SEATTLE – Shortly after the public sessions of the U.S. bishops’ annual Fall General Assembly adjourned Wednesday evening in Baltimore, the bishops of the Archdiocese of Seattle reported their reflections on the week in an email to Northwest Catholic.
The meeting had an unexpected start Monday morning, with USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s announcement that the Vatican had instructed the gathered bishops not to vote on proposed responses to the sex-abuse crisis.
As Archbishop J. Peter Sartain explained, “Because Pope Francis will convene a meeting of the presidents of all the bishops’ conferences from around world this coming February to discuss the sexual abuse crisis, the Vatican asked us not to take formal votes on several proposals regarding the current crisis in the U.S.”
But, the archbishop said, “this week’s meeting still gave us a golden opportunity to discuss the situation at length, in a spirit of prayer and candid exchange.”
The first day of the meeting was designated as a day of prayer, with eucharistic adoration, rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, Mass and opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation. The bishops also heard reflections from two survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
“The day of prayer on Monday set the stage for the rest of the week,” Archbishop Sartain said.
Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg agreed.
“Starting the week with a day of prayer was a great experience as we came together to seek the Lord’s inspiration and blessing,” he said. “We needed that day to focus our attention on Jesus and to strengthen our communion as disciples. Everything else we did during the remaining days really flowed from that experience of openness, prayer and communion.”
On Tuesday, leaders of the National Review Board and National Advisory Council spoke to the bishops about the “depth of anger, pain and disappointment” among Catholics over the sex-abuse crisis and expressed concern over a “continued lack of transparency about past cases of abuse and the way they were handled.”
Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo reflected, “Only the transparency of the shepherds will gradually restore the confidence of the flock and help them recognize the voice of Jesus the real Good Shepherd.”
Throughout the meeting, in discussions within small regional groups and among the whole gathering, bishops shared “the understandable deep concern and frustration of our parishioners,” Archbishop Sartain said.
“It was clear to me that the bishops have a strong and unwavering commitment to address the crisis of sexual abuse, and especially the importance of holding as a priority the healing of victims. We also emphasized the importance of communicating that commitment to our people. In the forefront of our discussion were ways to objectively address accusations brought against bishops, the importance of a complete investigation regarding allegations made against Archbishop McCarrick, and our ongoing commitment to protect children and vulnerable adults.”
He added, “Bishops also emphasized often that at all times, and especially in crisis, we must continue to proclaim the Gospel and listen attentively to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is always our hope.”
The archbishop praised Cardinal DiNardo’s remarks at the close of the public sessions on Wednesday, and noted that “the frank discussions of this week will serve as our input” for the cardinal to bring to the February meeting in Rome.
The fall meeting was not all about the sex-abuse crisis. Archbishop Sartain pointed to “two other important highlights”: the “overwhelming approval” of a pastoral letter against racism; and a show of support for the advancement on the local level of the cause of canonization of Sister Thea Bowman, an African-American Franciscan sister who “brought her wonderful gifts as an evangelist to the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel,” the archbishop said.
The archbishop also mentioned “the very positive discussion of the recent V Encuentro in Texas, our continued concern about immigrants, and the observance of the 40th anniversary of the USCCB document on ministry to persons with disabilities and the importance of welcoming them fully to the life of the Church.”
All in all, Archbishop Sartain said, “It’s been a good week — an intense week, not without its surprises, but I come away with gratitude that it was a fruitful meeting of bishops who are listening attentively to our parishioners and who share their serious desire to heal, purify and strengthen the Church.”