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Pope Urges Bishops to Teach Discernment, Including on Political Issues

Pope Francis meets with U.S. bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas during their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican Jan. 20, 2020. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. (Photo: CNS/Vatican Media)

ROME (CNS) — Sometimes the political choices people face can seem like a choice between supporting a “snake” or supporting a “dragon,” but Pope Francis told a group of U.S. bishops their job is to step back from partisan politics and help their faithful discern based on values, said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

Meeting the bishops of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas Jan. 20, Pope Francis mentioned how, in an election, “you sometimes seem to be caught, you know, are you going to vote in one sense for a snake or you going to vote for a dragon?” Cardinal DiNardo said.

The pontiff’s advice to the bishops was “teach your people discernment by you stepping back from the sheer politics of it” and focus on the values at stake, Cardinal DiNardo told Catholic News Service. “If you try to step back and say, ‘but here are the major moral issues that we face,’ that’s what is most important.”

The region’s 26 bishops, including auxiliaries and retired bishops, spent about two-and-a-half hours talking with Pope Francis in English and Spanish. The Holy Father responded in Italian so his aide could translate the responses into English.

The topics were wide-ranging and included the clerical abuse crisis, migration, the challenges of a media-permeated culture and forming Christian consciences, especially in a time of deep political divisions.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, one of four Texas dioceses on the border with Mexico, said all of those issues were important, but for him the key was listening to the pope and being listened to him by him.

Citing the “whole host of issues” they discussed with Pope Francis, Bishop Edward J. Burns of Dallas said, “I am really looking forward to sitting, digesting, reflecting and praying over the conversation we had this morning with the successor of St. Peter.”

“It was exciting. It was exhilarating,” he said.

Pope Francis is attentive to and knows the pastoral challenges posed by modern social media and their pervasive presence in many people’s lives, said Bishop Flores, a daily Twitter user. But the pontiff has “a calmness about how we address that,” mainly by remaining true to the identity as pastors, proclaiming the Gospel and encouraging people to act according to it.

Bishop Flores said all the bishops realize they must learn “how to be a pastor in a media world where you keep justice and charity and a steady focus on the Gospel.”

The ad limina visits are “very important for deepening our sense of personal communion” with the Holy Father, the successor of Peter, he said. “It’s not just the office, it’s the affection for your father spiritually that we need to cultivate, because it is part of the gift that is the communion of the Church.”

“The narrative” that Pope Francis and many of the U.S. bishops “are on different pages,” he said, is “overblown.”

Sometimes that impression may arise when a bishop reacts to a news or social media report about something the pontiff has said. “It is our responsibility to hear him in his own words and to resist the temptation that sometimes hits across the spectrum of the Church to jump to a conclusion because of some line that was quoted here or there.”

Even in the fast-paced world of social media, “we can afford to be judicious and thoughtful,” he said. “It’s part of our intellectual responsibility.”

Cardinal DiNardo said Pope Francis and the bishops recognize the value and importance of media. However, he said, some on social media “may represent only a small number of people, but they make a lot of noise, and we try to sift through that,” both in what is said about the pope and what is said about the Church and bishops.

Bishop Flores said he was surprised by how much Francis knew about the life and witness of Blessed Stanley Rother, the Oklahoma native martyred in Guatemala in 1981. After his name appeared on a death list, Rother went back to Oklahoma, but refused to stay.

“It was very moving to hear the Holy Father, the successor of Peter, recount to us a story we all know so well,” Bishop Flores said. It showed the pontiff’s awareness of “that missionary spirit and how it is alive in the United States.”

“He talked about the importance of pastors who accompany their people,” Bishop Flores said. “I found that encouraging, because they are the unsung heroes who accompany their people, day in and day out.”

Pope Francis also encouraged the bishops to be pastors, in a real sense, spending time with their faithful “not just at confirmations and on the big feast days,” he said. The Holy Father said, “The people have a nose for the deep reality of the Church, and that is that where the bishop is, there is the Church.”

The pope’s words were “profoundly pastoral, profoundly theological and ecclesial – a sense of church” – as well as obviously flowing from a deep spirituality, Bishop Flores said.

On migration, Bishop Flores said Pope Francis was clearly knowledgeable about and grateful for the decades of work the Catholic Church in the United States has done to welcome migrants and refugees and was encouraging of what the bishops are doing now, especially to speak of “the dignity of the immigrant and the just treatment” of them.

Cardinal DiNardo said the conversation also touched on the fact that “some people think when you deal with those issues that’s not church teaching, you know, that’s politics.”

Pope Francis, he said, encouraged the bishops to spend time reflecting on and sharing with their people the difference between “politics as ideology and Catholic social teaching, which stresses the human person and how we are always called to be at their behest.”

“We need to be voices for the immigrants” who do not have a voice, “pushed as they are by many different sides,” Cardinal DiNardo said. The question of migration policy is complicated, but Christians must come down on the side of “the poor and those who are in need. The immigrants, at one point he mentioned, they really represent to us the face of Christ suffering. The suffering Jesus.”

Bishop Burns was among the Texas bishops who voiced their opposition to Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that the state would no longer resettle refugees.

The Church as a mother takes care of people in need, he said. “And while every country has a right to protect its border, every person has a right to a better life.”

What really is needed, he said, is immigration reform. “It’s taking all too long.”

Contributing to this story were Cindy Wooden, Carol Glatz and Junno Arocho Esteves.

3 thoughts on “Pope Urges Bishops to Teach Discernment, Including on Political Issues

  1. This article and the items discussed it are a terrible hypocrisy. Yes migrants have a right to respect, the number of these people pales minutely on the policy of abortion. In the US nearly a million babies are murdered in the womb and in such places, post natal abortions are legally. This is infanticide and murder, but do the Bishop or the Pope discuss this issue or place any priority on it? This is a classic case of Bishops fawning over each other for the Pope’s approval, and despite all that the critics may say about social, whilst there there some deviant site out the, there are many who have dedicated themselves to keep this travesty of justice in the public forum. Amy Pope wishing to cultivate in discernment would educate from the pulpit, and what of gay issues that are being thrust upon us. Why has no one the courage just to stand up and say that it is wrong. If you can talk about the abuse crisis, then the gay crisis should not be far behind; chastity is the only option for either group of people, especially pastors, who’s lives should lead by shining examples of pastors in our communities. The clergy should intervene at any possible opportunity to teach the faithful from a moral and ethical point of view where it stands opposed to politics. Who represents the voices of aborted children who have no one to stand up for themselves? This article of the meeting is desperately biased in conformity with the views it expresses as being in line with with not wishing to speak out, or being been seen to speak out about issues where the Vatican, and this pope, who is more political than theological in behavior, has overstepped the line of his papal oath to safeguard unfettered, the dogmatic teaching on faith and morals as handed down throughout the most difficult times of our church’s history.It is breathtaking in it’s sheer disregard of what, the church, yes OUR church should stand and fight for, the widow, the orphan, and the abandoned, for this is the way we treat the dignity shown to the unborn. Is it little wonder that the rapid decline in the numbers of the practicing faithful have declined steadily over the last 60 years, and to the obvious reasons that one can conclude from this?
    Given the bias of the article and the criticisms I raise with it, I would be most surprised to see it actually make the blog page.