A checkup in Rome for the American bishops
An ad limina visit, the trip Catholic bishops are required to make every five years to Rome, is a bit like a routine physical. It might flag a serious problem, but usually it’s just a checkup covering a wide variety of aches, pains, and ups and downs.
If nothing else, it’s revealing to learn what doctor and patient are thinking about, because it might provide hints of treatments to come.
That’s been the tenor of the latest round of visits by U.S. bishops that began in November and will continue in 2012. Predictably, Pope Benedict XVI’s own priorities — the push for a “new evangelization,” meaning outreach to lapsed Catholics, and the defense of religious freedom — have figured prominently. Yet a variety of other issues have also surfaced, including:
- The sexual abuse crisis;
- American debates over marriage and the family;
- The new translation of the Catholic Mass;
- The state of Catholic schools, hospitals and charities;
- Parish closings;
- Vocations and seminary life;
- The changing demographics of the American church.
The fact that a subject arises doesn’t necessarily signal a policy shift or new initiative, but sometimes papal interest alone can have consequences. For instance, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York reported that Benedict asked the Americans questions about immigration, which came across as a sign that defense of immigrant rights is a papal priority.
In other cases, the meetings allow bishops and Vatican officials to iron out their differences. This time around, that’s included a special focus on parish closings.
During 2011, the Vatican overturned or suspended decisions to close churches in several dioceses, including Springfield, Mass.; Allentown, Pa.; and Buffalo, N.Y. The prospect of losing an appeal has alarmed other bishops, who used the ad limina visits to seek clarification. [more]