Former Vatican Ambassador to Turkey appointed Auxiliary Bishop in Detroit

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A former Vatican ambassador to Turkey and Taiwan who grew up in Michigan and has ministered in countries around the world will become the next assistant bishop in the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, Pope Francis announced Monday.

Beginning in July, Archbishop Paul Fitzpatrick Russell will become one of five auxiliary bishops in the archdiocese, which includes more than 1 million Catholics in six counties in southeast Michigan. There are two other retired auxiliary bishops.

Russell, 63, has served as a diplomat helping represent the Catholic Church around the world, including in Turkey, Taiwan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Switzerland, Nigeria and Turkmenistan, according to a Detroit Archdiocese biography and previous media reports.

In 2008, Pope Benedict made Russell chargé d’affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature in Taiwan, meaning he was effectively the Vatican’s ambassador to the small Asian nation. The Vatican has no official relationship with mainland China.

Russell was ambassador to Taiwan for eight years and worked to “improve relations between the Holy See, Taiwan and the mainland,” he said in a 2016 article in Boston Pilot, a Catholic newspaper.

In 2016, Pope Francis appointed Russell Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan. In the same year he was given the title of Archbishop. In 2018, Pope Francis added Azerbaijan to the nations to which he served as ambassador.

“I am so happy with Pope Francis’ decision to send me home and look forward to serving as Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit and immersing myself in the mission and ministry of the local church in southeast Michigan,” Russell said Monday in a statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said Russell’s global experience will help enrich the local archdiocese.

“He has ministered to the Church around the world and brings to the Archdiocese of Detroit a valuable perspective of the universal Church and our mission to make joyful missionary disciples of all nations,” Vigneron said in a statement.

Russell was born in Massachusetts. After his parents’ divorce, he moved with his mother to their hometown of Alpena, Michigan when he was in third grade, according to the Detroit Archdiocese and the Boston Pilot.

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He attended St. Bernard of Clairvaux Elementary School and Alpena High School, then entered St. John’s Seminary in Boston and was ordained a priest in 1987. Russell served five years in church service and one year as personal secretary to Cardinal Archbishop Bernard Law.

After studying in Rome at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and the Pontifical Gregorian University, he became a diplomat in the Catholic Church.

Russell’s tenure as ambassador to Turkey and Taiwan came amid at times strained relations between the Vatican and Turkey and China.

China severed ties with the Vatican in 1951. Pope Benedict visited Turkey in 2006 but was met with protests over previous statements on Islam; During his stay, he visited a mosque. According to media reports, it was only the second time in history that a pope had visited an Islamic place of worship.

Years before Russell became Ambassador to Turkey in 2016, he worked in Turkey for the Vatican in the Apostolic Nunciature from 2000 to 2002. He was visiting the US at the time of the September 11 attacks, the Archdiocese of Detroit said.

“I was there at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York,” he told the Boston Pilot. “The world changed completely in that moment. We are now seeing the fruits of that.”

When he became ambassador, Turkey faced an influx of refugees from Iraq and Syria.

“Turkey is geographically in a difficult place in the world,” he said in 2016. “The southern border is Syria, the so-called Islamic State, Iraq and Iran — it’s a difficult neighborhood. And yet the Church’s presence in Turkey dates back to the dawn of Christianity. Turkey is a land blessed by the presence of the apostles and many great saints.”

Russell said in the Detroit Archdiocese statement that he first met Vigneron 30 years ago. In 2016, Vigneron was one of the co-consecrators when he became archbishop at a ceremony in Boston.

“Archbishop Vigneron has shown me fraternal support on various occasions and now his warm welcome to the Archdiocese is a source of particular gratitude,” Russell said.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: [email protected] or Twitter @nwarikoo

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