By PAUL WIRTH – Diocesan Communications Staff
Before Pope Francis sat down with Bishop Alfred Schlert and other Bishops in the Vatican Apostolic Library, he took care to offer them refreshments and even pointed out the location of the nearest restrooms.
It was the Pope’s way, in his soft-spoken and down-to-earth style, of putting them at ease before getting down to business in the 2½-hour meeting.
“It was clear that the Pope understands in a very detailed way the current issues in the Church in the United States,” said Bishop Schlert. This includes being well-versed in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and in the clergy abuse crisis,” he said.
I took a lot of encouragement from the Holy Father’s wordsBishop Schlert
“I took a lot of encouragement from the Holy Father’s words,” said Bishop Schlert. “There is a great concern in Rome about the effects of the crisis, on victims, on the vast majority of clergy who are faithful and who remain holy, and on parishioners.”
The Pope gave the Bishops all the time they wanted, said Bishop Schlert, which was remarkable considering that the 83-year-old Pontiff had just returned from a seven-day trip to Thailand and Japan.
“He listened intently to the comments of every Bishop, and gave each of us a substantive response on the issues we raised,” said Bishop Schlert. He added that the Pope invited Bishops to speak from the heart, about what was on their minds, and about any questions they may have.
Bishop Schlert used his opportunity to tell Pope Francis that despite the difficult times in our Church, there also are signs of hope. “I told him about ‘Healing Our Church,’” said the Bishop, in which the faithful met in small groups over six weeks to discuss the abuse crisis, then gathered for Eucharistic Adoration and question-and-answer sessions with the Bishop.
“There clearly still are many people who love their Church and love their priests,” Bishop Schlert told the Pope.
“Personally, the Pope is very fatherly, very paternal,” said Bishop Schlert. “He’s friendly, homey and speaks in a transparent and colloquial way.”
A Vatican translator assisted with the meeting, which was conducted in Italian, but his services were not necessary for Bishop Schlert, who became well-versed in the language during his time in seminary in Italy.
Bishop Schlert summed up the Pope Francis meeting this way: “Especially in these difficult times, to be able to meet with the Holy Father, to receive his encouragement, to know that he is aware of our difficulties in the U.S. Church and is praying for us to overcome them, was a tremendous experience.”