The US Bishops met today (virtually) for their annual general assembly meeting. If you want to read commentary on the proceedings and votes of today, there’s plenty of that on other sites. Two things stood out to me that I would like to share. First, the speech by the US papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre (and in retrospect, how fortunate we are to have had him these last few years, especially considering who preceded him).
Some excerpts from his speech (which begins at 45:00 in the embedded video) include:
Here we are gathered, as brothers, but in a specific cultural and social context, which the Holy Father describes as a “closed world” over which loom “dark clouds”, which impede genuine fraternity.
What are these “dark clouds”? One of the largest clouds is the “throwaway culture”, which leads to disregard for human life (in the forms of abortion and euthanasia, human trafficking and new forms of slavery), environmental abuse, and progressive marginalization of groups.
While seeking a cure for the coronavirus, we also need to search for a cure for social inequality, the throwaway culture, and progressive marginalization. As Church leaders, when things “return to normal”, we cannot accept inequality as “normal.”
As a Church we can reaffirm the dignity of each person in imitation of Christ, who encounters man in need of salvation and cares for him with “the oil of consolation and the wine of hope”. Are we merely going to use the criterion of utility that the world offers or can we counter utilitarianism with the gratuity of love by “welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating” others into our society?
There is a lack of authority on the part of those who pretend to exercise power; a lack of trust and belief in those who are supposed to have authority, namely those in leadership; and manipulation by the press, which, at times, cares little for the truth but which erodes the confidence and trust of the people in the authority of the press. No one seems to be offering real values or solutions to bring about healing. These factors have created the crisis in both society and the Church.
In this context, we are called to imitate the example of Christ, the Good Samaritan. We are called to submit ourselves to Him and to follow Him, for it is He who exercised authority – not as power but as service. This is why they followed Him. The words at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount are instructive: Jesus finished this discourse and left the crowds spellbound at His teaching. The reason was that he taught with authority and not like the scribes (Mt 7: 28-29).
Can we recover our authority and offer a proposal for healing the world? In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Perhaps, the way we recover our authority is by witnessing to Christ, the Good Samaritan, who showed compassion and who exhorts us to “Go and do likewise.”
Secondly, of all the US bishops who spoke today, only one (at least of whom I’m aware), Cardinal Blase Cupich, spoke about the terrible division between the bishops, turning the case of Theodore McCarrick into an ideological issue and a referendum on Pope Francis. He also spoke about the failures of bishops not to listen to the victims of clerical abuse, and pointed to Pope Francis as an example of someone who does this on a regular basis. The video below is queued to his intervention, beginning at 2:26:25:
Rhina Guidos of Catholic News Service reported on his comments:
“It really has been a watershed moment,” he said. “And something that we should continue to study and read, but let’s be honest about this.
“The report mandated by the Holy Father was historic and so were his initiatives and we have structures in place now to move forward and we should pay attention to that, but also doing it in a way that’s in unity and with respecting collegiality with him,” the cardinal said.
“We have to make sure that we never again have a situation where anyone from our conference is taking sides in this, with the Holy Father or challenging him or even being with those who are calling for his resignation,” Cardinal Cupich continued. “That kind of thing really has to cease, and the Holy Father pointed the way in which we take up this initiative together in a collegial manner.”
Cardinal Cupich said it was important to recognize that there would be no report if victims did not have the courage to come forward in the first place.
He encouraged bishops and others in the church to spend time with victims, to give them courage.
“The report indicates that there are a number of reasons why victims did not come forward,” he said. “They were intimidated … they thought they would not be listened to because of the power structure and so on.
“But the more that we listen to victims and make it public that we’re meeting with victims, as the Holy Father does on a on a regular basis,” the Chicago prelate said, “the word will get out there that we are on the side of victims. And we have to continue to do that.”
He added, “We will learn to have our hearts moved the more we listen to victims, and I think it’s important for us to do that.”
Cardinal Cupich’s support is not surprising. Unfortunately, to date not a single one of the two dozen US bishops who backed the now-exposed and discredited former nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò has publicly recanted his position or offered an apology for rash judgement. Let’s hope day two of the general assembly goes better.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.