.- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2019 Spring General Assembly kicked off in Baltimore Tuesday with a brief address from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and a message from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, explaining the rationale for the Vatican’s cancelation of votes last November.
Pierre was unable to attend the meeting in Baltimore as he was in Rome with a meeting with his fellow Apostolic Nuncios, and his remarks were delivered June 11 by Msgr. Walter Erbi, chargé d’affaires of the Vatican nunciature in Washington.
Both Pierre and DiNardo spoke on the progress that has been made in tackling the sexual abuse crisis in the Church in America since last November’s general assembly, particularly the importance of careful discernment. In November, the Vatican intervened and canceled planned votes on various measures designed to increase accountability among bishops, much to the displeasure and confusion of nearly every bishop present.
“Through the mercy of Christ, we will make progress, and may our discernment lead us to God’s will,” said DiNardo.
According to Pierre, this delay was meant to ensure that careful prudence was taken in response to the crisis.
“I would say that among the reasons the Holy Father asked for a delay was his belief that the whole Church needed to walk together – to act in a synodal way, and that this ‘walking together’ of the whole Church, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would make the path forward clearer,” he said.
Since that time, the U.S. bishops have gone on a weeklong retreat, and the world’s bishops’ conference presidents met in Rome for the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. After that meeting Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which outlined new strategies to for the Church hold sexual abusers accountable for their actions.
“It seems to me that Pope Francis’ emphasis on synodality and walking together is a manifestation of the four principles articulated in Evangelii gaudium,” said Pierre, referring to Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world. These principles are: “time is greater than space,” “unity prevails over conflict,” “realities are more important than ideas,” and “the whole is greater than the part.”
It was this first principle, Pierre explained, that resulted in November’s delayed votes. Pierre wrote that Pope Francis believed that additional prayer and time were needed in order to address the abuse crisis as a worldwide Church.
“Technology and social media condition us to desire an immediate response to practically everything,” he said, particularly in the United States. “The idea that time is greater than space is a useful remedy. In an ecclesial context, faster responses do not always produce the best results.”
Pierre’s speech also emphasized the importance of Church unity and “walking together” to combat the abuse crisis, particularly at the meeting in Rome. The contributions of the episcopal heads from around the country proved valuable, he said.
Guided by the Holy Spirit and each other, “together, the whole Church was able to take steps – to walk together – to address the problem and concrete actions could begin – without one group running ahead of the others and another lagging too far behind,” he said.
This, plus the “concrete ideas” offered by Pope Francis at the summit and in his motu proprio, could only be accomplished with the additional time gained by delaying the vote, Pierre wrote.
“The Holy Father calls the whole Church to walk together in this moment of crisis,” he said, and there can be “no hesitation in responding vigorously as a matter of justice.”
“We must meet our people in their concrete situations, proposing the life-giving Word to them as a sure guide for understanding their experiences and for guiding their moral and spiritual lives,” added Pierre. If this is not done, the bishops run the risk of being disconnected and ineffective in dealing with their flock.
“In the process of walking together, we also have the opportunity to hear from different members of the group,” wrote Pierre, emphasizing the need to include the laity in these discussions.
“With Christ, together we can walk and face the realities of the Church today, and together discern the path forward.”