More than 280 bishops in the United States gathered at St Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois a suburb of Chicago, for a weeklong retreat led by the Preacher of the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa. The retreat was closed to the public and media, and security was tight as several groups protested over clerical child abuse outside the gates of the campus.
Despite the absence of press briefings, the Tablet has learned that the bishops ate lunch in silence, but at breakfast and dinner were permitted to speak with one another. One bishop noted that during their plenary meetings, they rarely interacted with each other over meals and without distractions and thought the retreat was conducive to building unity among themselves.
Pope Francis urged them to do just that in a strongly worded eight-page letter, distributed to the bishops at the start of the retreat.
He told the bishops to stop acting like business managers and end their internal divisions if they wish to regain credibility following the clerical sexual abuse crisis. Ahead of the crucial 21-24 February Vatican summit on abuse, he emphasised that he wants new child protection procedures to be combined with discernment and a change of mentality.
“Loss of credibility calls for a specific approach, since it cannot be regained by issuing stern decrees or by simply creating new committees or improving flow charts, as if we were in charge of a department of human resources,” the Pope wrote.
“That kind of vision ends up reducing the mission of the bishop and that of the Church to a mere administrative or organisational function in the ‘evangelisation business.’”
While Francis emphasised that protocols and a “new approach to management” are necessary, he said these must come alongside a changed mindset which places the logic of the Gospel at the centre. The goal, he said, was a missionary, outward-looking Church which has undergone a pastoral conversion.
Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport posted daily updates from the retreat on his Facebook page, including a summary of the key themes articulated by Fr. Cantalamessa. He said the overall theme was formation, and noted that Jesus spent 40 per cent of the Gospels preparing the apostles for their work. “At the heart of what Jesus offered his apostles was a choice: to leave behind a way of thinking that the world wants us to embrace and to begin to see all things in life as God sees them,” Caggiano wrote. “In other words, Jesus desired to give his apostles a new ‘mindset’, one that sees the world in a radically new way, in terms of what God desires for creation, humanity and his disciples.” Another day, Cantalamessa asked the bishops to contemplate the gift of poverty as essential to their ministry, according to Bishop Caggiano.