“Credibility will be the fruit of a united body, that, while acknowledging its sinfulness and limitations, is at the same time capable of preaching the need for conversion,” he said.
Francis also condemned what he called a sense of “division and dispersion” among the communion of bishops that has erupted in the wake of abuse allegations. This discord, the pope said, goes beyond the typical disagreements bound to arise among any group of people and comes from “the enemy of human nature” taking advantage of current crises to further divide the Church.
The bishops must take a “renewed and decisive approach to resolving conflicts,” said Francis, as he cautioned against a reliance on structural solutions that would reduce the role of a bishop to “a mere administrative or organizational function” in the “business of evangelization.”
The paramount task facing the American bishops, Francis said, is to create “a shared spirit of discernment” leading to true communion, without giving in to the “relative calm” of a sterile compromise or a vote with winners and losers.
The pope said that the bishops must abandon the “modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships,” and instead should focus their attention on “the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer.” Instead, he said, the bishops should work to avoid “gossip and slander” and promote dialogue, discussion and discernment among one another.
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“As a Church we cannot be held hostage by this side or that, but must be attentive always to start from those who are most vulnerable.”
In his letter, Francis expressed regret that he was not able to personally attend the retreat, but that he still wished to “reflect with [the American bishops] on some aspects I consider important,” and to offer encouragement for their “prayer and the steps [they] are taking to combat the ‘culture of abuse’ and to deal with the crisis of credibility.”
The pope warned that while many responses were being considered by the bishops, they must be cautious to avoid those that do not necessarily align with the “flavour” of the Gospel.