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U.S. Catholic bishops to meet amid growing sexual abuse crisis

Religion News Service | 10/25/2018, 6 a.m.
VATICAN CITY Catholic bishops in the United States announced Tuesday that, at the behest of Pope Francis, they will meet ...

VATICAN CITY

Catholic bishops in the United States announced Tuesday that, at the behest of Pope Francis, they will meet for a weeklong retreat in Chicago in January.

The unprecedented move reflects the depth of the crisis they are facing with the sexual abuse scandal and the long-standing divisions within their ranks over the broader direction of American Catholicism.

The pope is sending an elderly and revered Franciscan priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, who holds the title of Preacher of the Papal Household, to lead the retreat — just as he does each year at Lent for the pontiff and the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement thanking Pope Francis for sending Rev. Cantalamessa, who is 84 and rarely travels abroad, “to serve as the retreat director as we come together to pray on the intense matters before us.”

Bishop DiNardo is currently in Rome along with other top leaders of the U.S. church, as well as more than 260 other bishops from around the world, for a monthlong meeting of global church leaders and several dozen young adults to discuss Catholicism’s outreach to youths.

The discussions at this meeting, called a synod, are a hallmark of the Jesuit pope’s preference for seeking reconciliation and solutions through common reflection and frank dialogues.

In fact, it was Pope Francis who suggested that the entire U.S. hierarchy hold a collective retreat when Bishop DiNardo and other leaders met with him in the Vatican in September to ask for the pope’s help amid a growing crisis.

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who also is in Rome for the synod, will be the official host of the January retreat at Mundelein Seminary north of Chicago. He said in an interview Tuesday that Pope Francis is asking them “to come together to reflect on the situation as pastors but also to find a deeper sense of our own unity with each other and with him.”

Cardinal Cupich, who is seen as a strong ally of Pope Francis in the hierarchy, said he expects all active bishops and cardinals and many retired prelates, about 250 to 300 bishops in all, to attend the Jan. 2 through 8 retreat.

Cardinal Cupich said Pope Francis “doesn’t want us to just attack this as a technical problem.”

“This is a deeply spiritual problem, and I think that he really is on to something,” he said. “We should not be looking just at what are we to do in this moment but who are we and what are we becoming as a conference.”

Doctrinal and political conservatives had come to dominate the American hierarchy under the long pontificate of St. John Paul II and then the eight-year papacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. But the election of Pope Francis in 2013 after Pope Benedict’s resignation signaled a new direction for the church, toward a more open, inclusive and pastoral approach.

Pope Francis’ style exposed and widened divisions within the church as many conservative American prelates, lay people and Catholic media openly opposed his efforts.