ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Pope Francis decided to stay close when selecting a new leader of the Allentown Roman Catholic Diocese.
The pope on Tuesday appointed Monsignor Alfred Schlert as the fifth bishop of Allentown. Schlert is the first priest from the diocese to be appointed to lead it.
The 55-year-old has been serving as the diocesan administrator since the pope named his predecessor the bishop of Rockville Centre, New York. He said his experience in the area will help as he takes on the new role.
“The advantage first of all is the wonderful priests I already know, the deacons, our wonderful staff,” he said.
Monsignor Francis Nave, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, in Bath, said priests in the diocese were happy with Schlert’s appointment.
“I don’t think there could have been a better choice,” he said. “No one knows the diocese better than he does.”
Schlert was born in Easton, attended seminary near Philadelphia and was ordained in Allentown in 1987.
He said he received a phone call last week, expecting to be told who the new bishop was. He was surprised to hear it would be him.
Schlert said he would focus on bringing young people to the church and helping those hurt by abusive priests.
“For some it will be a difficult path to healing, and we have to stay close to them and accompany them,” he said. “We’ve taken a lot of steps and will continue to be faithful to that.”
Schlert’s selection was praised by his predecessors.
“He is a priest’s priest and now will be a bishop’s bishop,” former Bishop John Barres said.
The Allentown Diocese is home to more than 250,000 Roman Catholics and comprises 84 parishes.
Schlert’s installation will take place at the Cathedral of Saint Catharine of Siena in Allentown on Aug. 31.
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