Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez and other bishops from across the country are taking part in a weeklong retreat Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois to pause in prayer as the Church seeks to respond to the clergy abuse crisis.
Bishop Perez wrote a letter about the crisis that was published in the November/December issue of Northeast Ohio Catholic magazine, the official diocesan publication. In the letter, the bishop expressed his profound sorrow for the “deep pain and suffering that has been endured by so many at the hands of the clergy.” He also said he believes the Church is “in need of serious, meaningful reform and clear action.”
The bishops’ retreat is taking place at the invitation of Pope Francis. Directing the retreat is the Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household. The retreat theme is “He appointed 12, to be with Him and to Send Out to Preach,” based on Mark 3:14. The structure of the retreat includes time for quiet reflection, including silent meal times, daily Mass, time for personal and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, vespers and an opportunity for confession. No ordinary business is being conducted during the retreat.
The pope sent a letter to the bishops that was distributed at the beginning of the retreat. In the letter said he was convinced their response to the “sins and crimes” of abuse and “the efforts made to deny or conceal them” must be found through “heartfelt, prayerful and collective listening to the word of God and to the pain of our people.”
Pope Francis said he had hoped “to be physically present” with the bishops for the retreat, but since that was not possible, he was pleased they accepted his suggestion to have the gathering be led by Father Cantalamessa.
The clerical abuse crisis and the “crisis of credibility” it created for the U.S. bishops have led to serious divisions within the U.S. Church and to a temptation to look for administrative solutions to problems that go much deeper, Pope Francis said in his letter to the bishops. He said humility is essential as the bishops navigate through “approaching and appreciating the extent and implications of what happened.”
The clergy abuse crisis captured headlines again last summer after news broke of credible accusations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C. Compounding the situation was the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report accusing more than 300 priests in six dioceses of abusing more than 1,000 children in a 70-year period and accusations from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former apostolic nuncio to the United States, that Pope Francis had known about and ignored allegations that Archbishop McCarrick had sexually harassed seminarians.
The bishops had planned to devote most of their scheduled annual fall meeting in November to discussing and voting on several proposals related to the abuse crisis, including the formulation of standards of episcopal conduct and the formation of a special commission for reviewing complaints against bishops for violations of the standards.
However, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, asked the bishops to delay their votes. He cited the short amount of time the Vatican had to review the proposals and possible conflicts in them with Church law. The pope also called for a meeting in February with the presidents of all the world’s bishops’ conferences to discuss child protection and the abuse crisis.
“As God is always with us, may he guide our actions that together we do all that is necessary to face the challenges we need to confront at this moment with a faith-filled, steadfast and committed heart, Bishop Perez wrote in his magazine letter.
Mundelein Seminary, where the bishops are meeting, is located on the campus of the University of St. Mary of the Lake. It is the principal seminary and school of theology for the formation of priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago and educates nearly 200 seminarians from 34 dioceses across the country and around the world.