Pope Tells Bishops to Heed Laity

By Tom Rachman
Associated Press, carried in Pioneer Press [Vatican City]
September 12, 2004

VATICAN CITY Pope John Paul II discussed the U.S. sex-abuse scandal with a group of American bishops Saturday, encouraging them to be more open to the needs of parishioners in the wake of a "crisis of confidence in the church's leadership."

The pontiff spoke with Roman Catholic officials from Pennsylvania and New Jersey including Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, and Archbishop John Myers of Newark at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, as part of the U.S. prelates' regularly scheduled meetings there.

John Paul noted that Catholic bishops have "an unequivocal right and duty of governance." But he indicated that the approach of some U.S. church leaders may have inadvertently driven a wedge between them and churchgoers.

During the scandal, reports emerged of abusive priests who had been moved from parish to parish rather than being punished. Victims groups accused the church hierarchy of favoring the protection of priests over their victims, and many faithful were infuriated by the response of Catholic leaders.

"In our meetings, many of you have expressed your concern about the crisis of confidence in the church's leadership provoked by the recent sexual abuse scandals, the general call for accountability in the church's governance on every level and the relations between bishops, clergy and the lay faithful," the pope told his visitors.

John Paul said, however, that he was convinced the church would achieve "self-renewal."

"In the present circumstances of the church in America, this will entail a spiritual discernment and critique of certain styles of governance which, even in the name of a legitimate concern for good 'administration' and responsible oversight, can run the risk of distancing the pastor from the members of his flock, and obscuring his image as their father and brother in Christ."

The pontiff made clear that the authority of bishops was not in question, but that they needed to include the faithful more.

After meeting with the pope, Myers said Vatican officials argued that the wake of the sex-abuse scandal is "a moment of purification and of opportunity that if we use the opportunity we can help reinvigorate the American church."

This year, U.S. bishops have been visiting the Vatican for "ad limina" meetings, regular encounters that are scheduled every five years. In previous meetings, the pope has also addressed the sex-abuse scandal.

This month, he assured bishops from New England that he supported their efforts to address the damage wrought by clerical sex abuse, acknowledging the scandal "cast a shadow" on the church.

In April, he told a group of bishops from Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas that the scandal could bring a renewing "moment of hope" for the Church in the United States despite "outspoken hostility" from many of the faithful.


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