Robert Brennan has officially assumed the role as the eighth Bishop of Brooklyn, taking over the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens from Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who has presided over the Diocese’s 1.3 million Catholics since 2003.
Brennan, 59, formally assumed the role at an installation ceremony, presided over by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the US, at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights. Brennan previously served as the Bishop of Columbus, Ohio since 2019.
“From the day that my appointment was announced at the end of September through today and going forward, I just experienced such an incredible welcome,” Brennan said at a press conference before the mass on Tuesday morning. “Back in September my heartstrings were tugging as I was leaving Columbus, but now that I’ve been here a couple days, I can’t wait to get started.”
DiMarzio submitted his retirement papers to Pope Francis back in 2019, upon reaching 75 years of age, but they were not accepted until September of this year, at which point DiMarzio announced his retirement and the Church announced the selection of Brennan as the new Bishop.
Though Brennan is technically coming to Brooklyn by way of Ohio, he’s no transplant: he was born in the Bronx and was raised on Long Island. Before his service in Columbus, he was an Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre in Nassau County.
Brennan’s coat of arms as the new Bishop has the motto “thy will be done,” a part of the Lord’s Prayer symbolizing how God will do what he wills. He said he chose the simple motto because when he would visit the grave of his grandfather whom he never met on Long Island as a child, he saw the phrase on the gravestone.
The new Bishop said that he doesn’t have any bright-eyed ideas on how to come into Brooklyn and shake the place up, but that he instead wants to make decisions as he goes along, meets people, and learns the customs and culture of his large, diverse new Diocese.
“I don’t have an actual program of we’re going to do X, Y, or Z. It would be, quite honestly, a little foolish on my part to come in and say, ‘ok, now it’s the Brennan way of doing things,'” Brennan said. “There’s a rich history here, and I want to learn from that.”
Brennan again noted the cultural richness and diversity of Brooklyn and Queens as he addressed his congregation in his first speech as Bishop.
“The world is found in Brooklyn and Queens,” Brennan said. “Every language, every nationality. We truly are the Diocese of Immigrants.”
DiMarzio, in a tweet, offered “congratulations and prayers” to Brennan and expressed pride in his nearly two decades of service.
“Today I offer congratulations & prayers to my successor, Bishop Robert J. Brennan as he is installed as the Eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn,” DiMarzio said. “I am grateful to have served as your Bishop for 18 years. May God continue to bless you & all the people of Brooklyn and Queens.”
In his final column in the Tablet, the Brooklyn Diocese’s newspaper, DiMarzio expressed pride in having led the Diocese through tough times in the city, such as the aftermath of 9/11 and through Hurricane Sandy and the COVID-19 pandemic. He also said he was proud of having ensured the Church stayed contemporary by maintaining a presence on social media, reforming the governance of Catholic education, and working to root out racism and sexual abuse in the Diocese.
“As my journey comes to an end as the Seventh Bishop of Brooklyn I am filled with thankfulness in all we have accomplished together during these past 18 years,” DiMarzio wrote. “Still, we need to continue to put out into the deep and not be afraid.”
DiMarzio’s tenure was not without controversy, however, as he himself was accused of child sexual abuse in 2019 dating back to his time as a priest in New Jersey in the 70s. One accuser claimed that DiMarzio abused him when he was 11 or 12 years old while the other said the abuse happened when he was just 6.
DiMarzio denied all wrongdoing, and in September the Vatican exonerated him of any wrongdoing, finding the allegations against him “not to have the semblance of the truth.” DiMarzio said he had been vindicated by the ruling, and Brennan was announced as the new Bishop just a few weeks later.
A lawyer for the accusers, Mitchell Garabedian, said at the time that the Church’s probe had no legitimacy as it was controlled and paid for by the Church, which found no wrongdoing on its own part. Civil litigation is ongoing in New Jersey under that state’s Child Victims Act.
Brennan on Tuesday said that the Church has made “great strides” on eliminating sexual abuse by clergy and providing safer environments for children in the past two decades. He also said that the first things he would do on that front is to learn about the Diocese’s existing measures like its Office of Victim Assistance (which was started by DiMarzio), and to meet with survivors and listen to their stories.
“My first step will be…to understand even better the good things that are happening better and the good work that’s taking place,” Brennan said. “And then to meet with survivors, to get to know people.”
Brennan said in September that the Brooklyn Diocese is known “well beyond its borders” for its victim assistance program, and that he was confident in the Vatican’s investigation.
Brennan arrives at a perilous time for the Catholic Church in New York. The Brooklyn Diocese was sued hundreds of times under New York’s Child Victims Act, which allowed victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their alleged abusers without regard to a statute of limitations. Four of New York State’s eight dioceses, in Buffalo, Rochester, Rockville Centre, and Syracuse, have filed for bankruptcy since the CVA’s implementation in 2019; the window to file civil suits for decades-old allegations expired earlier this year.