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Challenges Facing U.S. Prelates

Overview From Episcopate's Outgoing President

WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 22, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is an adapted excerpt of the address Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. episcopate, delivered this week during the prelates' semiannual meeting. Bishop Gregory is completing his three-year term as conference president.

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Presidential Address
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, Bishop of Belleville

My Dear Brother Bishops,

At the conclusion of our General Assembly this week I will complete my service to you as president of our Conference. The opportunity you provided me to serve you has indeed been a singular privilege, and I am thankful to you for investing your confidence in me three years ago. Anyone entrusted with this noble responsibility must come to it very much aware, as am I, of his limitations in carrying out this service. For that reason, I am also very grateful for the many ways in which you shored me up with your wise counsel, generous encouragement, and always constantly with your prayers through the difficult moments. Your fraternal assistance and support during my tenure as president has been a God-given gift that I will long cherish.

When I began my term as your president, none of us could have foreseen the extraordinary challenges that would face the Church in this country at the dawn of this new millennium. Those challenges have been a major preoccupation for each of us. More importantly, as the Holy Father reminded us in April of 2002, they also have been an opportunity for genuine "purification of the entire Catholic community."

As I prepared to complete my service this week, I have been reflecting on the challenges that continue to face us as an episcopal conference. This morning I would like to highlight three of those challenges as most significant for us.

No. 1: the scandals

The first challenge before us is directly related to the greatest scandal that the Church in the United States perhaps has ever confronted. Out of the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church, we committed ourselves in Dallas in June of 2002 to a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and to a set of Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons. We have now begun a review of the Charter and the Norms this year as we promised we would do. The successful completion of this work by June of next year is paramount for the preserving of our promise to protect children in the Church and for our pledge to continue the healing and reconciliation of victims of this terrible crime.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse has distributed a proposed revised Charter and we have already begun meeting in regional or provincial groups to discuss the proposed revision. The Committee recommends strongly and I fully endorse their recommendation that consultation on the proposed revision should also take place within dioceses. All bishops are encouraged to include in their diocesan consultations the priests' council, the diocesan pastoral council, the diocesan review board, child protection personnel, and educators.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse will be consulting with the National Review Board which the Charter specifies as having a principal advisory role in this process. Also participating in the review process will be the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the National Advisory Council, and I know that the committee is seeking ways to ensure that the voices of victims are heard in this review process.

Though we bishops ultimately bear the responsibility for safeguarding children within the Church, the work of the protection of children and young people in the Church is a work of the whole Church. The wisdom, prudence and experience of the groups that I have mentioned will be essential to our success in the Charter review and I encourage every bishop to ensure that they are consulted.

No. 2: a plenary council?

The second challenge I would like to highlight arises from a confluence of what I see as three very healthy forces that have been at work in the Conference during the past several years. First, in the wake of the Dallas meeting two years ago, a number of bishops, through the "varium" procedure, raised the question of whether the time was right for the bishops of the United States to consider the possibility of a Plenary Council.

During the course of the past two years, discussion among the bishops on this "varium" has focused on the need for bishops to find an effective way to address the extraordinary issues that face the Church in this country at the beginning of a new millennium. Whether or not we decide to move towards convening a Plenary Council, one thing has become clear: there is an emerging consensus among the ...

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