In addition to meeting with our Holy Father, my recent ad limina visit to the Holy See included meeting with the heads of various offices of the Roman Curia, who shared their priorities and offered me an opportunity to report on what is happening in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in these various areas. I share these summations as many of these observations will be the basis of much of our pastoral concern moving forward. Many of these discussions took place within the context of the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s “Evangelium Vitae,” “The Gospel of Life”:
Dicastery for Laity and Family Life
Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell
Cardinal Farrell spoke of the importance of training and forming members of the laity, especially teachers. He emphasized that this formation must begin at the beginning because we are no longer living in the Christian world. We can no longer assume that people have a deep knowledge of the faith and thus the importance of ongoing formation.
To this I immediately thought of the enormous gift from the Missouri Knights of Columbus that the diocese has realized: From its Religious Information Bureau, the Knights are offering sponsorship of FREE Online formation for anyone in the diocese, through the Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University. This enrichment opportunity is available to parents, students, catechists, anyone. If you haven’t already done so, please check out p. 16 of this edition of The Mirror for information on how to sign up for these learning tracks. I did so myself just this week.
Regarding marriage preparation and enrichment: more and more, the Church must have increased emphasis on strengthening family life and pastoral programs to enhance the sacrament of marriage and to understand its sacramental nature. Similar to other dioceses, we are experiencing a sacramental decline with regard to marriage, as many choose a “trendy destination wedding,” rather than a sacramental wedding in the Church. Again, we have to go back to the beginning and treat marriage as a sort of catechumenate and introduce people to the faith and accompany couples to grow in their understanding of the sacrament(s).
In southern Missouri, I would like to invite married couples to prayerfully consider sharing their experience of the sacrament as a Marriage Preparation Couple, those that are willing to walk with our engaged couples in talking about the gifts of a sacramental marriage and its fruits in family life and society. Also, we need to better get the word out about all of the seven sacraments and how they touch the important moments of Christian life. We recently gathered the data on sacramental participation in past 20 years in the Church in Southern Missouri, 1998-2018. A portion of those findings are listed in the table found on p. 2.
Finally, Cardinal Farrell spoke of the importance of spending time with youth, especially what we would call “middle school,” and how to bring them into an encounter with Christ. We address this in various ways. For example, the age for celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation was changed on Jan. 28, 2018. Pastors are invited to consult with their ministry staff and discern which grade levels are to be prepared and Confirmed, 7th, 8th, or 9th. This lowering of the age of Confirmation in the diocese is to provide a guide for the Church’s pastoral mission in contemporary society. Similarly, we have introduced a Middle School track to our annual Diocesan Youth Conference (DYC), for grades 9th-12th, held each March in West Plains, MO. Now in its 27th year, the DYC will have the second annual IGNITE, Sat., March 28, a one-day retreat dedicated to youth in 7th and 8th grade with its own youth conference. By the way: Registration is open to these conferences until March 6 and can be processed through the diocesan Website: www.dioscg.org.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Cardinal Luis Ferrer
Two issues were addressed. First, the process of handling sexual abuse cases. Among other issues, sexual abuse cases reflect a “crisis” in the “sacramental nature of the priesthood.” To counter that, there must be broader awareness of abuse and education on its symptoms and procedures in addressing allegations. Transparency and accountability will lead to healing. There have been three new clergy members brought in to the Congregation, which will hopefully speed up the processing of abuse cases more quickly. With awareness and a commitment to the end of abuse, there has been an increase in the number of cases with which the Congregation is dealing, but they are all from the past. Bringing the past to light is part of the solution.
The second issue is in regard to gender ideology and same-sex “marriage.” Most people approach both of these issues as an emotional issue, having personal experience with a family member or close friend who identifies as LGBTQ. We need to approach these issues pastorally, but also from a Scriptural anthropology, and we cannot presume that young people agree with the Church’s view of the human person. Nor can we expect them to understand natural law. The challenge is to get them to understand that their attractions or behaviors are not the same thing as their identity. We must be caring with people dealing with these issues and education is key, and cannot be taken for granted. A resource example would be perhaps a deliberate catechesis on Pope St. John Paul II’s beautiful work, “Theology of the Body.”
Papal Secretary of State
Cardinal Pietro Perolin
Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of Kansas City, KS, brought up three issues for discussion. Number one was the persecution of Christians in general and whether or not the Holy See has drawn enough attention to these situations. Many people feel as if the Middle East has been abandoned and that we are not doing enough.
The second issue is the relationship of the Church with China. The goal of our dealings with China is to normalize a relationship with China and avoid a schism. Bishops have been ordained without the approval of the Holy Father. Both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were in negotiations with the Patriotic Church in China. It is felt that the fact that the Church in China cannot be united with the Universal Church it is hurting her growth. By entering into relationship with the Chinese government, hopefully it will strengthen the bonds of the Church universal. However, some have criticized this method. There is a long-standing tradition of resistance to this, going all the way back to the French Revolution. There has been a refusal to cooperate or sign any allegiance with a government that oppresses the Church. Those who have been faithful to the Church have suffered under totalitarian governments and some people feel that the Church has turned its back on the underground Church in China.
The third issue is the financial scandals in the Vatican and the need for reform. Cardinal Perolin said that they are committed to reform of the economic structure of the Holy See. Forensic accounting was suggested as well as independent auditing criteria. For example, there needs to be increased transparency regarding finances and the importance of honoring donor intent in various second collections.
Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
Cardinal Joäu Bráz de Aviz
There was discussion surrounding the establishment of new religious orders in the past two decades and yet there has been a decrease in the numbers of religious sisters in the US. However, some dioceses are doing quite well promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. “Best practices” can be shared and a look into the founder’s charism in promotion efforts. Additionally, in regard to the disposal of property: There must be special concern regarding the sale of “goods” donated by people such as buildings or churches. The bishop must exercise surveillance over economic transactions and follow the appropriate canonical procedures, which must be obeyed.
Congregation for Bishops
Cardinal Marc Ouellet
We were encouraged to look at how we promote vocations on the national (USCCB) level as well as learning from neighboring diocese as to how best to promote vocations through programs such as campus ministry, summer camps, Totus Tuus, and adoration—all of which we have present in our Church of Southern Missouri.
Cardinal Ouellet spoke of the importance of accompanying families in the midst of difficulties and how to respond. Many of us in poverty rely upon Catholic Charities in times of crisis. However, when we express our mission, it must always be in the context of serving those less fortunate, in every reality. We are a sacramental Church that radiates Christ and the Church Herself radiates Christ in how we care for the poor within our local communities, state, nation, and world.
Comfort, culture, and compromise are the enemies that hinder authentic witness and the radical call to poverty of spirit. We must “prevent what we lament” through priestly support and fraternity. Priests must have access to their bishop. The bishop should return their phone calls and be available to his priests. We do this rather nicely in our monthly days of recollection with clergy. I also meet separately and regularly with those priests ordained five years and less, I call them the “young priests.” We also have various other opportunities to gather face-to-face: Catholic Man Night, religious appreciation meals, annual Priests Institute, retreats, etc.
Many of the bishops spoke of the decline in marriage, baptism, and the overall decline of sacramental participation in the Church.
Congregation for Catholic Education
Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi
In our Catholic schools, there must be a focus on the quality of our Catholic identity and not just putting up religious symbols, which identify our devotion(s). The school should be seen as a family along with the parish, society, and the Church. We must promote dialogue between faith and reason because many people see the Church having a false conflict between the two.
The formation of teachers is crucial. We must do whatever we can to help our teachers go deeper in their relationship with Christ. We have addressed this locally with an increase in days of reflection with speakers being offered throughout the year, and the Online catechetical formation opportunities mentioned before. Many people want Catholic education but they do not themselves participate in the faith. In addition, it is difficult to have the cooperation of parents in regard to the religious education of their children even when they are in Catholic schools. This is another reason for a more intentional ministry to strengthening the family, not just another program, but an attentiveness to our families and ways to support them. However, our schools must be instruments of evangelization and we must always ask ourselves, “How does a Catholic school make a difference [in our town, our parish, in students’ lives, etc.]?”
With rising cost to educate, it is important to look at different options of funding, such as an education trust and regional cooperation and planning.
Congregation for Clergy
Cardinal Beniamino Stella
With the updated Priestly Program of Formation of the USCCB, they have embraced the ratio and have requested a “propaedeutic” year for formation. This would be considered part of the initial formation and a new approach not linked to any academic progress. Of the four dimensions of formation (Spiritual, Human, Intellectual, and Pastoral), this time will focus on human formation. Formation just on the intellectual level is insufficient. The propaedeutic year gives time to focus on human formation and Christian discipleship in particular.
The Archbishop noted the importance of an integration in one’s interior life so as to conform one’s life to Christ and the baptismal call. Today, people are more “wounded,” often by an isolating media (technology), and culture. The propaedeutic year can address that “woundedness” in a personal and community experience. There must be a human and spiritual approach to understanding the vocational call first to the Christian life before they look at the priesthood. Archbishop Stella stated that it would be similar to the novitiate for the formation of a healthy mind and heart. Stepping away from academics is a privileged opportunity, a time set aside to be open and transparent about the spiritual life.
A good discussion was held about how to accompany a priest who has not sexually abused a minor but who may have violated another code of conduct and cannot be assigned to a parish. The Archbishop reiterated that the first assignment of any priest is so important. They must be with wise pastors. We must be uniform in our approach and ultimately if they are unassignable, these priests must ask for the grace of dispensation from the Holy Father and we bishops must encourage this. Each situation is unique with its own details and merits. Ministry can be limited and there is no canonical right to an assignment. In the exercise of priestly ministry, limitations can and should be imposed. If necessary, we must encourage them to seek another way of life and employment. In all deliberations, the Canonical process for all those involved is important.
His Holiness, Pope Francis
Each bishop had the opportunity to discuss whatever he wished. The Holy Father did not have a prepared text. He wanted openness, honesty, and dialogue. One of the main concerns was the report regarding Theodore McCarrick. The Holy Father said the report would come out in July but would not be salacious and filled with details.
Of particular concern was the agreement of the Holy Father with the use of the word “preeminent” in regards to the issue of abortion. The Holy Father told us to get the word out: Abortion is the preeminent issue of all the pro-life issues.
Issues of immigration, poverty, the abuse scandal and the effects of it on our people were also discussed. At one point, a bishop asked Pope Francis what he thought the key was to moving forward with hope, given the past year?
The Holy Father was very animated when he said, “The Lord. I trust, I believe. The church belongs to Him. He is the source of our hope.” Needless to say, with this, our meeting ended on a high note. ©TM