US Catholic bishops begin retreat to pray over clergy sexual abuse scandal

In this Feb. 28, 2018, file photo, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich speaks during a news conference in Springfield, Ill. U.S. Catholic bishops will gather starting Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, for a weeklong retreat at a seminary near Chicago. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP, File)

DETROIT (AP) — U.S.-based Roman Catholic bishops will gather Wednesday for a weeklong retreat near Chicago on the church sexual abuse scandal that organizers say will focus on prayer and spiritual reflection and not formulating policy.

The retreat begins a day after The Associated Press reported that the Vatican blocked U.S. bishops from taking measures last year to address the scandal because U.S. church leaders didn't discuss the legally problematic proposals with the Holy See enough beforehand.

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The rebuke from Rome was contained in a letter from a Vatican official before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in November. The move stunned abuse survivors and some other Catholics demanding actions.

The retreat also is a prelude to a summit of the world's bishops at the Vatican next month to forge a comprehensive response to the crisis that has lashed the church.

The meetings follow two blistering reports during 2018 from state attorneys general — in Illinois and Pennsylvania — alleging negligence by state church leaders.

Here's a look at the retreat.

WHAT'S ON THE AGENDA?

This is about prayer, not policy-making, organizers say.

According to the Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman Anne Maselli, bishops gathering at the Mundelein Seminary will be praying, fasting and participating in spiritual lectures. And they will be alone: No staff members, other priests or members of the public or media are invited. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a news release that they are convening "to pray on the intense matters before us."

This is about prayer, not policy-making, organizers say.

The Catholic seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Chicago, is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and home to roughly 200 seminarians from about 40 dioceses across the country and globe. According to its website, the lakefront campus blends "Colonial Revival and the architecture of Renaissance Rome, joining the Roman traditions of Catholicism with American cultural traditions."

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WHO ARE THE MAIN PLAYERS?

Pope Francis has dispatched Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the official papal preacher, to lead the retreat. And it's no accident that it's being held in Chicago, long considered a center of American Catholicism. The hosting Chicago archbishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich , was Francis' first major U.S. appointment and was picked by the pope to help organize the Vatican summit.

Cupich, who is considered a moderate, was the lead signatory on a recent letter to bishops around the world warning that a failure to deal with abuse now will jeopardize the church's mission globally. It also urged summit attendees to meet with clergy sexual abuse victims "to learn firsthand the suffering they have endured." Cupich issued a statement expressing regret for "our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse," after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's report in December alleging that the church had failed to disclose the names of at least 500 clergy members in the state accused of sexually abusing children.

A Pennsylvania grand jury report early last year alleged that hundreds of priests abused at least 1,000 children over seven decades in that state.

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WHAT CAN IT REALLY ACCOMPLISH?

Potentially a good deal, according to Notre Dame researcher and teacher Timothy O'Malley. He says one of Francis' biggest concerns has been that the bishops experience a spiritual renewal — and "a spirit of penance" — along with regulations governing their behavior.

"When the bishops meet in public to discuss these procedures, there is a danger that it's less an act of contrition and more an occasion for scoring political points," he said. "Part of the corruption is based in a certain clerical culture where bishops pursued self-interest, whether their own or their diocese's, at the expense of listening to lay victims. This retreat ... is a first step toward a renewal of the (church leadership) as a whole in the United States."

O'Malley added that it only works if they recognize that their office isn't about accruing power but becoming "a shepherd," or "someone who is willing to engage in self-sacrifice for the sake of the Church."

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HOW DO ABUSE VICTIMS FEEL ABOUT IT?

Many are dismayed that it has taken so long for the church leadership to meet and act after so many years. Two advocacy groups, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and Ending Clergy Abuse, plan to hold a public demonstration Wednesday in Chicago.

SNAP says in a statement that it wants Cardinal Cupich removed from his prominent role in planning the papal summit, and that Cardinal DiNardo should not lead the U.S. delegation to the Rome summit.

"We are placing our hopes for reform in the hands of secular, not church officials."

Zach Hiner, SNAP's executive director, said he's glad leaders are gathering "to find ways to address this crisis, but a week spent in silent prayer is not the response the public is looking for."

"If church officials truly want to do what is best, then they should be spending this week discussing how they can best comply with independent investigations by law enforcement, or how they can compel law enforcement officials in their state to act if no such investigation has begun yet," Hiner said. "At this point, regardless of what bishops decide to do in the first week of January, we are placing our hopes for reform in the hands of secular, not church officials."

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John Chuchman
8 months 2 weeks ago

Undoing decades of institutional clerical programming in a weekend?
Not bloody likely.

Peter Schwimer
8 months 2 weeks ago

The hierarchy seems intent on delay . I am not sure that a weeks retreat will do what should have been done months and years ago. The people who transferred, protected, and otherwise obfuscated the sexual and other abuses knowingly should be fired.PERIOD. They should be terminated in their positions immediately and publically. It doesn't take a retreat to discern that and it doesn't take a week to accomplish it.

Arthur Sullivan
8 months 2 weeks ago

Save time, and turn this whole sordid mess over to the International Criminal Court.

James Haraldson
8 months 2 weeks ago

A forum in America magazine to discuss this issue will likely be as moronic as the entire past half century of ecclesial history has been of thinking the Church could abandon its God given mission of saving humanity from its sinfulness by joining the secular world in denying the existence of sin, especially the sin of pride.

Karen Auman
8 months 2 weeks ago

This is the first ever retreat of its type for USCCB. The first ever.
In solidarity with the journey of the conference. I am examining my own heart in how I - like the Bishops - am faithfully responding to my vocational call. The retreat will be in silence and begins at 4:30 today. Daily Concelebrated Mass, Evening Eucharistic Adoration. Morning and Evening retreat messages by Fray Contalamessa. Silence during lunch and areas set aside for those who choose to remain in silence during breakfast and dinner. Confession will be available Thursday - Saturday and Monday. Fray Cantalamessa (sing the Mass) will focus on Mark 3:14. He will speak and they -- will listen.
In my own heart I ask about my own faithfulness to the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to my Baptismal Promises, to my Rule of Life, to my horarium. What have I normalized as "good enough" and justified to myself.
Also, I challenge myself to struggle with the ways I have assisted in another's sin.
Praying in Remorse, Repentance and Contrition for assisting in another's sin
By Counsel and by Silence
By Command
By Consent
By Provocation
By Praise or By Flattery
By Concealment and By Partaking
By Defense of the Ill done

None of these! am I innocent of! None !!
And it is through these, that I confess that I have partaken in normalizing what should in Spirit and in Truth of the the Gospels should have been challenged. As a people of forgiveness and reconciliation -- of not judging -- I have in fact enabled and assisted in another's sin. Growing the plank in my own eye - I feared . I never thought of my response or non-response as assisting another in sin. So much is hiding under my umbrella of "what I have failed to do" -- that I dared not look. Never mind Canon Law! The 10 Commandments! When I enlisted in the military, I began normalizing the breaking of Commandment after Commandment such that I abdicated dominion by silence, and then by consent and then by concealment then by defense of the ill done. Such "habits" can't be broken unless identified and named.
So yes, I too feel called by Pope Francis to enter into this retreat in remorse repentance and contrition.
Please pray for me too through this season, that I will open my heart to the grace of the Holy Spirit to amend my life and remove the plank from my own eye.
Amen

austin fleming
8 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you for this, Karen. I found it insightful, honest and helpful.

Karen Auman
8 months 2 weeks ago

Austin, if you are still listening, after further reflection I must add the following.
By being overly concerned with communicating forgiveness and reconciliation, I had to first minimized the ill-done. In the minimizing of the ill done, the harm, the reverberating consequences, I normalized the sin. So when victims decry the minimizing of the harm done - it is truly a direct confrontation with enabling the normalizing of the sin. What that means is it isn't normalizing a sin, it is normalizing a crime. What then was assisting in another's sin crosses over into assisting in another's crime/criminal behavior. And again if the response is minimizing the ill done then the result is normalization of a crime under the guise of forgiveness and reconciliation.
A strength ( forgiveness, reconciliation, non-judging) is upended and becomes enabling, becomes assisting in ALL predicated on defense/minimizing of the ill done and normalization. The precedent of the previous response then is the measure of the next response -- normalization, and a culture of abuse.
The same discernment can be applied to the erosion of civility. Perhaps the exercise of recognizing the pattern on the topic of civility may make it easier to recognize in a culture of sexual abuse as it was reported by women in the military.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
8 months 2 weeks ago

Oh, please! We've had 16 years of prayer and reflection. Get off your bundoons and turn this over to law enforcement. You have proven yourselves incapable of dealing with the situation. Get out of it and let the authorities who know what they are doing and have the backbone to get the job done deal with this. You not only lack competence; you are incompetent in this matter.

Mark day
8 months 2 weeks ago

Golly, it looks like these guys can't find their behinds with both hands. Pathetic!

Mark day
8 months 2 weeks ago

Geez, are these a bunch of cluleless white guys or what. They remind me of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. No guts, no passion, just self interest and covering their heinies.

Mark day
8 months 2 weeks ago

Geez, are these a bunch of cluleless white guys or what. They remind me of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. No guts, no passion, just self interest and covering their heinies.

Gary Z
8 months 2 weeks ago

What are they going to pray for, not to get caught in covering up for each other? Ask Cardinal Dan Dinardo about the letter to him about Jeff Monforton of Steubenville. Jeff is withholding information from the prosecutor's office -- unless it doesn't exist; then, he's withholding justice. See letter from the American Legion at: http://www.heraldstaronline.com/opinion/local-columns/2018/12/guest-column-too-many-questions-remain-in-zalenski-case/

Mister Mckee
8 months 2 weeks ago

" No staff members, other priests or members of the public or media are invited."
In other words, BUSINESS AS USUAL!
For those bishops who actually still do pray, they might take a cue from Cardinal Merry del Val:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litany_of_humility#Litany_to_Obtain_Holy_Humility_(1867)[1]

And for those covering this NON-EVENT, inquiring minds would love to know just how many of the hierarchical retreatants (and their retreat master!) flew there in COACH, BUSINESS or FIRST CLASS seats?
Now THAT (Ms. Winfield et al.) would be some very telling investigative reporting...

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