United States bishops must continue to lead the U.S. Church on the road toward authentic renewal in the aftermath of the sexual-abuse scandals by their authority, based on the model of the Good Shepherd, and their genuine witness to the Gospel, said Pope John Paul II.
The pontiff made these comments to a delegation of bishops from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, who had gathered for their regular visit to the Vatican, held every five years.
The Pope acknowledged that many of the bishops had expressed “their 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.”
The sexual-abuse scandal was a call for authentic renewal in the U.S. Church, which will require a re-evaluation of its institutions in the light of the Gospel and a focus on personal conversion rather than on good administration, the Pope told the bishops.
“In the present circumstances of the Church in America, this [renewal] 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,” said the Pope.
Bishops must be wary of creating a distance between them and their flock, said the pontiff. They must seek more collaboration with all faithful and aim at “fostering communion and mission,” he added.
“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,” said the Pope, “but as an intrinsic requirement of the exercise of episcopal authority and a necessary means of strengthening that authority”.
“Bishops need to be esteemed as successors of the Apostles not only in authority and sacred power, but above all by their apostolic life and witness,” he said.
“The painful period of self-examination provoked by the events of the past two years will bear spiritual fruit only if it leads the whole Catholic community in America to a deeper understanding of the Church’s authentic nature and mission, and a more intense commitment to making the Church in your country reflect, in every aspect of her life, the light of Christ’s grace and truth,” said the Pope.
The Pope concluded by restating his “profound conviction that the documents of the Second Vatican Council need to be carefully studied and taken to heart by all the faithful,” in order to bring about authentic renewal in the Church.