My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Having just returned from the Ad Limina visit of the Bishops of Region II to the Holy See, I wish to report to the people of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Our visit included meetings with the Offices of the Holy See and most importantly, our Holy Father, Pope Francis.
Our Holy Father was keenly aware of the individual problems each one of his bishops faces. As we left the meeting, I was amazed that the false accusation made against me was already known to him. Pope Francis thanked me for my work in being the Apostolic Visitator to the Diocese of Buffalo and expressed his hope that the matter presented against me would be cleared up quickly for the good of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
This allegation is humiliating. I have never abused anyone in my life. In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never done anything illegal or inappropriate and I look forward to my exoneration in this false accusation. I categorically deny this allegation and will vigorously defend myself against this claim. I have devoted my episcopacy in Brooklyn and Queens and in Camden before that, to fighting sex abuse and putting in the reforms needed to ensure the protection of children. Never would I have thought that as I am coming to the end of my time in active ministry, I would face such an allegation.
I am humbled by all the support I have received from you, the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens, during this difficult time. You have a right to more information on this matter and I pledge to you continued transparency in a future column.
My visit to Rome was previously scheduled as part of the Ad Limina visit which normally takes place every five years. However, since the change of pontificates, it has been almost eight years since we have been in Rome to present our statistical and qualitative report on the Brooklyn Diocese.
The word “Ad Limina” literally means “to the doorstep of the apostles.” One of the highlights of our visit is that we celebrate the Eucharist together at the four major basilicas; St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s Outside-the-Wall, St. Mary Major, and St. John Lateran. I was privileged to be the main celebrant at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where, by tradition, the pope in the fourth century dreamed that wherever it snowed in the middle of August, that is where Our Lady wished the first basilica dedicated to her in Rome, to be built, and, in fact, it was.
My homily that day on the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, a bishop of the fourth century, who was very diligent in working against the Arian heresy of that day which did not recognize that Christ was both God and man. He was known as a warrior bishop since his former life as a soldier carried on to his episcopal ministry, not with a sword but rather with his wisdom and holiness of life. I mentioned to the Bishops there that this is exactly what we need to do. Becoming cultural warrior is not the way to present the gospel to the world today. My confrères seemed to agree with that assessment.
During the rest of the week we usually had three or four visits each day with the various offices of the Vatican, the Office for Bishops, the Office for Clergy, Doctrine of the Faith, New Evangelization, and the Office for the Promotion of Catholic Education. In addition, we met with the new Dicastery of Integral Human Development which combines the work of the former Migration Dicastery and that of Justice and Peace.
The reform of the Curia was very evident as many offices have been combined and staff has been distributed among the offices. One of the rules that Pope Francis made in the reorganization of the Curia was that no one should lose their job except if they were going on to retirement. The tone of the meetings this time in comparison to the last, especially with the Vatican Offices, was one of pleasant collaboration. In the past, we were brought to task for various things seen as deficiencies from the Roman Offices. But the Holy Father has told these officials that they work for us and we do not work for them bluntly and that they are to be helpful to us. That was clearly the message they gave us in all the meetings we attended.
The highlight of the visit was of course, our meeting with the Holy Father. After taking pictures with us we dialogued for about 2 hours in the middle of a busy day for him, about anything we wished to bring up. He simply said, “The floor is yours. I will respond to anything you wish me to comment on.” Almost every bishop, including our auxiliary bishops, had an opportunity to state something that was important to them and to our work in the State of New York, as well as for the universal Church.
Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre took the role of moderator and called upon each one of us for discussion of a different topic. Because of my work on this issue, I obviously was asked to comment on the migration situation. I thanked the Holy Father for his championing for migrants and refugees around the world, and spoke of his experience as a child of migrants in Argentina. He feels dedicated to those who find themselves in a new ambience and he wishes that the Church’s presence be their champion and advocate.
He also commented on the new bronze statue that has been placed, at least temporarily in St. Peter’s Square depicting 164 immigrants on a boat. The statue, 16’ high, was donated by a foundation that employed the Canadian artist to depict the immigrants. The statue truly shows the stance of the Church in regard to migrants today. I did not get a chance to speak with the Holy Father about our own efforts to raise a statue of Mother Cabrini, however, in future columns I will explain that situation more fully.
Each time we, as bishops, go to Rome we recognize that we are part and parcel of the universal Church. We do put out into the deep waters of that Church that encompasses the world which is the Body of Christ Himself. We are not CEO’s of institutional franchises. Rather, we are collaborators with the Holy Father who for us is the Vicar of Christ on earth. Please pray for us bishops as we struggle amidst a world that seems not to want to hear the message we bring; a message that you, as the faithful, also must bring to the world today.