Constructive dialogue with Pope and Vatican on abuse crisis, other key issues
By PAUL WIRTH – Diocesan Communications Staff
There was a moment near the end of his pilgrimage to Rome, after a whirlwind week of discussions with Vatican officials, and after his meeting with Pope Francis, that Bishop Alfred Schlert paused for a moment of silent prayer.
Standing before the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle, in the crypt beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, the Bishop prayed for the intentions of the people of the Diocese of Allentown, and for more vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life.
The opportunities to pray at Peter’s tomb, and at the tomb of the apostle Paul, along with the extended meeting with the Pope, were at the heart of the Bishop’s trip. It was first and foremost a pilgrimage of prayer and reflection.
Bishop Schlert traveled to Rome with his brother Bishops from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. These periodic “ad limina” visits are required by the Vatican to bolster a Bishop’s spirit, and to provide a tangible reminder of the unbroken connection from the Holy Father, as the successor of Peter, through the Bishops, to people in parishes back home.
The pilgrimage also included Masses in four Papal basilicas throughout the city, and meetings and discussions at key Vatican offices. It was on Thanksgiving Day that the Bishops met with Pope Francis (see accompanying article).
Among the highlights of the Vatican meetings, according to Bishop Schlert:
- Careful selection of seminary candidates: Vatican officials emphasized the importance of allowing only high-quality men to be ordained as priests. The Diocese of Allentown already has significantly strengthened the seminary screening process, and has added additional monitoring and education aimed at keeping children safe.
- Catholic Education: It is essential to ensure that all Catholic schools are faithful to the teachings of the Church, officials stressed, in both curriculum and employment practices.
- Youth Protection: Vatican officials acknowledged that Bishops around the world have learned from the abuse prevention policies implemented by Bishops in the United States.
- Decline in Mass attendance: This is a troubling trend, officials said, noting that in spite of the decline, the Church in the United States remains vibrant in its activities and pastoral outreach.
- Financial concerns: Vatican officials are well aware that dioceses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are under serious financial pressure due to compensation funds for victims of abuse, and due to the passage of “window” legislation in New Jersey and the threat of such legislation in Pennsylvania. The legislation opens a window for the filing of new lawsuits against dioceses.
- Canonization of Father Walter Ciszek: When he inquired about the status of this effort, Bishop Schlert learned that the diocesan portion of the process is complete and that Vatican officials are awaiting the documentation of a miracle.