try and heal the divisions within the church so we try and get our own house into order. That has to be our number one focus. To try and encourage people to come, but I also say do it one person at a time, one opportunity at a time.”
Coyne has a seemingly simple approach to solve some of the biggest issues facing the church.
“Encourage each of us to be welcoming people,” Coyne said.
The biggest issue plaguing parishes across the globe is low attendance.
Coyne says a welcoming presence is key to getting people back in pews — including the LGBTQ community.
“Accept them as they are presenting themselves to us at that time,” Coyne said. “To not set up barriers like you have to do this and you have to do that but welcome, let’s start to walk together and what do you need from me and how can I help you to find your way in life.”
It’s a similar approach in other difficult situations like alleged misconduct, something the diocese has had to answer to time and time again — including just last month when a priest with ties in Waterbury, Torrington and Hamden was accused of sexual abuse.
Coyne said he is ready to listen and help people heal while also taking action and accountability through compensation or settlement. The end goal of renewing faith remains the same.
“Listen to them and hear them and then to try and also hopefully get them to come back into the church because that’s the hardest and saddest is when they leave the faith because they’ve been so abused,” Coyne said.
Coyne will lead half a million Catholics in Hartford, New Haven and Litchfield counties, bringing a new wave of momentum while continuing the work being done.
“We do provide contributions to many, many, many, community organizations through things that are of help to those in need and I know the archbishop will continue that,” Blair said.
Coyne isn’t new to boosting attendance.
“The cathedral where I preach regularly in Burlington, the numbers are growing there because all the things we are doing in the way of being a welcoming community and an encouraging community and a community of belonging,” Coyne said.
Last week a Vatican document encouraged bishops to talk about how the church can be more welcoming of the LGBTQ community.
Coyne says everyone should be accepted and walk together in their journey of faith saying it doesn’t cost a thing.
The Vatican also brought up considering allowing women to become deacons and giving women more decision-making power in the Catholic church. Coyne’s approach seems to be progressive.
He said that his director of communications, his director of human resources and his director of Catholic Charities are all women who function as executives.
“As far as women as priests, in our catholic church that’s a closed matter but I think there are ways we can expand their role,” Coyne said.
Coyne has experience being in front of a camera, as well. According to his bio, he was nominated for a regional Emmy in 2022 for the “Sacred Space” television series on CatholicTV. He also won the Telly and People’s Telly Award for “Everything You Wanted to Know About Catholic Liturgy.”
A Mass of Welcome will be held for Coyne at 2 p.m. on Oct. 9 at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph.