Sudbury·Audio

Jean-Louis Plouffe reflects on Catholic church challenges as new bishop takes over

There is a changing of the guard at the top of the Catholic church in northeastern Ontario as Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe retires after nearly three decades as Bishop of the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

Marcel Damphousse takes over as Bishop early in the new year

Jean-Louis Plouffe says it wasn't until his replacement was named that it sank in he'd no longer be the Bishop of Sault Ste. Marie. (Roger Corriveau/CBC)

There is a changing of the guard at the top of the Catholic church in northeastern Ontario as Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe retires after nearly three decades as Bishop of the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie.

Bishops have a mandatory retirement age of 75. But even after he reached that birthday, Jean-Louis Plouffe says it wasn't until his replacement was named that it sank in he'd no longer be the Bishop of Sault Ste. Marie.

"It comes in as somewhat as a 'Ooof! This is for real now.'"

During the past 29 years, Plouffe has guided the diocese, which covers parishes in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay and points in between.

He's had to oversee the closing of many of those parishes, with sagging church attendance.

"This was the worst thing I had to deal with and it had to be done," Plouffe said.

He has also had to deal with the scandal and lawsuits from victims of church sexual abuse.

Plouffe said the silver lining of that "crisis" was that he and his priests "rediscovered a deeper meaning" of what it is to serve the faithful.

"We went together through rough times," Plouffe said.

"I felt at times we were all painted with the same brush. I hope that together we've grown out of this."

The new bishop is 52-year-old Marcel Damphousse, who currently oversees a diocese in eastern Ontario.

Despite recent hardships, Damphousse said reconnecting with the public is job No.1 for the Catholic church.

"How do we communicate that message in a relative way for the people of today? I think that's the greatest challenge right now."

Damphousse officially takes over as Bishop early in the new year.

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