What must be done in Dallas

George Weigel

Expectations for the bishops’ meeting in Dallas in mid-June have gone over the top. More journalists have applied for credentials than applied to cover the Pope’s last visit to the United States. Bishops have contributed to the frenzy by suggesting that, at Dallas, the bishops will take measures to “put this behind us” and the crisis of clerical sexual abuse will be “over.”

It won’t be. There is more to come, and getting at the roots of the crisis will take years, even decades, of work. But the Dallas meeting can do two important things substantively, and it can do one critically important thing symbolically.

The substantive agenda was suggested by Pope John Paul II, addressing the U.S. cardinals’ meeting in the Vatican on April 22. The Pope came straight to the point: “People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.” I take that to mean that classic pedophiles (men with a perverse sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children) are to be dismissed from the clerical state. I also take it to mean that priests who are habitual sexual abusers of minors are to be dismissed from the clerical state. Period.

There are the harder cases of one-time offenses, perhaps involving alcohol, and there are difficult questions about priests who have occasional, but neither habitual nor merely one-time, heterosexual or homosexual affairs. But there need be no ambiguity in the case of the true pedophiles and the habitual abusers of minors. They must be dismissed from the clerical state. If the bishops cannot make this clear at Dallas, and if they do not get the Vatican to fast-track approval of procedures for dealing with such cases, they will deserve the firestorm of criticism that will ensue.

On April 22, the Pope also said that the people of the Church “ … must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.” The Holy Father would not have said this if he did not have good reason to believe that such total commitment has been lacking in some quarters, and that dissent from the Church’s sexual ethic is one of the sources of the current crisis.

That is precisely right. Thus the bishops at Dallas must at least open a conversation about the terms and procedures for a proposed apostolic visitation — a Vatican-mandated study — of all seminaries and religious houses of formation. Such a study is essential to complete the reform of seminaries that has been underway in many instances for a decade, and to begin the reform of the truly troubled institutions — notiviates and religious houses of formation.

In both circumstances, the studies should not be led or staffed by anyone with a vested interest in the status quo or in defending the lax attitudes of the recent past — particularly in regard to sexual misconduct, heterosexual or homosexual. The study of seminaries should be run by bishops who have demonstrated an ability to reform seminaries in their pre-episcopal careers and to attract and nurture vocations by their episcopal ministry. Happily, there are a good number of such men among the younger members of the hierarchy.  The study of novitiates should be run by bishops who have nurtured vocations to the consecrated life in their dioceses and who have a clear-eyed view of the current corruptions in too many religious houses of formation.

Beyond this, the bishops must do something to make unmistakably clear that they accept responsibility for the discipline of the clergy, that they are deeply sorry for the episcopal misgovernance that turned serious scandal into Church-wide crisis, and that they fully intend to pursue remedies down to the roots of the crisis in the culture of dissent.

A communal, public act of penance has been suggested. That would be no bad thing, especially if it helped drive home the point that the Dallas meeting is only the beginning of a long and difficult process of fixing what has manifestly been broken in the Church.

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

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When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!