"He's in a tough spot," said John Santa of Southport, a Fairfield County businessman who worships at the Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola at Fairfield University. "He's fighting the rear guard action for Egan, but he has to do what he has to do."

New Media

Lori came to Bridgeport in 2001 from Washington, D.C., where he was auxiliary bishop.

He is among a class of bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II. As a group, they tend to be politically conservative and wary of efforts to expand the power of the laity, said Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, a Catholic commentator and professor emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino studies at Brooklyn College. And Lori, despite his embrace of new media — he blogs and skillfully uses the diocesan website to publish press releases and opinion pieces — fits that profile.

"He's media-friendly and charismatic, but he holds his cards very close to the vest and takes care of the institution first," Stevens-Arroyo said.

Jamie Dance, a Voice of the Faithful activist from New Canaan, said she has been disappointed by Lori's insistence on keeping the sex abuse files secret. "He came to this diocese with not a stain attached to him," she said. "There were so many avenues for him to reach out to the faithful in the pews. He had the ability to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, and he would have been beloved in the diocese."

But many Fairfield County Catholics say Lori is beloved in the diocese, and that's due, in part, to his unwavering defense of the church.

"I believe its admirable that our spiritual leader is doing his best to protect our rights and the rights of the church," said John F.X. Leydon Jr., a Stamford attorney. "Its heartwarming when someone is willing to step up and take positions that are perhaps generally unpopular. In the case of the bishop, I support his efforts."

Lori's public activism reached its peak on a rainy Wednesday in March, when he joined two other Catholic leaders, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford and Bishop Michael R. Cote of Norwich, in addressing a crowd of more than 4,000 Catholics who were protesting a bill that would have changed the way the Catholic Church governs itself in Connecticut.

In a state where public policy is often sharply out of step with Catholic teaching, Bill 1098 was seen by many Catholics as the ultimate affront: It would have changed the governance structure of the church by essentially stripping the bishop and pastor of their authority to control parish property. The bill was pulled even before lawmakers could hold a hearing on the measure.

"The last 10 years have been a monumental challenge for the Catholic Church in the United States, and certainly in the Northeast it's been even more difficult," said state Sen. Michael McLachlan, a Danbury Republican and an active Catholic. "It's important that people of faith be aware of the political process. In many cases and in many faiths, there is a lack of interest in the government. Bishop Lori did a good job of engaging the faithful to pay attention."

Lori said he draws his strength from Jesus Christ and from prayer, from his fellow priests, and from the countless good works done by the church.

"I've been a priest for 33 years, I dearly love being a priest," Lori said. "Christ never promised us it would be easy, but he promised us he would remain with his church until the end of the world. I firmly believe that.

"I just hope at the end, when the just judge looks this all over and he looks at my ministry ... I hope he'll let me into heaven."