The 'Fire' of Crisis Can Purify, Vatican Ambassador Tells Embattled U.S. Bishops

By Joe Feuerherd
National Catholic Reporter [St. Louis MO]
Downloaded June 21, 2003

The U.S. hierarchy should not "sit idle or . retreat to a place of isolation" as they address the sexual abuse crisis that has been used to discredit the church, Pope John Paul II's representative told the U.S. bishops June 19.

"We all know that we are going through difficult times and that some real problems within the church have been magnified to discredit the moral authority of the church," Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo said in an address that kicked-off the bishops' two-and-a-half day semi-annual meeting.

The "fire" resulting from the crisis has the "power to purify" and could "become a moment of grace" for the American church, said Montalvo.

Though Montalvo did not explicitly address the sexual abuse crisis facing the church, his comments were the only mention of the issue, however elliptical, in the portion of the June 19 meeting open to the press.

Montalvo referenced the Book of Wisdom to advise the bishops: "As gold in the furnace he proved them!" Fire, said Montalvo, "can quickly reduce to ashes what was built in years," though it also has "the power to purify and to draw out from the earth that which is precious and rich."

Montalvo urged the bishops to look to examples of those in the church who had dealt with crisis. He pointed to Pope John XXIII's determination to pursue the Second Vatican Council despite "criticisms that were expressed by bishops and cardinals who felt that this initiative would disrupt the church and prove to be a fiasco."

Likewise, said Montalvo, Pope Paul VI, through his encyclical Humanae Vitae, "never shrunk from proclaiming and teaching the truth about the dignity of human life" even "in the face of vocal opposition and awful dissent."

And Pope John Paul II, said Montalvo, though "visibly weakened and limited by his physical condition, continues to press forward on the mission to which he has been called by almighty God."

Following the morning session, the bishops continued with "executive sessions" that will run through June 20. At those closed meetings, they were to hear from members of the review board and from Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops' youth protection office.

On June 20, the bishops will discuss a proposal to conduct a "plenary council," an extraordinary gathering that would have the authority, pending Vatican approval, to make "particular law" for the U.S. church.

The June 20 discussions will focus on four areas that could be addressed by a plenary council: the identify and spiritual life of priests and bishops, the need for catechesis of the faith, the role of the laity, and concern about the decline in participation "in the sacramental life of the church." Discussions about the merits of a plenary council will continue beyond the St. Louis meeting.

Though the bishops' response to the sexual abuse crisis and curiosity over the resignation of Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien dominated the interest of the 170 members of the media reporting on the meeting, the bishops' public agenda was dominated by relatively routine items, including the development of a document on the formation and ministry of deacons and revisions to the National Directory for Catechesis.

Meanwhile, the bishops' ad hoc committee on sexual abuse will make a public report on Saturday June 21.

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent.


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