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Hundreds Seek Bishop Dialogue for Rome ad limina Visits

FutureChurch has organized individuals and groups from at least sixty dioceses who agreed to engage their bishops in dialogue either via meetings or by letter on or around the time they go to Rome for their ad limina visit. Activist Catholics want issues raised by FutureChurch’s Open Letter to U.S. Bishops brought up in Rome. Ad limina means “to the threshold” of Peter and Paul. Each Catholic bishop must travel to Rome every five years to report on the state of his diocese. The bishops visit various Vatican offices and meet with the Pope. U.S. visits are projected to extend from November 2011 through May 2012.

The Open Letter calls on U.S. bishops “to embrace your roles as shepherds” and “open dialogue about restoring our early traditions recognizing married and celibate priests and women deacons.” Launched last summer it has garnered over 6200 signatures to date. It was published in the November 7 issue of America just before the meeting of the US Bishops’ conference.  Nearly 25 percent of signers agreed to “join with others to engage my bishop in dialogue about this important issue.”

FutureChurch decided to take signers at their word. To date, faithful Catholics have succeeded in obtaining meetings with their bishop in four dioceses in the Midwest and east coast, with still more in the planning stages.  Individuals and groups have also sent letters to bishops, cardinals and archbishops in the Northeast and in New York state where at least one bishop agreed to discuss the issue in Rome. At this writing, eastern bishops have completed their ad limina visits with the remainder to resume in mid-January. FutureChurch staff is still contacting people in the final two regions.

According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the U.S. priest shortage is approaching crisis proportions.  A 2008 study found that half of 19,302 active diocesan priests plan to retire by 2019.  Since the U.S. Church is ordaining only 380 new diocesan priests annually, in just eight years, there will be only 13,500 active diocesan priests to serve our 18,000 parishes, presuming ordinations remain constant, as they have for over a decade.

The Open Letter project has been greatly aided by support from fourteen other organizations, including two local priest associations, the Southern Illinois Association of Priests and the Convening Board of Milwaukee Priests’ Alliance; as well as Voice of the Faithful, Call To Action, New Ways Ministry and many others. (Full list available on FutureChurch website.)

To facilitate dialogue, FutureChurch created free downloadable resources including special “tips for meeting with your Bishop,” talking points and sample letters if diocesan officials refuse to meet. The aim is to gauge the commitment of our leaders to opening dialogue in Rome about the priest shortage and the need for married priests and women deacons to address the ministerial crisis. 

FutureChurch plans to collect feedback about diocesan responses. We believe this is an important step toward holding our bishops accountable for the ministerial life they are pledged to protect and to serve.

Focus on FutureChurch

Winter 2012


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