YAKIMA, Wash. — An auxiliary bishop of the Seattle Archdiocese has been named the new bishop of the Yakima Diocese, the Catholic Church announced Tuesday.
The move marks a return to the region for the Most Rev. Joseph J. Tyson, who was born in Moses Lake and baptized at St. Paul Cathedral in Yakima. He grew up in Seattle but visited the Yakima area often to spend time with his grandparents.
"It's just a real, real pleasure — a real blessing — to receive this naming," Tyson said. "I'm just thrilled to be coming back to central Washington."
Founded in 1951, the Yakima diocese serves more than 80,000 Catholics across a sprawling seven-county area in central Washington, stretching from the Cascade mountains east to rolling fruit orchards, wine grape vineyards and fields of hops, potatoes and wheat. Parishioners include long-standing farm families and recent immigrants who've moved to the area for farm work.
The diocese also has been a training ground for well-respected leaders in the church, though it has not escaped the clergy sex abuse scandal of the past decade.
Tyson, 53, was ordained in 1989 and served parishes in Bellevue, Monroe and Seattle. He has been auxiliary bishop in Seattle since 2005. In that role, he oversees about 23,000 students as superintendent of Archdiocesan Catholic Schools.
Tyson said at a news conference at Holy Family Parish that he plans to spend his first year getting to know the priests and understanding the challenges in a region that has changed since he spent time here has a child.
Today, about 75 percent of Catholics in the diocese are Hispanic.
In addition to his native English, Tyson speaks Spanish and German, as well as some Serbo-Croatian and Vietnamese. In south Seattle, he spent nine years as pastor of three culturally diverse parishes where 37 languages were spoken.
Tyson said he traveled to places such as the Philippines and Vietnam to better understand the roots of his parishioners and priests. He also has visited various parts of Mexico and hopes to continue those travels.
Most of the priests from the diocese were in Yakima Tuesday to renew their promises and attended the news conference. They included Father Tom Kuykendall of St Joseph's Parish in Wenatchee, who said he believed Tyson would be a good fit for the region.
The priests in central Washington's parishes have a very positive working relationship, Kuykendall said, but other struggles remain.
"There are financial pressures in many of the parishes, and I know the diocese is struggling," he said. "We also face a shortage of priests."
Yakima also is sandwiched between two dioceses that have declared bankruptcy as a result of sex abuse lawsuits: Portland, Ore., and Spokane. The Yakima diocese has paid out more than $1 million to resolve claims involving at least seven priests.
"The scandal was a terrible thing and the church can't apologize enough to the victims. But this is also a societal problem," Tyson said.
Going forward, the church must ensure that clergy and laymen know their boundaries and recognize the church as a safe environment, he said.
"I realize that anything like the sex abuse scandal compromises our ability to preach," he said.
Tyson earned bachelor's degrees in journalism, Russian and East European studies and a master's degree in international relations at the University of Washington. He completed his theology studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Tyson succeeds the Most Rev. Carlos A. Sevilla, who has been Yakima bishop since 1997. Sevilla submitted his resignation letter last year upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.
Sevilla told Tyson he would find in his priests brothers and true friends who work hard and are devoted to their parishioners.
"I know that your time here will fill you with joy and great satisfaction," he said.
The Yakima Diocese said Sevilla plans to remain in the diocese and will be active in giving spiritual direction, leading retreats and filling in for priests.