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The Diocese of Steubenville announced Friday that Bishop Paul Bradley has been replaced as diocesan apostolic administrator, and will be succeeded by Bishop Edward Lohse of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Bishop Paul Bradley. Credit: Diocese of Steubenville.

The decision was framed in a diocesan announcement as a next step in the process of exploring a merger for the Steubenville diocese with the neighboring Diocese of Columbus, according to a press release issued Friday.

But sources with knowledge of the announcement say that Bradley was only informed of the decision by apostolic nuncio Cardinal Christophe Pierre this week, during a USCCB meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

The decision came in response to Bradley’s reservations regarding the prospect of merging the Steubenville diocese with Columbus, several sources said, as Pierre reportedly continues to support the prospect of the merger.

“Bishop Bradley has made it clear in Steubenville that this is not his choice,” one source close to the chancery told The Pillar

In a diocesan June 14 press release, Bradley also affirmed that he had not chosen to relinquish his role as Steubenville’s apostolic administrator.

“As the discernment process continues to move forward in regard to the future of the Diocese of Steubenville, the Holy Father has informed that my service of apostolic administrator of the diocese has been completed, and thanked me for my leadership over these last nine months,” Bradley said in the June 14 press release.

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Bradley, 78 and retired from his own Michigan diocese, was in September 2023 appointed to 

lead the Steubenville diocese as its temporary apostolic administrator. 

His appointment came after several difficult years for the Steubenville diocese, which has faced turmoil since the prospect of a merger was announced in October 2022.

In that month, former Steubenville bishop Jeff Monforton announced at a meeting of priests that a process was underway to see the eastern Ohio diocese merged with the neighboring diocese of Columbus. 

Diocesan clergy and laity pushed back, arguing that they had not been consulted, writing to the U.S. bishops’ conference to oppose the prospective merger, and holding rosary rallies outside the Steubenville diocesan chancery. 

Priests and laity argued that the Diocese of Steubenville has significantly more priests per capita than any other diocese in Ohio, had a higher share of Catholics attending Mass than other Ohio dioceses, had more participation in the global synod on synodality, and had both a stable population and continued prospects for priestly vocations.

That advocacy was a partial success. It saw a planned consultative USCCB vote on the issue, which had been scheduled for November 2022, to be shelved, with the prospective merger at least temporarily on pause. 

In September 2023, Monforton, who was also facing Vatican-ordered Vos estis lux mundi investigations, received an unusual new appointment, becoming an auxiliary bishop in Detroit, a rare assignment for someone already leading a diocese. 

As Bradley took the reins in Steubenville, he quickly garnered praise from local clergy, who said the bishop listened to them, was attentive to their needs, and did not seem to regard an extinctive merger for the diocese as a foregone conclusion.

Bradley confirmed to local Catholics that talks of a prospective merger were ongoing, at the direction of the Vatican. 

In December 2023, Bradley said that he and Columbus’ Bishop Earl Fernandes had begun, at Vatican request, a series of meetings to talk through the prospect of merging. A joint statement emphasized that no decision had been made, and the pope would make the final call.

But while Bradley was not the decision-maker, he made his opinion known.

In a February 2024 interview, he told Crux that “while there are some who think that the Diocese of Steubenville is not able to survive, that is not what I’ve found so far.”

“His candor really helped a lot of us have trust in the Church again,” one Steubenville priest told The Pillar. “Of course, all of this isn’t going to help with that.”

Another Steubenville priest described Bradley as the “most authentically Christian man I’ve ever met.”

Bradley also received praise from prominent local Catholics in the Steubenville diocese.

“He’s the kind of spiritual father that, I admit, I strive to be. His leadership is so gentle and strong — not anxious,” local professor Scott Hahn, an internationally known speaker and author, told The Pillar earlier this year.

In a video also released in February 2024, Bradley emphasized that he believed the Steubenville diocese has “strength and vitality,” and that it “can continue to thrive and faithfully further the mission of the Church, the body of Christ.” 

According to senior diocesan sources in Ohio, Bradley’s view had the support of several Ohio bishops, with only Fernandes expressing direct support for the prospect of the diocesan merger. 

According to senior clerical sources, support among Ohio’s bishops for the Steubenville diocese likely explains why Lohse, who leads a diocese more than five hours’ drive from Steubenville, has been appointed to fill the role as apostolic administrator. 

Lohse, 62, is a native of western Pennsylvania, territory nearby the eastern Ohio Steubenville diocese, and was appointed Bishop of Kalamazoo, Michigan in July 2023. A canon lawyer, Lohse worked from 2010 until 2016 in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Clergy.

According to the press release, the bishop “will complete the current process of discernment for the Steubenville diocese.”

Fernandes, 51, was from 2016 until 2019 secretary to the U.S. apostolic nuncio, working most of that term in direct service to Pierre. He became Bishop of Columbus in May 2022.

Neither Lohse nor Bradley could be reached for comment by The Pillar Friday. Bradley did not appear to attend Friday’s sessions of the U.S. bishops’ conference plenary assembly.

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