U.S. Bishops' Governance Shouldn't Distance Them From Flock, Says Pope

Advice in Wake of Sex-Abuse Scandals

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Renewal of the Church in the United States requires holiness in bishops as well as a style of governance than doesn’t distance pastors from their flocks, says John Paul II.

This was part of the message the Pope left with the bishops of the ecclesiastical region of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with whom he met Saturday at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. The bishops were concluding their five-yearly visit to the Vatican.

Following his personal meetings with U.S. bishops over the past few months, the Holy Father noted prelates’ “concern about the crisis of confidence in the Church’s leadership provoked by the recent sexual abuse scandals.”

There is “the general call for accountability in the Church’s governance on every level and the relations between bishops, clergy and the lay faithful,” he said.

“I am convinced that today, as at every critical moment in her history, the Church will find the resources for an authentic self-renewal in the wisdom, vision and zeal of bishops outstanding for their holiness,” John Paul II said.

“Saintly reformers like Gregory the Great, Charles Borromeo and Pius X understood that the Church is only authentically ‘re-formed’ when she returns to her origins in a conscious reappropriation of the apostolic Tradition and a purifying re-evaluation of her institutions in the light of the Gospel,” the Pope said.

“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 Holy Father cautioned.

Each bishop must develop “a pastoral style which is ever more open to collaboration with all grounded in a clear understanding of the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the baptized,” he continued.

“While the bishop himself remains responsible for the authoritative decisions which he is called to make in the exercise of his pastoral governance, ecclesial communion also presupposes the participation of every category of the faithful, inasmuch as they share responsibility for the good of the particular Church which they themselves form,” the Pope said.

“Within a sound ecclesiology of communion, a commitment to creating better structures of participation, consultation and shared responsibility should not be misunderstood as a concession to a secular democratic model of governance, but as an intrinsic requirement of the exercise of episcopal authority and a necessary means of strengthening that authority,” John Paul II added.

“Experience shows that when priority is mainly given to outward stability, the impetus to personal conversion, ecclesial renewal and missionary zeal can be lost and a false sense of security can ensue,” he warned.

“The painful period of self-examination provoked by the events of the past two years will bear spiritual fruit only if it leads the whole Catholic community in America to a deeper understanding of the Church’s authentic nature and mission, and a more intense commitment to making the Church in your country reflect, in every aspect of her life, the light of Christ’s grace and truth,” the Holy Father said.

“Here,” he added, “I can only state once more my profound conviction that the documents of the Second Vatican Council need to be carefully studied and taken to heart by all the faithful, since these normative texts of the magisterium offer the basis for a genuine ecclesial renewal in obedience to the will of Christ and in conformity with the Church’s apostolic Tradition.”

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