Vatican Corner 01-13-19

The delegation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met with Pope Francis on September 13, 2018, and afterwards released a statement that they would adopt 4 measures as a first step to address the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church. Then the full body of U.S. bishops met in Baltimore, Maryland on November 12 thru 14, 2018 at their annual conference. At the conference it was expected that those measures would be discussed and voted on. The measures included a new code of conduct for bishops, establishment of an outside commission to review violation of the code and creation of protocols for bishops resigned or removed because of abuse. However, just before the start of the conference, the Vatican requested a delay on any adoption of such measures until after the upcoming February, 2019 summit on the clerical sex abuse crisis and child protection, that is to be held at the Vatican. Pope Francis then invited the Catholic Bishops from across the U.S. to gathered for a spiritual retreat at the Mundelein Seminary in northern Illinois on January 2 – 8. He sent his personal preacher – Capuchin Friar Father Raniero Cantalamessa to direct the retreat. The structure of the retreat included time for quiet reflection, silent meal times, daily Mass, time for personal and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, vespers, and an opportunity for confession. No ordinary business was to be conducted. Pope Francis sent a letter to the Bishops as they gathered for the retreat that asked them to reflect and pray after a year of scandals which have rocked the Church in the U.S. and worldwide. He acknowledged that recent abuse scandals have undercut the credibility of the Church in the United States, and that a cover-up mentality “enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.” He said a unified body of bishops would be helpful in regaining this credibility. He condemned what he called a sense of “division and dispersion” among the communion of bishops that erupted in the wake of abuse allegations. This discord, the Pope said, goes beyond the typical disagreements bound to arise among any group of people and comes from “the enemy of human nature” taking advantage of current crisis to further divide the Church. He said the bishops should focus their attention on “the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer.” The bishops should work to avoid “gossip and slander” and promote dialogue, discussion and discernment among one another. He expressed regret that he was not able to personally a-end the retreat, but that he still wished to “reflect with them on some aspects I consider important,” and to offer encouragement. The Pope cautioned against a reliance on structural solutions that would reduce the role of a bishop to “a mere administrative or organizational function” in the business of evangelization.” He warned that while many responses were being considered by the bishops, they must be cautious to avoid those that do not necessarily align with the “flavor” of the Gospel. He said “we have to be careful that ‘the cure does not become worse than the disease.’” For this to be accomplished, he said that the bishops must engage in “wisdom, prayer, much listening, and fraternal communion.”