Having just returned from the annual November United States Bishops’ General Meeting, I thought that I would share some thoughts with you since the agenda this year was so important. The first day of our annual meeting was a full-day retreat, where we all had an opportunity to pray together and celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist. Also, we listened to three distinct talks; the first by two victims of sexual abuse, one of whom is a member of our Diocesan Review Board and was a member of our diocese. The second talk was given by a laywoman working for the Church in various capacities, and the third talk was given by a woman religious. All of these speakers gave us so much to think about as we began to contemplate how we could show our people that truly they are protected.
The first day of the meetings was overshadowed by the announcement by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the Conference, that the Holy See asked that we not take a final vote on our documents. In effect, we were asked to wait for the results of the upcoming February meeting for further guidance.
Four documents were considered and worked on pending final presentation to the Holy See after the February meeting with the Holy Father of all the presidents of the Episcopal conferences throughout the world. The concern of our meeting was to assure that Bishops themselves were held accountable for their own actions and also for the handling of sex abuse in the diocese.
Lack of Consensus
There were four documents the bishops considered: 1) Outsourced Manned Reporting Line, 2) Standards of Episcopal Conduct, 3) a Special Lay Commission to pursue allegations of sexual abuse against bishops or their handling of such cases, and 4) Protocols for Bishops Removed or Resigned.
There was really no consensus reached on all issues, however, there was a thorough airing of all of the issues. After the results of the February meeting of all the Episcopal conferences with the Holy Father, a clear path may emerge at the U.S. Bishops next meeting in June, which will give us the opportunity to complete all of these documents. A task force has been named of three bishops, including Cardinal Dolan, to shepherd these documents to final completion.
Another major accomplishment of this meeting was the nearly unanimous ratification of a document on racism; “Brothers and Sisters Unto Us.” ‘Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.’” I am so proud of our own diocese in Brooklyn and Queens where our Diocesan Committee on Racism, which has been working for almost one year, has begun to survey ourselves to see if and where racism exists in our own ecclesial structures so that we might root it out. Our diocesan committee had an advance look at this national document and made several recommendations for the final document presented to the Bishops.
I take this opportunity to thank Bishop Neil Tiedemann and Father Alonzo Cox and their committee for their dedication in working on and continuing this important mission. The follow up on this pastoral letter on racism will be very important since the document is not only meant to be read, but also meant to be put into practice with various recommendations on both parish and diocesan levels.
Report on the Synod 2018
The Bishops received a wonderful report from our own Bishop Frank Caggiano on the Synod 2018 on Youth, the Faith and Vocation Discernment. His clear and concise report to the Bishops spoke about the various issues that were discussed in this month-long Synod. Bishop Caggiano especially mentioned the need to protect the vulnerable in our midst, those youth, especially at the margins of society, who either could be subject to abuse or had been abused. There were six or seven items that he mentioned that identified this Synod as somewhat different from previous Synods since the presence of youth and other representatives guided the discussions. There was one issue, however, that did not gain complete concordance of all of the Synod Fathers, notably the issue of synodality which characterized the Church as one which operates through the Synodal modality. Some Bishops seemed not to see this as a new initiative of the Church, which is Synodal modality. The Synods have taken place almost every other year, or every third year, since the Second Vatican Council. There have been many Synods called by the Holy Father to discuss various issues of importance. Clearly, Synods are a consultation of Bishops in a collegial and synodal manner on pertinent issues that need attention. The issue of youth and vocation discernment is truly one that is important and had provoked much discussion.
In our own diocese, we have prepared a strategic plan to accompany the work of our Capital Campaign – Generations of Faith – aimed at youth ministry entitled, “So, Be Bold!… A Pastoral Plan for Outreach to Youth and Young Adults in the Diocese of Brooklyn.”
I take this time to thank Ted Musco, Secretary for the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, and Paul Morisi, Director of Youth and Young Adult Formation, for their good work on this important initiative for the youth of Brooklyn and Queens.
There was also mention of the V Encuentro. Our own Bishop Octavio Cisneros attended this gathering in September. I had attended the meeting on the provincial level in Albany. Bishop Cisneros will provide us with greater information on V Encuentro in the weeks to come. This gathering was truly a watershed moment in the history of the Church in the United States. There was a tremendous outpouring of support for Hispanic ministry. The Encuentro process will guide the Church into the future, most especially in regard to the contribution of our Hispanic sisters and brothers in the life of the Church.
Each time the Bishops gather together at the Bishops’ Conference they truly put out into the deep waters of contemporary issues. These waters certainly have been turbulent over the last several months. One doctor of psychology from Los Angeles spoke to the bishops and I believe she pinpointed what we are feeling in the difficulty that we are experiencing, especially with the accusation against Archbishop McCarrick. She said, “We are feeling betrayal trauma.”
Betrayal is one of the most difficult issues that we can overcome in our lives. Personal betrayal by those whom we trust has been characteristic of the sex abuse history in our Church. Sex abuse is one of the most difficult traumas to overcome and deal with each day. The Pennsylvania attorney general report also contributed to our betrayal trauma by giving the graphic details of what sexual abuse is really about. We must come together as a Church to deal with our pain and suffering and, most especially, that of our victims of sexual abuse. At the same time, we must recognize that betrayal of our trust is something that we all feel ourselves and is something that we must work to restore so that the good works of our Church can continue.