The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urged his fellow bishops to promote unity and accept criticism from the laity at the start of the bishops’ semi-annual meeting yesterday.
“In our recent history, nothing has damaged the communio of our local Churches – and indeed of the whole Church in the United States – more than the crisis of the sexual abuse of minors,” said Bishop Wilton Gregory, referring to the sex-abuse scandal that was uncovered more than a year ago in the U.S. Church. “The sense of unity and common purpose between bishop and the diocesan community, between bishop and his priests, and even among us ourselves as Bishops, was deeply affected.
“Among those with whom we bishops have an urgent obligation to re-establish communio are the victims of sexual abuse by clergy,” said the bishop of the Diocese of Belleville. “Our solid steps to prevent future abuse must be accompanied by a healing and reconciliation with those who were abused.
“We Bishops need to reflect on our own need to accept just criticism, to apologize, and to forgive, not only in our relationships with the faithful, but in our commerce with one another,” he continued.
The bishop told the assembly that he looks forward to the audit report of the Office of Child and Youth Protection in January and of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in February on the nature and scope of the crisis the U.S. Church faced.
In his address, Bishop Gregory said the U.S. Church needs to promote “a genuine ‘spirituality of communion’.”
He noted the challenges to communion, including the need to recognize that God dwells within each person. Communion is achieved when one sees others as gifts that deepen one’s understanding of God, of self and of communion, rather than as threats to one’s happiness, he said.
“Belonging to the Church means accepting the communio that God has given us as the divinely instituted hierarchical communion that it is,” Bishop Gregory told the episcopal conference. “The Church is not something that we can re-create or re-invent, either in terms of its Apostolic structure or of the faith that has been handed down to us.”
During their meeting, which will last until Thursday, the bishops will vote on a document, clarifying the Church's position on same-sex unions. They will also decide whether to draft a document urging compliance with the Church's teachings banning artificial contraception and encouraging natural family planning.
The USCCB will revise its investment guidelines for its $175 million portfolio. Under the proposed changes, the conference will avoid businesses involved in pornography, abortion, stem-cell research and cloning. They are also expected to vote on a statement about how popular devotional practices, such as pilgrimages, must remain consistent with Church teaching.
They will clarify how Sunday services should be celebrated in parishes when no priest is available. They will also vote on a pastoral statement about agriculture, international trade and genetically modified foods.