Ad Limina Unlimited: Part 1

Last month we shared the reporting by Cardinal O’Malley on the Boston Archdiocese “ad limina” visit to the Vatican to review the state of the diocese.  We called our post Ad Limina Limited Edition in part because desite the lengthy blog posts by Cardinal O’Malley about the overall time in Rome and experience, in the end he gave us mostly a travel diary and conveyed remarkably little of what was actually discussed. As feedback to him, people would like to hear more publicly about his assessment of the state of the diocese, and what feedback or input was given by the Holy Father or other congregations.

Given this information void, BCI thought readers would find it interesting to read what the Bishop of the Diocese of Albany had to say about his “ad limina” visit to Rome.  BCI is not a fan of that diocese or the leadership there. They have many problems themselves, so Albany is not put forward here as a “model” diocese. BCI is merely sharing excerpts from their report, as some of the details are clearly applicable to Boston.  Here is the entirety of one post, and excerpts below. Where a sentence or passage of text is bolded, that is emphasis placed by BCI.

Office visits Following Mass, we began a round of visits to the various Vatican offices. Our first encounter was with the Congregation for Bishops, located on the Via della Conciliazione immediately facing St. Peter’s Basilica. This Congregation is under the jurisdiction of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, formerly the Archbishop of Quebec, Canada.
We were greeted for our meeting by Msgr. Thomas Powers, a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, now on the staff of the Congregation.

Cardinal Ouellet introduced our meeting by expressing his delight at the recent study conducted by Rev. Stephen Rossetti of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., which revealed that 92 percent of priests in the United States are happy with their ministry and would choose their vocation again if they had their life to live over.
Interestingly, Time magazine lists priests as the group among a wide variety of occupations whose members rate the highest in job satisfaction.

The cardinal emphasized the importance of the bishop giving priority attention to his priests through personal interaction, retreats, days of recollection and priesthood convocations. [emphasis by BCI]

It was noted by the bishops of our delegation that most priests individually report they are happy and fulfilled in their ministry. However, most believe that the morale of others within their presbyterate is considerably lower.

This is something we bishops must be most attentive to, because if priests are unhappy, the entire Church suffers. Furthermore, priests are the primary role models for priestly vocations, and if their morale does not appear upbeat, it has a negative impact on promoting vocations to the ordained priesthood.
NYC seminaries Archbishop Dolan of New York, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre reported how their three dioceses just completed a study which will combine their three seminaries into a unified system, with all college seminarians studying at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Brooklyn and all theology students at my alma mater for philosophy, St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. The seminary for Rockville Centre will become a center for ongoing clergy education.

Anti-bishop issue In citing the challenges we face, some bishops mention an anti-bishop mentality which is quite prevalent in the United States. Those on the far right believe bishops are too tentative in the exercise of authority and those on the left believe them to be bullies. There is also a growing congregationalism, wherein parishioners fail to appreciate the relationship of their parish to the diocese and to the Church universal.

Listening to these observations, Cardinal Ouellet opined that we bishops must suffer the extremes. He stated the challenge is not so much personal as structural.

He noted, as well, that the response of bishops to the clergy abuse issue has undermined episcopal authority. Unfortunately, while the story of cover-up or lack of transparency is well documented, the measures we bishops have taken to address the problem since our 2002 meeting in Dallas – background checks of all clergy, religious and laity working with youth; safe environment training, signed codes of conduct; and reporting of all allegations to civil authorities – are far less known and appreciated. It will take much more time for healing, outreach to victims and accountability to our people before this trust is restored.

On parish closings Our next visit was to the Congregation for the Clergy, where Cardinal Mauro Piacenza serves as the prefect. Strange as it may seem, the Congregation for the Clergy is the first Court of Appeal when a parish is closed, merged or reconfigured.

The cardinal stated that his Congregation, along with the Congregation for Bishops, will soon be publishing a study on the restructuring of parishes. He underscored how there must be extensive consultation with parishioners to be affected, and with the Presbyteral Council, before any decisions can be made.

Cardinal Piacenza also emphasized that the assets of the closed parish must remain within the local community, and, if a parish or school are converted to other uses, insofar as is possible, they should be made available for social or charitable purposes.

This discussion was of great interest to the bishops present, because six of our seven dioceses in New York State are or will be involved extensively in making difficult decisions through the process of pastoral planning.
Cardinal Piacenza indicated that his Congregation is preparing another instruction on the merger of parishes, highlighting the role that the ordained priest must play in whatever reconfiguration takes place.

Women religious Our next visit was at the Congregation for Religious and Institutes of Consecrated Life. Most of our discussion at this meeting dealt with the Vatican visitation of women religious in the United States. This has been an immense undertaking, trying to assess the reality of nearly 60,000 women religious living the apostolic life.
Archbishop Joseph Tobin, a member of the Redemptorist community, explained that the visitation has taken place in four phases…

Archbishop Tobin, undersecretary for the Congregation and its prefect, Archbishop Joao Braz de Aviz from Brazil, who is seen by some as the next pope, have only recently been appointed to the Congregation and were not involved in planning for or conducting the visitation. However, I believe Archbishop Tobin – as an American and a former provincial in the Redemptorist community – has a firm grasp on the enormous contributions women religious have made to the Church in the United States in the areas of education, faith formation, health care, human services and spiritual development.

I am confident he will present a report that reflects this tremendous ministry and guides communities of women religious to a manner of apostolic service that addresses well contemporary realities.

Family life Our final visit of the day was to the Pontifical Council for Families headed by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, the former Archbishop of Florence. The cardinal was most amiable and energetic. He acknowledged the many strains marriage and family are undergoing throughout the world, especially in the West.

Cardinal Antonelli reminded us that this was the 30th anniversary of the pastoral letter “Familaris Consortio” (on the role of the Christian family), which Pope John Paul II issued as a post-synod instruction following the 1980 Synod of the Family.

The cardinal explained the hope that a renewed effort to recapture the vision of this document – coupled with a worldwide celebration of the family to be held in Milan, Italy, from May 30-June 3, at which Pope Benedict and more than 800,000 people are expected to participate, attending workshops, conferences and liturgies – will spark a deeper appreciation of the universal heritage of the family and enrich the call family members have to holiness and to witness both to the possibility of intact marriages and to the joy of the family as a community of life and love.

This morning, we have a formal audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict. Although there will be 15 ad limina visits, the Holy Father will only give the address to five of these groups. These five addresses taken together will constitute his pastoral message to the bishops and people of the United States. …

In his address, Pope Benedict noted that our ad limina meetings are the first since his 2008 pastoral visit to the United States, which was intended to encourage the Catholics of America in the wake of the scandal and disorientation caused by the sexual abuse crisis of recent decades.

Benedict speaks The Holy Father stated that he wished to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims of sexual abuse and their families and the honest efforts being made by dioceses both to ensure the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise.

He expressed his hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society.

By the same token, he stated that just as the Church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards.

The Pope underscored that a second, equally important purpose of his 2008 pastoral visit to the United States was to summon the Church in America to recognize, in light of a dramatically changing social and religious landscape, the urgency and demands of a new evangelization.

In continuity with this aim, he indicated that in the coming months, he will be presenting a number of reflections which he hopes we bishops will find helpful for the discernment we are called to make in our task of leading the Church into the future which Christ is opening up for us.

While the pope stated that many of us have shared with him our concern about the grave challenges to a consistent Christian witness presented by an increasingly secularized society, he considers it significant that there is also an increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views, for the future of our democratic societies.

They see a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life, and a growing sense of dislocation and insecurity, especially among the young, in the face of wide-ranging societal changes.

Church as prophet Despite attempts to still the Church’s voice in the public square, Pope Benedict said that many people of good will continue to look to the Church for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in meeting this far-reaching crisis.

Thus, he opines, the present moment can be seen, in positive terms, as a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of our episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.

At the same time, the obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture cannot be underestimated, because they affect the lives of believers, leading at times to a “quiet attrition” from the Church.

Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts.
Hence, the pope insists that evangelization be not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra (to others); we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization.

As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, the Pope states, the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel.

Applauding progress At this point in his address, Benedict expressed his appreciation for the real progress which the American bishops have made, individually and as a Conference, in responding to these issues and in working together to articulate a common pastoral vision – the fruits of which can be seen, for example, in our recent documents on faithful citizenship and on the institution of marriage.

The Pope also noted that tomorrow, the first Sunday of Advent, the Church in the United States will be implementing the revised translation of the Roman Missal. He expressed his hope that this new translation will inspire an ongoing catechesis which emphasizes the true nature of the liturgy and, above all, the unique value of Christ’s saving sacrifice for the redemption of the world.

He pointed out that a weakened sense of the meaning and importance of Christian worship can only lead to a weakened sense of the specific and essential vocation of the laity to imbue the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel.
In the final analysis, the Pope stated that the renewal of the Church’s witness to the Gospel in the United States is essentially linked to the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community. He raised, in particular, the importance of Catholic universities and the signs of a renewed sense of their ecclesial mission, as attested to by the discussions marking the 10th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (“From the Heart of the Church,” Blessed Pope John Paul II’s document on Catholic higher education), and such initiatives as the symposium recently held at Catholic University of America on the intellectual tasks of the new evangelization.
Young people, the Pope offered, have a right to hear clearly the Church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and His Church.

Message to all Finally, the Pope with great affection commended us and the clergy, religious and lay faithful of our dioceses to the intercession of Mary Immaculate, patroness of the United States. And he imparted to us and to all whom we represent his apostolic blessing as a pledge of wisdom, strength and peace in the Lord

The full text of the address by Pope Benedict XVI can be found here.

Much more was reported in two more blog posts about meetings with the Congregation for Catholic Education, Apostolic Signatura, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and others.  We will excerpt those in another post.

Our message to Cardinal O’Malley and Msgr. Deeley is that many people–priests and laity alike–would really like to know our Cardinal is actively engaged in leadership and governance of the diocese. The occasion of the ad limina was and still is a great opportunity for the Archbishop of Boston to share his perspective on the state of the diocese with the faithful. Instead, in his posts, Beginning the Ad Limina, Together with the Holy Father, we mostly got another photo diary. As the late Clara Peller used to say in the old Wendy’s commercials, people in Boston are left wondering, “Where’s the beef?”

11 Responses to Ad Limina Unlimited: Part 1

  1. David S. says:

    “Those on the far right believe bishops are too tentative in the exercise of authority…”.

    Boy, I guess because one has the audacity to expect the United States Bishops and Cardinals to enforce Church Law, especially Canon 915, they are dismissed as “far right” extremists.

  2. Mark Frances says:

    Bishop Hubbard of Albany is the ordinary for Governor Cuomo and refused to “offer him counsel” in regard to his stand on gay marriage in the state of New York. AB Dolan, as great a job as he is doing, could not interfere in the authority base of another diocese. If you Google Bishop Hubbard, you will quickly understand just why.

  3. BetterThanNothing says:

    Yes, Cardinal O’Malley told us only a little bit of his trip from Rome. Yes, he could haves mentioned more. But for fairness purposes, I bet he shared much more than most of the other bishops in Region 1. Weren’t there about 15 or so bishops on that trip? How many wrote anything publicly?

    Comparing them to Region 2 bishops which was after the USCCB meetings and in a slower time, relatively speaking, is a little unfair. Comparing to 1 or 2 bishops and not demonstrating that he did less is not bery fair The least you should write is that he said more than everyone or nearly everyone in his region and more than (roughly) 27 of 30 of bishops thus far.

    And comparing O’Malley to Hubbard in a negative way is shocking! Would you prefer Hubbard here in Boston?

    Please keep context in mind, both in terms of OMalley at least writing more than most and being an above average bishop. Yes, he is not Chaput, Burke, Dolan or several others, but he is no Hubbard either. Let’s thank God for THAT!

    • BetterThanNothing, You seem to have almost totally misunderstood the purpose of this post and our message. If that is BCI wording, then we accept and apologize for that, but we do not see in our post what you are interpreting.

      BCI did NOT say or imply we wanted Bishop Hubbard here in Boston, nor did we compare Cardinal O’Malley to him. For the record, BCI would NOT want Bishop Hubbard here in Boston (so we agree on that!). We said, BCI is not necessarily a fan of the Albany diocese or the leadership there. “They have many problems themselves, so Albany is not put forward here as a “model” diocese. BCI is merely sharing excerpts from their report, as some of the details are clearly applicable to Boston.” What in the world makes you say BCI compared O’Malley to Hubbard in a negative way? All we said is that Hubbard gave more details in his report. That is factual and objective information. Anyone can look at the two reports and see that.

      As for the 12 other bishops on the trip, 5 of them are Boston auxiliaries–it would be highly inappropriate and out-of-line for an auxiliary bishop to communicate the results of the ad limina when their Cardinal archbishop is the one blogging and is the ordinary for the archdiocese. 2 are from Manchester (incoming and emeritus) so it is not surprising that nothing was said there. None of the other bishops on the Region 1 ad limina visit blog.

      Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island did communicate before he left a summary of their diocesan status in areas including Child Protection, Vocations to the Priesthood, Evangelization, Human Life Guild, Catholic Education. That is here: Even in 300 words, Bishop Tobin communicated more about his report on the state-of-the-diocese than Cardinal O’Malley communicated in two lengthy photo-packed blog posts.

      Cardinal O’Malley has been Archbishop of Boston for eight and half years, and if he remains here until he is 75, then we have another eight years ahead. When exactly is he going to share something about how he sees the current state of the diocese and his vision for the path ahead? What we mostly hear is that we are compliant with the child protection guidelines and in financially better shape than when he got here. Are we going to go sixteen years without a leader who can tell us where he thinks we are today and where he would like to see us go? C’mon!

      This archdiocese took hundreds of hours to prepare a report of hundreds of pages in length for the ad limina visit. Is it too much to ask that somebody of the 20+ people at 66 Brooks making $100K+ in salary and benefits spend a few hours and distill the highpoints down into a “state of the diocese” report that could be shared with Catholic faithful?

      BCI is not impressed by the average bishop. So, comparing Cardinal O’Malley to the “average bishop” is not of interest to us. The stakes in Boston are also a lot higher than in other parts of the country, and the impact of what happens in Boston has ripple effects elsewhere in the country and world. So, Boston needs an outstanding leader, not just someone who is above average.

  4. BetterThanNothing says:

    P.s. assuming that the same discussions happened on Region 1 visits as Region 2 visits is also something that should be fact-checked. Given that Benedict actually addressed the R2 bishops, it is likely more happened there.

    • BetterThanNothing, We do not know what discussion occurred during the private meetings on the Region 1 visits as that has not been made public by any of the participants. But if, for example, the Congregation for the Clergy talked about parish closings with one region and said that there needs to be extensive consultation with the parishioners before a closing decision, it is reasonable to conclude that was discussed with other regions.

      BCI thinks it is also reasonable to share that information with faithful Catholics in Boston. If you are a regular reader, you will recall how St. Francis of Assisi in Cambridge was told they are closing when NO CONSULTATION WHATSOEVER WITH THE PARISHIONERS had taken place before the closing decision was announced to them.

      Could it be that Cardinal O’Malley did not report publicly on what was discussed in the meetings with the Congregation for the Clergy and Apostolic Signatura because in doing so, he would have had to acknowledge that the manner in which St. Francis of Assisi was handled was in violation of Vatican guidelines?

      As for the address by the Holy Father, it was the same address to Region One, Region Two, and Region Three bishops, as best as BCI can tell.

  5. Lazarus' Table says:

    I feel a bit foolish asking this question, but the inquiry is sincere:
    Is there any real value to the ad limina visits? Are they merely pro forma “pep talks” to the visiting bishops, or papal encouragement to bishops? (There’s nothing wrong with either, I think.) But do the ad liminas make any different for us at home? Does the information provided to Rome by dioceses actually reflect the reality in the dioceses? Does Rome follow up?

  6. […] was surprised at some of the comments on our post from yesterday, Ad Limina Unlimited: Part 1.  If there is any confusion in the intent of BCI from that post, allow us to apologize and clarify […]

  7. Mack says:

    I would have appreciated it if Cardinal O’Malley had given more information about the actual content of the ad limina visit. As I’ve said before, his blog reminds me of a glorified church bulletin. I hope that O’Malley will start to give more substance and less fluff.

  8. Lazarus' Table says:

    As they say at 66 Brooks:
    “Spiritus tuus non tenes.”
    (“Don’t hold your breath.”)

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