Archbishop Eugene A. Marino, the nation's first black archbishop and its highest-ranking black Roman Catholic, resigned his position today, citing health reasons.
Marino, who underwent treatment for alcoholism 12 years ago, said in a statement that he needs "an extended period of spiritual renewal, psychological therapy and medical supervision." He added that "the church of Atlanta needs a shepherd . . . who is healthy."
The archbishop had temporarily relinquished his duties in May because of severe stress and a near heart attack. Marino, 56, was recuperating at a New York-area resort.
The Rev. Peter Dora, Atlanta Archdiocese spokesman, said that the Most Rev. James P. Lyke, 51, was named apostolic administrator, and that officials did not know when a new archbishop would be appointed. Lyke also is black.
Marino was ordained in 1962 and consecrated as a bishop in 1974. He had been the archbishop of Atlanta since May, 1988, when he succeeded Thomas Donnellan.
Marino said he hopes to recover and be able to serve the church in a "less-demanding capacity."
He has faced several crises during his tenure with the church. As former auxiliary bishop to Cardinal James Hickey in Washington, he attempted to mediate between the cardinal and the Rev. George Stallings, a maverick black priest who started his own congregation in defiance of church hierarchy.
In Atlanta, Marino inherited the case of the Rev. Anton Mowat, a visiting British priest accused of molesting four altar boys.
Mowat had fled the country but was arrested and brought back to DeKalb County, where he pleaded guilty to the charges in May.
The archbishop also administered a local bureaucracy that serves a burgeoning Catholic population with a shortage of priests, and he had expressed particular concern about ministering to an increasing number of people with AIDS.
The Vatican announced today that Pope John Paul II has accepted Marino's resignation as well as that of Bishop Leo T. Maher of San Diego.
Maher underwent surgery this spring for a malignant brain tumor and he is 75, the customary retirement age for bishops. He will be succeeded by Msgr. Robert H. Brom, who was appointed coadjutor last year.
Maher was in the news in November when he denied Communion to a Roman Catholic California state assemblywoman after she ran campaign advertisements favoring abortion rights. The candidate, Lucy Killea, used the ban as a rallying point and narrowly won election to the California Senate.