Addressing the first group of US Bishops on their Ad Limina visit, Pope John Paul said that the process of reconciliation after the sex scandal requires interior renewal.
The Holy Father received on Friday morning the bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Atlanta and Miami and said that in the meetings with all the US bishops in the next coming 10 months, he will offer “a series of reflections on the exercise of the episcopal office in the light of the threefold munus of sanctifying, teaching, and governing.”
“Our meetings,” the Pope said, “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.”
The Pontiff said that “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.”
He added that “the history of the Church demonstrates that there can be no effective reform without interior renewal” for individuals, groups and institutions.
For a bishop, “the challenge of interior renewal must involve an integral understanding of his service as ‘pastor gregis’ (shephard of the flock.)”
To be effective, the Pope continued, the Bishop’s “apostolic authority must be seen first and foremost as a religious witness to the Risen Lord, to the truth of the Gospel and to the mystery of salvation present and at work in the Church.”
“The renewal of the Church is thus closely linked to the renewal of the episcopal office.” The Bishop, said the Pontiff “must be the first to conform his life to Christ in holiness and constant conversion.”
“Dear Brothers,” continued John Paul, “I wish to reaffirm my confidence in the Church in America, my appreciation of the deep faith of America’s Catholics and my gratitude for their many contributions to American society and to the life of the Church throughout the world.”
“Viewed with the eyes of faith, the present moment of difficulty is also a moment of hope, that hope which ‘does not disappoint’ (Rom 5:5), because it is rooted in the Holy Spirit, who constantly raises up new energies, callings and missions within the Body of Christ.”Hostility to the Gospel
The Pope recalled that the Bishop “is called to be a prophet, witness and servant of hope to the world,” but acknowledged that “the exercise of this prophetic witness in contemporary American society has, as many of you have pointed out, been made increasingly difficult by the aftermath of the recent scandal and the outspoken hostility to the Gospel in certain sectors of public opinion.”
“Yet, it cannot be evaded or delegated to others. Precisely because American society is confronted by a disturbing loss of the sense of the transcendent and the affirmation of a culture of the material and the ephemeral, it desperately needs such a witness of hope,” he added.
“For this reason,” the Holy Father concluded, “I pray that our meetings will not only strengthen the hierarchical communion which unites the Successor of Peter with his Brother Bishops in the United States, but will bear abundant fruit for the growth of your own local Churches in unity and in missionary zeal for the spread of the Gospel.”
Read the full Pope’s message: