success stories

Posted May 11, 2004

Pope urges U.S. bishops to be close to their priests,
encourage them

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bishops must love, listen to, support and correct the priests in their diocese, Pope John Paul II told bishops from Michigan and Ohio.

"As a spiritual father and brother to his priests, the bishop should do everything in his power to encourage them in fidelity to their vocation and to the demands of leading a life worthy of the calling they have received," the pope told the bishops May 6.

Pope John Paul met the bishops during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican. Each head of a diocese is required to make the visit every five years to report on the status of his see.

The pope did not mention the clerical sex abuse scandal in his May 6 message to the group, but rather focused on the good and faithful service offered by the majority of U.S. priests.

"I want to offer a word of acknowledgment and praise for the dedication and faithful work carried out by so many committed priests in the United States, especially those engaged in meeting the daily challenges and demands associated with parish ministry," he said.

Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit, speaking to the pope on behalf of the group, said the clergy sex abuse crisis and a whole range of other U.S. problems have challenged the church to strengthen its adherence to the Gospel and to enunciate church teaching more clearly.

The sex abuse crisis, he said, has forced many Catholics to recognize "the unique and necessary role of the ordained ministerial priesthood."

Most U.S. Catholics "are deeply grateful for the great sacrifices being made by the majority of faithful, hard-working priests who are humbly living their vows of celibate chastity," Cardinal Maida said.

"Believing and preaching the Gospel in light of these circumstances has also helped young people understand that a vocation to the priesthood or religious life requires a lifestyle totally committed to the Lord and the Gospel," he told the pope.

The pope's message to the Michigan and Ohio group focused on a bishop's responsibility to promote "that spirituality of communion and mission, which I am convinced we must foster at the dawn of this new millennium."

The bishop, he said, must be close to all the people in his diocese; he must discern and coordinate the various ministries and promote real collaboration so that that every member of the diocese experiences being an important part of the local church.

The first step toward building up the unity and communion of the church "in faith, hope and love," he told the bishops, is by establishing "an ever-closer relationship with your priests."

Quoting his 2003 document on the ministry of bishops, Pope John Paul said each bishop should relate to his priests "as a father and brother who loves them, listens to them, welcomes them, corrects them, supports them, seeks their cooperation and, as much as possible, is concerned for their human, spiritual, ministerial and financial well-being."

The pope said the "bonds of fraternal unity" with and among priests must be strengthened, particularly through reinforcing the spiritual life and identity they share and their "life of celibate chastity."

Pope John Paul urged the bishops to take seriously their personal responsibility for the seminaries in their dioceses and for the training of candidates to the priesthood.

"I encourage you to make frequent visits to the seminary in order to know personally those who may one day be priests in your local churches," he said.

The bishop's vigilance, he said, will help ensure that the seminary produces men with "mature and balanced personalities, men capable of establishing sound human and pastoral relationships, knowledgeable in theology, solid in the spiritual life and in love with the church."

"Proper formation in chastity and celibacy remains an essential component of seminary training," the pope told the bishops.

He also said seminarians must receive clear teaching about how the Catholic Church understands the ministerial priesthood, "including a clear and precise identification of those positions which are not compatible with the church's authoritative self-understanding."

Bishops also must ensure that ongoing formation programs are in place for men who already have been ordained.

"In this way, they will grow ever more fully into 'men of the church,' imbued with a truly catholic spirit and authentic missionary zeal," the pope said.