Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the official preacher of the papal household, delivers the homily to U.S. bishops during Mass Jan. 3 in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mundelein Seminary during the bishops’ Jan. 2-8 retreat (CNS photo).

Bishop Hartmayer reflects on bishops' retreat

Originally Appeared in : 9902-1/17/19

It was widely reported that on the first day of the recent November meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal DiNardo, president of the conference, announced that Pope Francis had requested that the bishops of the United States not vote on any protocol or process that would address the standard of accountability for bishops regarding their own neglect to adhere to the directives included in the “Dallas Charter of 2002.”


The set agenda for the November meeting included a discussion and a vote on the manner in which the bishops felt would be necessary to proceed in assuring the bishops would be held accountable in dealing with bishops, priests, deacons, employees and volunteers about whom allegations were made regarding the sexual abuse of minors or sexual misconduct with adults.


Needless to say, the bishops were disappointed to hear the Cardinal make the announcement because we were ready to propose and discuss procedures that would pertain to bishops who violated the directives of the Dallas Charter.


Cardinal DiNardo told us that the Holy Father instructed us to gather as a conference and make a seven-day retreat. Pope Francis offered the retreat director, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., of the Papal Household at the Vatican to conduct the retreat. Fr. Cantalamessa has been giving retreats to Popes and the Vatican Household since Pope Saint John Paul II.


As disappointed as we were with the Pope’s decision to not vote on any proposals in November, I believe, that Pope Francis was absolutely correct.


Pope Francis has called to the Vatican in February a summit of all presidents of bishops’ conferences from every country in the world to propose and discuss how to universally address the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. If the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had voted and submitted procedures to the Vatican before the February meeting, it would have short-circuited the Pope’s purpose of calling all the presidents together and addressing the abuse and procedural mandates that will be enforced within the Catholic Church worldwide.


Since the United States bishops’ proposals were taken off the agenda at our November meeting, the agenda now permitted time for bishops to simply share with one another their own feelings and concerns about this moral crisis in the Catholic Church. I believe that the extra time afforded the bishops to share their feeling in a forum of their peers, which rarely happens without time constraints, was an expected blessing. I am personally grateful to Cardinal DiNardo for his leadership and his willingness to allow this to occur. Bishops approached the microphone that are never or rarely heard from. I found it an extremely valuable use of time. It was refreshing and healing.


After the bishops returned home from the November meeting, we were informed that a national retreat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops would take place at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago from January 2-8, 2019. The retreat would be conducted by Fr. Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. Chicago in January would not have been my first choice. It was not my decision.


On January 2 Bishop Boland and I together with more than 200 bishops from across the United States arrived at Mundelein Seminary. It was a cold and windy day. Despite the weather, the seminary staff and dozens of volunteers extended a sincere and warm welcome that made our time at the seminary extremely enjoyable. Mundelein Seminary and Saint Mary of the Lake University were chartered in 1844 and as the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago. George Cardinal Mundelein founded the seminary and is the namesake for the town in which it is located.


Upon our arrival, we were each given an eight-page letter from Pope Francis. (See The Pope said in the letter that “as the Successor of Peter, I wanted to join all of you in imploring the Lord to send forth His Spirit who ‘makes all things new’ and to point out the paths of life that, as a Church, we are called to follow for the good of all those entrusted to our care. Despite my best efforts, I will not be able, for logistical reasons, to be physically present with you. This letter is meant in some way to make up for that journey which could not take place.”


The Holy Father went on to say, “with these few lines, I would like to draw near to you as a brother and to reflect with you on some aspects that I consider important, while at the same time encouraging your prayer and the steps you are taking to combat the ‘culture of abuse’ and to deal with the crisis of credibility.”


The Pope’s letter was a welcomed gesture in setting a tone and a focus for our seven-day retreat. Among many other topics, Pope Francis stated that “combatting the culture of abuse, the loss of credibility, the resulting bewilderment and confusion, and the discrediting of our mission urgently demands of us a renewed and decisive approach to resolving conflicts.”


The Holy Father believes that “a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called upon to repair it. This involves our ability, or inability, as a community to forge bonds and create spaces that are healthy, mature and respectful of the integrity and privacy of each person. It involves our ability to bring people together and to get them enthused and confident about a broad, shared project that is at once unassuming, solid, sober and transparent. This requires not only a new approach to management, but also a change in our mind-set (metanoia), our way of praying, our handling of power and money, our exercise of authority and our way of relating to one another and to the world around us.”


On our first night of retreat we listened to the first of thirteen meditations and six homilies from Fr. Cantalamessa (See The themes of his meditations were centered on the ‘Mission of the Apostles and their Successors.’ Each mediation began with a verse of the hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus” and he spoke about the mission of the Holy Spirit as being ‘Creator.’ At the beginning of the world, it was the Holy Spirit that turned chaos into cosmos. Fr. Cantalamessa told us he “did not come from Rome to convert you, but to encourage you, for, right now, that’s what you need the most.”


Each of Fr. Cantalamessa’s meditations was poignant, provocative and challenging. He often included the writings of the Church Fathers, Scripture and the Councils of the Church. Father’s talks were well received by the bishops and often a topic which continued to be discussed during our meals.


We enjoyed simple meals which were well-balanced and nutritious. All lunches were eaten in silence and there was the option to eat all meals in silence if desired. I found the meal times, except for lunch, an opportunity to enjoy the company of our brother bishops that is not ordinarily the case during our annual bishops’ meetings. We always seem to be in a hurry. This week of retreat afforded us time to pray together, to enjoy beautiful liturgies, and benefit from evening holy hours with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There was time; something that bishops seem to have so little of. The week of retreat was as if a ‘pause button’ had been pushed and we were able to enjoy our time together and our time alone.


Fr. Cantalamessa left us with a needed message of hope; the same hope that the witnesses experienced at the resurrection of Jesus. He told us that we “need to immerse our minds and souls in the splendor of the mystery of the resurrection.” He went on to say, “Easter marks the birth of Christian hope. It is interesting that the word ‘hope’ does not appear in Jesus’ preaching. The Gospels report many of his sayings on faith and charity, but nothing on hope. After Easter, however, we witness a literal explosion of the notion and sentiment of hope in the teaching of the apostles. Hope takes its place beside faith and charity as one of the three theological virtues.”


The seven-day retreat went by far too quickly. We did not conduct any business, discuss any proposals, or take any votes; we just listened for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This was one of the most meaningful retreats that I have ever attended.


Fr. Cantalamessa ended his last meditation by saying to us, “now every time I have an opportunity to address priests or bishops, I proclaim that word of God again. And once more, not as a quotation, but as the living, active word of God. And so I dare to do it again at the close of this retreat: Take courage, you bishops of the United States; take courage priests, deacons and all the people of this land: and work, I am with you, says the Lord.”


Pope Francis was right. We needed to gather and pray.

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