Facing scandal and division, U.S. Catholic bishops to hold unprecedented retreat
Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, center left, with Pope Francis in Rome in 2015. (RNS/Rich Kalonick)
Vatican City — The Catholic bishops of the U.S. announced Oct. 23 that at the behest of Pope Francis they will meet for a weeklong retreat in Chicago in January.
The unprecedented move reflects the depth of the crisis they are facing with the sexual abuse scandal and the long-standing divisions within their ranks over the broader direction of American Catholicism.
The pope is even sending an elderly and revered Franciscan priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, who holds the title of Preacher of the Papal Household, to lead the retreat — just as he does each year at Lent for the pontiff and the Roman Curia.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement thanking Francis for sending Cantalamessa, who is 84 and rarely travels abroad, "to serve as the retreat director as we come together to pray on the intense matters before us."
DiNardo is currently in Rome along with other top leaders of the U.S. church, as well as more than 260 other bishops from around the world, for a monthlong meeting of global church leaders and several dozen young adults to discuss Catholicism's outreach to youth.
The discussions at this meeting, called a synod, are a hallmark of the Jesuit pope's preference for seeking reconciliation and solutions through common reflection and frank dialogues.
In fact, it was Francis who suggested that the entire U.S. hierarchy hold a collective retreat when DiNardo and other leaders met with him in the Vatican in September to ask for Francis' help amid a growing crisis.
Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who is also in Rome for the synod, will be the official host of the January retreat at Mundelein Seminary north of Chicago. He told Religion News Service in an interview Tuesday that Francis sent the bishops a letter asking them "to come together to reflect on the situation as pastors but also to find a deeper sense of our own unity with each other and with him."
Cupich, who is seen as a strong ally of Francis in the hierarchy, said he expects all active bishops and cardinals and many retired prelates, about 250 to 300 bishops in all, to attend the Jan. 2-8 retreat.