Extract from the
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II
Friday, 2 April 2004
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!" (Eph 1:2). At the beginning of this series of visits ad limina Apostolorum by the Bishops of the United States of America, I offer a warm welcome to you, my Brother Bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Atlanta and Miami.
Your visit to the tomb of Peter and to the house of Peter’s Successor is in fact a spiritual pilgrimage to the heart of the Church. May it be for you a summons to a more intense encounter with Jesus Christ, a pause for reflection and discernment in the light of faith, and an impulse to new vigor in mission. I trust that this series of ad limina visits will also bear particular fruit in a deeper appreciation of the mystery of the Church in all its richness, and a far-reaching discernment of the pastoral challenges facing the Bishops of the United States at the dawn of the new millennium.
Our meetings are taking place at a difficult time in the history of the Church in the United States. Many of you have already spoken to me of the pain caused by the sexual abuse scandal of the past two years and the urgent need for rebuilding confidence and promoting healing between Bishops, priests and the laity in your country. I am confident that the willingness which you have shown in acknowledging and addressing past mistakes and failures, while at the same time seeking to learn from them, will contribute greatly to this work of reconciliation and renewal. This time of purification will, by God’s grace, lead to "a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church" (Address to American Cardinals and Bishops, 23 April 2002, 4), a Church ever more convinced of the truth of the Christian message, the redemptive power of the Cross of Christ, and the need for unity, fidelity and conviction in bearing witness to the Gospel before the world.
Extract from the
ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II
Saturday, 11 September 2004
In our meetings, many of you have expressed your concern about the crisis of confidence in the Church’s leadership provoked by the recent sexual abuse scandals, the general call for accountability in the Church’s governance on every level and the relations between Bishops, clergy and the lay faithful. I am convinced that today, as at every critical moment in her history, the Church will find the resources for an authentic self-renewal in the wisdom, vision and zeal of Bishops outstanding for their holiness. Saintly reformers like Gregory the Great, Charles Borromeo and Pius X understood that the Church is only authentically "re-formed" when she returns to her origins in a conscious reappropriation of the apostolic Tradition and a purifying re-evaluation of her institutions in the light of the Gospel. In the present circumstances of the Church in America, this will entail a spiritual discernment and critique of certain styles of governance which, even in the name of a legitimate concern for good "administration" and responsible oversight, can run the risk of distancing the pastor from the members of his flock, and obscuring his image as their father and brother in Christ.
3. In this regard, the Synod of Bishops acknowledged the need today for each Bishop to develop "a pastoral style which is ever more open to collaboration with all" (Pastores Gregis, 44), grounded in a clear understanding of the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the baptized (cf. Lumen Gentium, 10). While the Bishop himself remains responsible for the authoritative decisions which he is called to make in the exercise of his pastoral governance, ecclesial communion also "presupposes the participation of every category of the faithful, inasmuch as they share responsibility for the good of the particular Church which they themselves form" (Pastores Gregis, loc. cit.). Within a sound ecclesiology of communion, a commitment to creating better structures of participation, consultation and shared responsibility should not be misunderstood as a concession to a secular "democratic" model of governance, but as an intrinsic requirement of the exercise of episcopal authority and a necessary means of strengthening that authority.
Extract from the
ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II
Thursday, 2 September 2004
5. More than once in the course of these meetings I have told you of my admiration for the outstanding contribution which the Catholic community in the United States has made to the spread of the Gospel, the care of the poor, the sick and those in need, and the defense of fundamental human and Christian values. Today I wish to encourage you, and through you, all the Catholics of America, to continue to bear faithful testimony to the truth of Christ and the power of his grace to inspire wisdom, reconcile differences, heal wounds and point to a future of hope. The Church in your country has been chastened by the events of the past two years, and much effort has rightly been expended on understanding and addressing the issues of sexual abuse which have cast a shadow on her life and ministry. As you continue to confront the significant spiritual and material challenges which your local Churches are experiencing in this regard, I ask you to encourage all the faithful – clergy, religious and lay – to persevere in their public witness of faith and hope, so that Christ’s light, which can never be dimmed (cf. Jn 1:5), will continue to shine forth in and through the Church’s entire life and ministry.
In a particular way I would ask you to be strongly supportive of your brother priests, many of whom have suffered deeply because of the much-publicized failings of some of the Church’s ministers. I would ask you also to convey my personal gratitude for the generous and selfless service which mark the lives of so many American priests, as well as my deep appreciation of their daily efforts to be models of holiness and pastoral charity in the Christian communities entrusted to their care. In a very real way the renewal of the Church is linked to the renewal of the priesthood (cf. Optatam Totius, 1). For this reason I ask you to make every effort to be present as a father and a brother in the midst of your priests, to show heartfelt gratitude for their ministry, to join them frequently in prayer and to encourage them in fidelity to their noble vocation as men completely consecrated to the service of the Lord and his Church. In a word, tell your priests that I hold them in my heart!