By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK – While all eyes are on the critical February 2019 Vatican summit on clergy sex abuse, the U.S. bishops will anticipate that meeting by kicking off the New Year with a week-long spiritual retreat at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The retreat, which was announced on October 23, comes at the invitation of Pope Francis following a September meeting between the pontiff and a delegation from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) over an American request for a Vatican-led investigation into former Cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, whose downfall ignited a crisis in the American Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse.
Although the pope did not grant the request for an investigation – with the Vatican later noting that a release of McCarrick related evidence would be forthcoming – the pontiff instead proposed the retreat as a way of addressing the crisis.
While the January 2-8 gathering for “prayer and unity” is closed to press, The Tablet has learned details of the recently released schedule, which will be predominantly silent in nature.
As previously announced, the retreat will be led by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin friar and preacher to the papal household.
For the retreat’s theme, Father Cantalamessa selected a passage from the Gospel of Mark 3:14, “He appointed twelve to be with him and to send them out to preach,” focusing on “The Mission of the Apostles and Their Successors.”
Father Cantalamessa, who is 84 years old, has served as the preacher to the papal household under Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, dating back to 1980.
Organizers of the retreat have told The Tablet that a “majority” of U.S. bishops have registered to attend.
According to the schedule of events, obtained by The Tablet, the retreat kicks off at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 2.
Each day will include morning and evening prayer followed by meditations led by Cantalamessa.
In addition, there will be a concelebrated Mass each day and optional Eucharistic Adoration each evening.
During three days of the retreat – Thursday, Saturday, and Monday – time will be made available for confessions.
While bishops are requested to wear clerical attire for the first day, the memo sent to bishops last week noted they have the option of wearing casual attire for the rest of the retreat.
Although the bi-annual meetings of U.S. bishops are normally marked with receptions from outside sponsors and dinners about town, the retreat will offer a more somber, reflective atmosphere.
Father Cantalamessa has requested that silence be observed during all lunches and the dining hall will offer silent sections for breakfast and dinner breaks for those seeking to observe silence for the full retreat.
Although there will be an organized cocktail reception on the eve of the final day of the retreat, alcohol will not be served during the rest of the week.
Mundelein Seminary is the principal training ground for the archdiocese of Chicago and was offered to the U.S. bishops by Chicago archbishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich. Classes will not be in session during the retreat.
When Pope Francis first recommended that the U.S. bishops convene for retreat, he had suggested the gathering replace the already scheduled November meeting in Baltimore.
Multiple sources told The Tablet that the administrative committee of the USCCB believed that given the timing of the recommendation, it would be impossible to shift the scheduled meeting, hence the timing of the January retreat.
While the U.S. bishops typically use their June meeting every three years to hold a retreat, this will mark the first retreat of its kind, with the bishops gathering under extraordinary circumstances for a specific spiritual focus.
The June 2019 USCCB meeting was slated to take place in California with a retreat offered by Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia.
During last month’s meeting in Baltimore, Cardinal Cupich suggested that the bishops move-up their June meeting to March in order to enact any necessary measures from the February Vatican convening.
As of now, however, no announcement has been made as to the date of the next USCCB assembly and whether it will be a retreat or a standard business meeting.