Mostly cloudy

Next Santa Rosa bishop brings 'orthodox' view of Catholicism

  • Bishop Robert Vasa has been the Bishop of Baker, Oregon since 2000 and will become the sixth Bishop of Santa Rosa after working with the current Bishop Daniel Walsh until his retirement is approved by the Vatican. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

Robert Vasa, the bishop of eastern Oregon, is a son of the American Plains, a no-frills man of the cloth who once described himself as “common as an old shoe.”

Born and raised on a Nebraska dairy and row-crop farm, the 59-year-old cleric came 11 years ago to the vast Catholic diocese where he helped convert a horse barn into a retreat center and wired the church office for a computer network.

With a theological steadfastness that belies his homespun ways, Vasa gained national attention by stripping Bend's major hospital of its Catholic affiliation for performing tubal ligations.

He also imposed on lay teachers and administrators a pledge of fidelity to Catholic prohibitions on pre-marital sex, masturbation and homosexuality, calling them “gravely evil.”

Named in January as successor to Santa Rosa Bishop Daniel Walsh, Vasa (pronounced “Vasha”) will be introduced to local Catholics at Mass this morning at St. Eugene Cathedral.

Vasa declined to say what his initial priorities will be, other than getting to know the priests and parishioners of the 165,000-member North Coast diocese.

His record suggests that he could depart from the largely tolerant approach to church doctrine attributed to his predecessors.

Plain, if not blunt, in speech, the man who will be Santa Rosa's sixth bishop is inclined to squeeze a dime hard. He won't pay for cable TV and he'd rather eat beans out of the can with a spoon than dine on French cuisine off fine plates and silver service.

“People say I am penurious at the risk of being cheap,” Vasa said in an interview.

Called at young age

Vasa will share the bishop's residence and work alongside Walsh, 73, until Walsh retires later this year from the post he has held since 2000 and returns, he hopes, to serve as a parish priest in his hometown of San Francisco, where he was ordained in 1963.

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