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ADLIMINA-DOLAN Nov-30-2011 (920 words) With photos posted Nov. 28. xxxi
Archbishop Dolan says N.Y. bishops impressed with 'ad limina' process
By John Thavis
Archbishop Dolan at this month's U.S. bishops' general meeting. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Vatican officials offered strong encouragement, precise questions and occasional challenges to bishops from New York state during their November "ad limina" visits, said Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York.
Their talks included free and informative exchanges on sex abuse, parish closings, the state of Catholic schools and seminaries, and reception of the new translation of the Roman Missal, Archbishop Dolan said in an interview with Catholic News Service Nov. 28.
Pope Benedict XVI, too, gave the group ample time, listening carefully and asking many questions. All this exceeded the bishops' expectations and helped make the visit a "very positive, good experience," the archbishop said.
He said one specific piece of news the group took away from the weeklong visit was that the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy is preparing a document that it hopes will offer "crisper and cleaner and more consistent" guidelines on parish closings and mergers, both for the bishops and for the faithful who sometimes appeal a bishop's decision.
No bishop likes to close a parish, said Archbishop Dolan. But he said shifting demographics in the United States have changed the Catholic landscape, leaving "hollowed-out urban areas where there are huge churches that are no longer peopled and that cost a wheelbarrow of money to keep open, to maintain, to insure and to keep secure."
In the past, some challenges to such mergers have been upheld at the Vatican, and the bishops wanted to know what the Vatican's expectations were. Archbishop Dolan said the conversation helped clarify things and underlined the need to act prudently in such matters.
"Sometimes people's perception of the Holy See is that its job is to protect the power structure of the church and to protect the bishops and clergy. Well, they also are very sensitive to the rights of God's people," he said.
The archbishop said the bishops were impressed with the curiosity and sincerity of the Roman Curia officials. Education officials, for example, had some probing questions about the costs of church-run schools, their level of support among Catholic parents, and the arguments against state support of such schools.
Using data from the apostolic visitation of U.S. seminaries in 2005-2006, they noted shortcomings cited in the seminaries of New York state and asked the bishops what they had done to improve the situation.
"That's a call to accountability, that's a check -- and that's not bad," Archbishop Dolan said.
"It's good for us, every once in a while, to be in the principal's office," he added with a laugh.
The bishops also appreciated the amount of time given them by Vatican officials.
"I heard more than one bishop say, 'I should spend as much time with my priests as these people have spent with us.' It's a great example to us," the archbishop said.
Each of the New York bishops had two encounters with Pope Benedict, a formal encounter with a papal speech for the entire group and smaller group conversations on pastoral affairs. The bishops never felt rushed, Archbishop Dolan said.
He said the 84-year-old pope listened carefully to the bishops on topics that included the growing Hispanic Catholic population, Catholic schools, vocations and Catholic charities. Then he asked his own questions, particularly on immigrant issues.
When the pope delivered his speech, he began by analyzing the sex abuse issue, acknowledging the scandal, praising the bishops for the steps they've taken and underlining that the problem goes far beyond the Catholic Church.
The bishops were happy that he spoke about sex abuse right off the bat, Archbishop Dolan said.
"You could almost feel the sigh of relief when he mentioned that and then moved on," he said. The pope's assessment was realistic, and it was clear he wasn't seeing things through rose-colored glasses, he said.
Archbishop Dolan noted that the pope spoke to them about the new English translation of the Roman Missal, saying he hoped it would offer bishops an opportunity to teach about the importance of the liturgy. The bishops themselves used the new missal for the first time Nov. 27 during Mass at the Pontifical North American College.
Archbishop Dolan said he saw three immediate benefits of the new translation. First, he said, it slows down the celebrant and makes sure the Mass prayers never become routine, because they're not done from memory anymore.
Second, while some have objected to the new language, Archbishop Dolan said he found himself "very moved by the more poetic, reverential and uplifting nature of the vocabulary."
Finally, he said, the new translation underlines that "the Mass is not ours" but is something received from the church. Over the last 45 years, he said, some priests may have taken a subjective approach to the Mass and felt a "false sense of freedom" regarding the sacred text, so it's good for them to be reminded that "this text is normative, this text is definitive."
The New York bishops spent much of their "ad limina" visits in prayer -- at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, in the major Rome basilicas and at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II. They also had some fun times, Archbishop Dolan said, meeting for talks and meals, joined by other members of the U.S. Catholic community in Rome.
"It's somewhat of a pilgrimage, and somewhat of a retreat, too," he said. "We're having a spiritually enriching time, educationally enriching, an examination of conscience, a call to accountability, fraternal. It's good. I wish we did it more often."
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