America [New York NY]
November 16, 2023
In November, America’s Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, interviewed Cardinal Christophe Pierre, who has served as apostolic nuncio to the United States since 2016. Cardinal Pierre spoke candidly about the challenge of conveying Pope Francis’ message of synodality to the U.S. bishops, saying that they lead a church living through “a change of epoch.” The interview, published on America’s website, elicited spirited reflections from our readers.
Being a faithful Catholic to all of the teachings and blessed by the charismatic renewal in my archdiocese, I can see how the church is at a “change of epoch.” As a mother of seven and grandmother of four, I can see how much the culture has changed. My youngest children are facing a culture much more hostile to the faith than my oldest did—what will my grandchildren face as they get older? And yet, the Holy Spirit keeps me always hopeful for this next generation, and allows me to be open to new ways of reaching out to them. I feel that a synodal way could be very fruitful in my parish and in my archdiocese.
I believe the papal nuncio can provide a perspective of the U.S. church that those born and raised here may not see as clearly. The church structure we have today evolved from the immigrants of yesterday. We have to change if we are to evangelize and continue. A synodal approach is needed.
Today’s bishops are not responsible for the abuse crisis. The crisis was something that was many years in the making, long before most current bishops were appointed or even born. For far too long, the church philosophy and response was to insist, at almost any cost, that there was no scandal. The dimensions of the problem were swept under the rug in the false hope of protecting the institution. We are paying the price for that now.
In his speech prior to the conclave that elected him, Francis said that when turned inward upon herself and her own self-preservation, the church becomes sick. The fear of numerous bishops and young clergy is driven by their nostalgic compulsion to maintain increasingly unsustainable institutions and structures. The remedy to this terminal illness which Francis prescribes is the turn toward a missionary option “capable of transforming everything.” The synodal path is the “school” where the church will recover how to evangelize in the emerging epoch.
In the short term, I am pessimistic about the future of the U.S. church. In the long term, I take comfort in the maxim attributed to Winston Churchill, “You can count on the Americans to do the right thing, only after they’ve tried everything else.”
Cardinal Pierre thinks Aparecida was a great success of synodality coming from South America. Yet Catholics are leaving the church in droves in South America. Just look at Brazil. Why? Is synodality really addressing this? It seems to me the real issue is that significant numbers of bishops, clergy and laity no longer believe in foundational Catholic teachings and morality. I worry that some think that synodality means the ability to to alter or contradict Scripture and Apostolic tradition by voting to catch up with the agendas of the secular world.
The word “connect” in the headline fits perfectly. I think some of the bishops may have a hard time connecting with Pope Francis, whose vision and emphasis is on a global church. I sense that some of our American bishops may be fearful of change, seeing through a myopic lens that is protective of the U.S. church alone. “Everyone” belongs in Pope Francis’ vision; that may be a huge challenge for some of our hierarchy who prefer stasis over change.
I understand that some bishops’ dioceses are burdened by bankruptcies stemming from the sexual abuse crisis. But at the same time, where is the focus on victims whose lives were changed forever because of the sexual abuse imposed by many clergy? Where is the institutional church’s humility regarding its failure to protect those victims? Why is there more focus on the money than the fracturing of right relationship perpetrated in our church? Jesus spoke first and foremost about relationships, but they are glossed over all too often by some of the clergy.
Maybe some of the bishops are struggling to connect with Pope Francis because he challenges them to look deeper within themselves. I sense that Pope Francis’ ministry is inspired by the Holy Spirit; he is the pope we sorely need right now. Praise God!
Dr. Geraldine Kerr