Pope Francis has appointed a new leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, permanently replacing a bishop convicted of failing to report child sex abuse.
The Vatican named Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., 55, as the new bishop of diocese. Johnston has been been leader of the Springfield - Cape Girardeau Diocese since 2008. He will be installed in his new post on Nov. 4.
Johnson said he was surprised to learn about his new position two days ago. He knows his top priority is helping his flock heal as well as preventing abuse.
"I am also am very much aware up close of how much pain the actions of priests and bishops have caused many people individually and the importance of taking seriously the need for healing and calling people to responsibility," Johnson said.
The selection comes five months after former Bishop Robert Finn resigned after he was found guilty in 2012 of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years of probation. He is the highest-ranking church official in the United States to be convicted of not taking action in response to abuse allegations.
The temporary caretaker of the church, Archbishop Joseph Naumann from Kansas, introduced Johnston to the chancery staff at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
The announcement also comes days before the pontiff arrives in the United States on Sept. 22 for a five-day visit.
Johnson becomes the Kansas City area diocese's seventh bishop.
A group that advocates on behalf of victims of abuse by church leaders said Johnson has a disappointing record when it comes to clergy sex crimes and cover ups.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said Johnson "is no friend of kids or victims," and was a poor choice by the pope. The group said Johnson had not done enough to protect the victims of predator priests and refused to remove the statue of a bishop who admitted to molesting a boy.
"We're hoping that he has a change of heart and becomes proactive," SNAP's Michael Sandridge said.
Some parishioners cheered the announcement.
"I am just grateful that we do have a new bishop named and we're looking forward to his leadership," Terri Martin said.
Johnston was born on Oct. 16, 1959, in Knoxville, TN. He attended Catholic elementary and secondary school and in 1982 earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
He left a career in engineering in 1985 in order to pursue a call to the priesthood. He attended St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana, obtained his Master of Divinity Degree there in 1990 and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Knoxville on in June 1990. He earned a Licentiate in Canon Law from the Catholic University of America in 1996.
In Knoxville, he served in parish ministry and as Chancellor and Moderator of the Curia. In 2005, Johnston and two other priests were awarded the Citizens Award for Bravery by the U.S. Department of the Interior for helping save a family in danger of plunging over a waterfall in Glacier National Park.
As bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau he has successfully encouraged vocations to the priesthood, helped establish Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri and supported the Catholic Worker movement.
Among his national commitments, Bishop Johnston served on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Child and Youth Protection and is currently Episcopal Liaison to the National Council of Catholic Women.
He also served on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Child and Youth Protection.
KCTV5's Brandon Richard contributed to this report.
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