Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bishop Bradley's Reflections on USCCB General Assembly November 2018

November 12-15, 2018. Baltimore, Md.

November 15, 2018
Feast of St. Albert the Great

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As I prepare to leave Baltimore following these last four days of meetings, I wanted to try to the best of my ability to share with you what took place; to try to give you some insight into what did not take place and why; and to try to reassure you that, in spite of the unexpected start of the meeting, in fact there was significant progress and that we all have reason to be hopeful.

As I was traveling to Baltimore on Sunday, arriving here early in the evening, my mindset was one of anxious concern as to what surely would be a very difficult next few days. I had read all the preliminary documents and background information regarding the four proposed “pillars” that the body of Bishops would be voting on as at least one way of demonstrating our collective determination to complement whatever had been lacking in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It would also be one way to take a positive step forward to keep from happening ever again what allowed the Archbishop McCarrick situation to have taken place, and that enabled some Bishops to have mismanaged or even covered up clergy sexual abuse situations in their dioceses as was alleged in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

Those “four pillars” are:
1. A mechanism to allow for a report to be made of an allegation against a Bishop through a 3rd-party, objective system that would go directly to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Pope’s representative, in Washington.

2. The formation of an independent (separate 501 (c) 3) Commission made up mostly of lay professionals to review and make recommendations about those allegations made against Bishops and brought forward thru the mechanism above, and to make recommendations on what next steps to take.

3. The establishment of “Standards of Conduct” that every Bishop would be asked to sign (currently all priests, deacons, anyone involved in ministry positions with young people are asked to sign a Code of Conduct).

4. The creation of a set of protocols to clearly delineate what a bishop who has resigned for cause, or was asked to resign, may do in terms of future ministry.

The reason I had anxious concern is because I already believed that if that was all we accomplished during our days in Baltimore—-to establish more policies and make more promises——our people would not see that as nearly sufficient. In my mind, we needed to do something dramatic to demonstrate to the faithful, and to prove to ourselves, that we are serious about wanting to cooperate with what clearly is God’s plan to purify His Church.

It was clear that all the Bishops were very much looking forward to Monday’s opening of the Fall Meeting by participating in a day-long time of Prayer in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Little did I, or any of us, know how badly we would need this day of intensive prayer. Because before beginning our day of prayer at 10:30 a.m.,  we had an opening session at 9  a.m. at which Cardinal DiNardo stunned all of us with the announcement that we would not be voting on these four “pillars” mentioned above in light of a request that he had just received from the Vatican the evening before “urging” the United States Conference to not move to a vote on any of those items on our agenda dealing with clergy sexual abuse. The reason given by the Vatican office was because Pope Francis has convened the Presidents of all Bishops’ Conferences of every country in the world to meet in February in Rome on this very issue of clergy sexual abuse, and he wanted our Conference to wait until the world-wide meeting could assess the problem and issue world-wide conclusions. The Holy Father was not asking the Conference not to vote on these items; just to delay the vote until after the February meeting. The Bishops in the room were stunned. There was an audible gasp. Cardinal DiNardo was not in any way masking his own disappointment (and dare I say distress) about this 11th hour turn of events. I would venture to say that every Bishop in the assembly was equally frustrated, confused, angry and left with a “now what” question. As I said, it was very providential that we recessed from that opening session to enter into a Day of Prayer so we could all bring our frustrations and anger to the Lord, to seek His direction.

As an aside, I would offer this additional commentary. Every Bishop feels a dual responsibility: the first is to be in communion with our Holy Father, and to be faithful to the promise of obedience to him, as every priest is faithful to his promise of obedience to his bishop; the second is to be courageous leaders of our people—-to be Shepherds who serve the needs of our people and who stand up against anyone or anything that endangers the Flock of Christ. The collective gasp in the room was, for me, and I think for all, an expression of a serious dilemma, being caught between these two sacred responsibilities.

The Day of Prayer was powerful, moving, transformative in many ways, and helped give a perspective that moved from our own pre-determined perspective to a larger, shall we say more universal, perspective. During the Day of Prayer, we Bishops heard from four brave, articulate, and deeply faith-filled people. The first two were survivors of clergy sexual abuse. The first was Teresa Pitt Green; the second was Luis A. Torres, Jr. They were the faces of untold numbers of survivors of clergy sexual abuse. What was so amazing about each of them was that in spite of all that they had experienced in their lives, through the grace of God and their own inner strength, they have turned their tragedy into a victory. Teresa is the founder of “Spirit Fire Live” which is devoted to “healing and reconciliation in relationships with adults, families and parishes wounded by child abuse and trauma.” Neither of them was accusatory; but both of them were direct and honest. Teresa said: “My heart breaks for you...the Lord has cried more tears because of the decisions some of you have made. I don’t know how you bear it.” Luis said, among many things: “Truly this (clergy sexual abuse) is the devil’s best work....You need to do better...the heart of the Church is broken and you need to fix this now.” The third speaker was a young single mother who spoke in the name of the young people of the Church, and the fourth was the Superior of a community of Religious Women who urged us to get it right. That Day of Prayer concluded with a concelebrated Mass presided by Cardinal DiNardo; Archbishop Bernard Hebda was the Homilist, and as always, was profound in his own engaging style.

That Day of Prayer touched my heart and moved me to tears more than once; I’m quite sure that was true for most of us who participated. And I’m convinced that Day of Prayer set the tone for the remainder of the meeting.

The agenda for Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s public sessions of the General Assembly were dominated by discussion of the documents for each of the “four “pillars” I referenced earlier, and a lot of open, frank, and personal dialogue among the bishops (as much as can happen in a room with 300 of us). In my almost 14 years of attending these General Assemblies, I have never seen such honesty and vulnerability expressed. Bishops expressing anger; Bishops calling for radical change; Bishops voicing frustration at not being able to do more than what we were able to do. But Bishops always striving to maintain unity (“communion”) with our Holy Father, and to reassure our people that we are absolutely committed to addressing those three primary promises that we came to this meeting to do: 1) to do what we could to get to the bottom of the question as to how Archbishop McCarrick could have risen through the ranks of the hierarchy if and when there were certainly people who knew of his evil acts over the course of many years; 2) to make reporting of alleged abuse and/or misconduct on the part of Bishops easier to do; and 3) to hold Bishops accountable in ways that are independent, duly authorized and under the leadership of lay people with appropriate expertise. While we were not able to vote on the four pillars, they were thoroughly discussed, and it was abundantly clear that there is widespread support for each of those initiatives. When the February 2019 meeting which Pope Francis has called for the heads of all Episcopal Conferences takes place, Cardinal DiNardo has committed himself to speaking boldly on behalf of those proposals. In the meantime, every Bishop is free to make any and all of those accommodations in his own Diocese.

In that regard, here in our Diocese of Kalamazoo, I intend to continue to advance “A Plan to Protect”, which includes the establishment of a lay commission of experts to review all our policies and procedures, and I will also be asking them for ways to make sure that I, as Bishop, am held accountable. This “Plan” also calls for all our priests, deacons and lay ministers working with young people to sign a Code of Conduct, and I will sign it as well. In regard to making public the names of priests against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse have been made, we are in somewhat of a dilemma right now because of the Michigan Attorney General Investigation; we need to see whether, or how, we can move forward with that given our current situation. We are seeking clarifications on that very question.

There was one very positive result from these recent days of the Fall General Assembly of U.S. Bishops. Among the very limited amount of other routine agenda items that were discussed, the long-awaited pastoral letter in the name of the United States Bishops on racism was voted on and was virtually unanimously passed. The letter is entitled: “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—-a Pastoral Letter Against Racism”. It is a beautifully written exhortation which addresses racism’s impact on various groups and ethnicities in the U.S. from a contemporary viewpoint. There is special emphasis on the experiences of Native Americans, African Americans, and the racial targeting of Hispanics and immigrants. The Letter highlights Catholic teaching on the human person as the “image of God” and calls individuals and communities to conversion and action. The Letter should be published and available to us before the end of this calendar year. In light of the growing racial tensions and many expressions of racially-motivated acts of violence, I very much look forward to having this Letter available for reading and study by all our Faithful people and clergy.

Following an Executive Session this morning, the Fall Assembly has now concluded and I prepare to return to the Diocese. On the one hand, I am disappointed that I am not returning with voted-upon agreements of new initiatives that we can all put into place at the national level to fill the gaps of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” For that, we will have to wait a while longer. On the other hand, I come home filled with hope because I believe I participated in a transformative moment in the life of the U.S. Conference of Bishops. There is not one Bishop at this meeting who does not realize that if there ever was a “business as usual” attitude for the USCCB, that time is over and done. We are in a new day, a new moment, and I believe there is a new, strong, and clear resolve on the part of just about every Bishop; I can say that for sure about myself as your Bishop. I/we are resolved to do better; to do whatever it takes; to be renewed in our determination to be faithful to our people while at the same time remaining in union with our Holy Father, for the sake of the safety and protection of our children and vulnerable people, and for the loving service to all God’s holy people.

As Cardinal DiNardo said in his closing address: “We leave this place committed to taking the strongest possible actions at the earliest possible moment.” He continued: “But our hope for true and deep reform ultimately lies in more than excellent systems, as essential as these are. It requires holiness: the deeply held conviction of the truths of the Gospel, and the eager readiness to be transformed by those truths in all aspects of life.” In a similar way, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, said: “If the Church is to reform herself and her structures, then the reform must spring from Her mission of making known Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

In light of those comments, I return to our Diocese committed to do all that can be done as soon as we can do it. And I commit myself, even as I ask all our priests and deacons to join with me in committing themselves, to be renewed in Christ to be His holy shepherds, shepherds who lead our people with courage and with joy, shepherds who protect our flocks from any evil, shepherds who root the evil of any sin out of our own hearts so that we can lead our people with integrity and with the mind/heart of Christ.

The Fall General Assembly of U.S. Bishops admittedly did not go the way we expected; however, I believe—-I am hopeful—-that the meeting went the way God wanted it to go.  May we faithfully follow the Lord’s call to grow in holiness, even as He is Holy; may we consecrate ourselves to the protection of Mary, the Mother of the Church, who will persistently lead us to Jesus.

Assuring you of my fervent prayers for you, and asking for your prayers for me, our Diocese, and our one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, I remain

Faithfully yours in Christ,

+ Bishop Paul J. Bradley