Archbishop O'Brien on Pope's Mission for Bishops

VATICAN CITY — “He made it very clear that some terrible things have happened to us and that we are suffering through them,” said Archbishop Edwin O'Brien after his meeting April 2 with Pope John Paul II.

“We have a big mission to carry out and I think [the Pope's] sense of mission, his sense of evangelization, was a renewing force in the lives of all of us,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop O'Brien, who is archbishop of the U.S. military services, spoke to the Register after taking part in the first of a string of ad liminavisits to Rome by delegations of American bishops.

Twenty bishops from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and the archdiocese for the military made the ad limina trip, which occurs every five years. Their delegation will be followed by many more during the next 10 months, when bishops from across the United States will attend meetings and consult with the Holy Father and Holy See officials.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Archbishop John Favarola of Miami called the visit an opportunity to “have our faith confirmed” and to return home “renewed and rejuvenated.”

In his address to the bishops, the Pope said he hoped the meetings will “bear particular fruit in a deeper appreciation of the mystery of the Church in all its richness and a far-reaching discernment of the new pastoral challenges” of the new millennium.

Referring to the sexual-abuse crisis, he said viewed with “the eyes of faith, the present moment of difficulty is also a moment of hope.”

John Paul noted the increasing difficulty of offering a prophetic witness because of the abuse scandal and “outspoken hostility to the Gospel in certain sectors of public opinion,” yet he insisted this witness “cannot be delegated to others.”

“I am confident that the willingness you have shown in acknowledging and addressing past mistakes and failures while at the same time seeking to learn from them will contribute greatly to this work of reconciliation and renewal,” the Pope said.

“This time of purification will, by God's grace, lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church,” he added.

And the Holy Father reaffirmed his “confidence in the Church in America,” noted with appreciation “the deep faith of America's Catholics” and expressed his gratitude for the “many contributions [of Catholics] to American society and to the life of the Church throughout the world.”

A wide range of issues formed the discussions. Of particular concern were matters concerning the new translation of the liturgy, the acceptance of Church teaching by Catholic politicians and wider society, and the extent of Catholicism in seminaries, Catholic universities and colleges.

Catholic Politicians

The subject of Catholic politicians and the exercise of their faith in the public square was, according to Archbishop O'Brien, “strong in a number of discussions,” and he disclosed that the bishops were drawing up guidelines to address the issue.

“Certainly I don't think anyone doubted what the hopes and expectations of the Holy See are,” he said, “and no one doubted that we agree with the hopes and expectations of the Holy See.”

When asked whether the decision of Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis to refuse Communion to Catholic politicians if they continued to support abortion or euthanasia was raised during the meetings, Archbishop O'Brien said Archbishop Burke's name was never mentioned.

“We didn't get into specific issues,” he said. “Obviously everyone knew there's a whole spectrum of actions a bishop can take and the bishop has to take actions as his own situation dictates.”

On the question of Catholicism in educational institutions, the subject of defining the nature of a Catholic university or college was raised, as was the upcoming visitation of seminaries.

During his address, John Paul expressed his concern at a “disturbing loss of the sense of the transcendent and the affirmation of a culture of the material and the ephemeral” that desperately needs a “witness of hope.”

“He was referring to legislative moves made to allow same-sex ‘marriage’ and other such issues,” Archbishop O'Brien said. “He is concerned about the very strong pressures to keep the transcendent out of the realms of influence.”

As archbishop of the U.S. military, Archbishop O'Brien twice has been to Iraq in the past year and during his visit to Rome discussed the current situation with the Holy Father and other officials.

“I assured them that the forces and the people are trying to build up society and hope for peace — roads are being built, people are being trained to offer protection, attempts are being made to bring about employment, hospitals and orphanages are being built,” he said.

Archbishop O'Brien said efforts are being made to “bring about a society that functions freely. The troops are working with a weapon in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.” And he added that the country's youth see a “potential for great good.”

Concerning the troops themselves, Archbishop O'Brien was delighted to relay to the Holy See a “tremendous return of the faith to the young” and mentioned that in a group of soldiers assigned to one chaplain, 56 had either returned or expressed a willingness to return to the faith.

“Such a tendency is not unusual,” he said.

Archbishop O'Brien concluded that overall the visit with the Holy See was a “friendly, reassuring visit on both sides.”

“We benefited from that,” the archbishop said, “and I would hope that the Holy See left those meetings with a sense of trust in the bishops and what we're seeking to do in the Church in the United States.”

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.