The Catholic environment in the US has itself undergone considerable transformation since Pope Francis’ trip to the United States in the fall of 2015.
In the last two years alone, Catholics in the US have reeled from the public revelations of McCarrick’s sexual abuse, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, letters from Archbishop Carlo Vigano, Bishop Michael Bransfield’s serious financial misconduct, and the resulting crisis of mistrust in episcopal leadership.
The first rounds of U.S. bishops to come to Rome come from dioceses in the northeast U.S., the hardest hit by these scandals.
The American ad limina visits are divided into 15 regions. Pope Francis will meet with bishops from New England Nov. 4-8, New York Nov. 11-15, and New Jersey and Pennsylvania Nov. 25-29.
Bishops from New England began the first round of visits Nov. 4 with a Mass in Santa Maria Maggiore. They are also celebrating a Mass Nov. 5 in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and Nov. 7 in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“We feel very keenly today, all of us, the weight of human sinfulness, of infidelity, of scandal, of the sin that weighs down the Church,” Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford said in his homily during the Mass in Santa Maria Maggiore, according to CNS.
Before meeting the pope, bishops on an ad limina trip also typically visit all of the Vatican dicasteries and can schedule personal meetings with the head of each dicastery to discuss particular matters.
During such visits, bishops’ conferences deliver exhaustive reports, called Quinquennial Reports, describing the status of the Church in their country.
Previous to Francis' pontificate, the meeting of the bishops with the pope included an exchange of speeches from both the president of the bishops' conference and pope, who delivered a speech providing pastoral recommendations and priorities. After the exchange of speeches, the pope then held a short conversation with each bishop individually.
Pope Francis changed the format of these visits to an open group conversation among the visiting bishops, who are allowed to ask questions of the pope for up to two hours. He also added an additional meeting presided over by himself with the bishops and the heads of some of the dicasteries. In past visits, this has included representatives from the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Clergy, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
The American ad limina visits coincide with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly and election Nov. 10-13. Bishops from the state of New York will therefore be absent from the General Assembly and will vote remotely from the North American College in Rome.
Before the end of 2019, Pope Francis will meet with bishops from Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and the U.S. Military Archdiocese, in addition to New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
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After a short hiatus for Christmas, the Latin rite bishops of the remainder of the territory of the US, and the country's Eastern Catholic bishops, will make their ad limina pilgrimages in 2020, from mid-January through the end of February.