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Papal message to US bishops: solve scandal but avoid divisions

January 03, 2019

In a lengthy letter to the US Catholic bishops, who are spending the week in a spiritual retreat, Pope Francis exhorted them to avoid divisions while responding to the sex-abuse crisis.

The Pope’s letter placed the responsibility for resolving the scandal squarely on the shoulders of the American bishops. His letter did not acknowledge the serious questions that were raised in 2018 about the credibility of the Vatican, and of the Pope himself, in the handling of the sex-abuse crisis. Instead the Pontiff focused specifically on the problems confronting the American hierarchy. “In recent years,” he wrote, “the Church in the United States has been shaken by various scandals that have gravely affected its credibility.”

The Pope went on to say that “Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them.”

Pope Francis reminded the American bishops that he had proposed a retreat as “a necessary step toward responding in the spirit of the Gospel to the crisis of credibility that you are experiencing as a Church.” He said that he wished he could have joined them for the week of prayer and reflection, but “I will not be able, for logistical reasons, to be physically present with you.” The bishops received his 8-page letter as they began their week of prayer.

Although he never mentioned the scandals that have given rise to obvious tensions between the American hierarchy and the Vatican, Pope Francis did emphasize his desire that the bishops should make Church unity a top priority. He urged them to “break the vicious cycle of recrimination, undercutting, and discrediting.” The Pope’s letter did not make direct reference to the charges raised by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, he seemed clearly to have them in mind as he argued forcefully against “division and dispersion” within the hierarchy. That argument was evidently a response to statements by dozens of US bishops calling for an investigation of the Vigano charges.

Pope Francis did not indicate what sort of solutions the American bishops should devise in response to the scandal. He did say, however, that a solution will not be found in “creating new committees or improving flow charts,” nor in “reducing everything to an organizational problem.” He encouraged the bishops to act decisively, not resorting to compromise measures, but at the same time insisted that “we cannot be held hostage by this side or that.”

The Pope’s exhortation to the American bishops to find their own solution to the scandal contrasts with the directive that he gave to the US bishops in November, asking them not to move forward with approval of policies that were already under discussion within the US bishops’ conference. That message from the Pope caused ripples of discontent during the US bishops’ meeting in November. Several weeks earlier, Pope Francis had suggested that the American bishops postpone that meeting, using the time instead for the spiritual retreat that they have now begun.

At the November meeting of the US bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the episcopal conference, said that the Vatican had suggested that the American bishops should postpone action on new programs until after a February meeting at the Vatican, at which the presidents of episcopal conferences around the world will discuss the sex-abuse question. In his letter, Pope Francis mentioned that meeting, but did not indicate how—if at all—it would shape plans for the US bishops’ actions.


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  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Jan. 03, 2019 10:22 PM ET USA

    He's essentially saying "solve the problem" without acknowledging there was any wrongdoing in the past, which would constitute a "divisive recrimination." A neat trick. Attack a problem by denying its existence, and we're right back where we started. He doesn't care a whit about the victims despite the lip service. Anyone who continues to call this man "holy" either doesn't know the meaning of the word or loves to engage in sacrilege with vocabulary. . A

  • Posted by: BCLX - Jan. 03, 2019 6:39 PM ET USA

    This lays bare the dysfunction at the Vatican and among the US conference members. Why can't all the participants see it? At this point, it seems like the pope is saying, "Fix it, but don't change anything."

  • Posted by: Foundas - Jan. 03, 2019 6:32 PM ET USA

    How do you read the above and really make sense of it? In one case the pope says there exist "sins and crimes" as well as denial and concealment. In the next voice he says to deal with them without upsetting the apple cart. I think he is looking for a magician not a orthodox bishop.