We are the Bishops of the Provinces of Indianapolis,
Milwaukee and Chicago. With our priests, religious men and women and
faithful lay people we offer you our prayers, our gratitude and our love.
In our part of the United States, Catholics comprise 10 to 15 percent of
the total population in some dioceses and more than 40 percent in others.
Catholics have lived in this area for over 300 years, long before it was
part of the United States, but the ancestors of most Catholics today came
as immigrants from Europe throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Now they are joined by many recent immigrants, especially from Eastern
Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia.
On the occasion of this ad limina visit to you and
the officers of the Roman Curia, we believe it important to affirm our
profound commitment to the mission Christ gave the Church and to do so at
a time when the Church in the United States is in great danger.
Freedom of Church is threatened
The Church's mission is threatened externally by an
erosion of institutional freedom. The scandal of the sexual abuse of
minors by some priests and the failure of adequate oversight by some
Bishops has brought with it a more overt expression of the
anti-Catholicism which has always marked American culture. In this
context, courts and legislatures are more ready to restrict the freedom of
the Church to act publicly and to interfere in the internal governance of
the Church in ways that are new to American life. Our freedom to govern
ourselves is diminished.
The Church's mission is further weakened by her inability
to shape a public conversation that would enable people to understand the
Gospel and the demands of discipleship. The public conversation in the
United States speaks easily of individual rights; it cannot give voice to
considerations of the common good. Matters that should fall outside the
purview of law in a constitutional democracy with a limited government
nature of life, of marriage, even of faith itself
now determined by courts designed only to protect individual rights. The
increasingly oppressive legal system and the bureaucratic apparatus of the
state are abetted by a media industry which selects for publication only
facts which fit stories it wants to tell. The public conversation, like
the political, legal and economic systems, is based on the generation of
conflict between individuals and groups.
Culturally, the right to sexual freedom is now the basis
of personal freedom. In this culture, the Gospel's call to receive freedom
as a gift from God and to live its demands faithfully is regarded as
oppressive, and the Church which voices those demands publicly is seen as
an enemy of personal freedom and a cause of social violence. The public
conversation in the United States is often an exercise in manipulation and
always inadequate to the realities of both the Country and the world, let
alone the mysteries of faith. It fundamentally distorts Catholicism and
any other institution regarded as "foreign" to the secular individualist
ethos. Our freedom to preach the Gospel is diminished.
The Church's mission is threatened internally by divisions
which paralyze her ability to act forcefully and decisively.
On the left, the Church's teachings on sexual morality and
the nature of ordained priesthood and of the Church herself are publicly
opposed, as are the Bishops who preach and defend these teachings.
On the right, the Church's teachings might be accepted,
but Bishops who do not govern exactly and to the last detail in the way
expected are publicly opposed.
The Church is an arena of ideological warfare rather than
a way of discipleship shepherded by Bishops. The freedom of the Church is
now threatened by movements within the Church and by government and groups
outside the Church. The Church's ability to evangelize is diminished.
Holy Spirit at work, sign of hope
Unsure of other protection, the Church turns in faith to
her Lord. Your teaching, Holy Father, on the Eucharist and the initial
preparation for the next Synod of Bishops on this mystery of faith both
illustrate the inability of our culture to understand what is central to
the Catholic faith and also show us how to address our current struggles.
The relation between the Body of Christ which is the Holy Eucharist and
the body of Christ which is his Church passes through the sacrament of
Holy Orders. A culture founded on the rejection of the sacrament of Holy
Orders can grasp neither the Eucharist nor apostolic governance. Even
Catholics, shaped by this culture more than by their faith, often fail to
understand these gifts of the Lord to his people.
Catechesis and preaching on the Eucharist are being better
integrated into our ministry; even more important, participation in the
celebration of the Eucharist each Sunday and adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament on a regular basis as a part of the way of discipleship are
being emphasized. These and many other signs of the Holy Spirit's action
in the Church in the United States give us hope.
Over a century and a half ago, Fr Isaac Hecker, a convert
to the Church and the founder of the Society of St Paul, held that America
would have to become Catholic in order to fulfill all that was good in the
American soul. His fellow convert, Dr Orestes Brownson, held that America
would become Catholic when the Country came to realize its own
inadequacies and sinfulness.
Americans know that we as a people can be generous,
fair-minded and freedom-loving; we are slower to see that we can be
arrogant, brutal and eroticized.
Is the mission of the Catholic Church in America one of
fulfillment or healing? One of completion or forgiveness?
The Eucharist is both, of course, and so must be the
mission; but we are still struggling to find an approach to evangelizing
which will open our culture and our Country to the Holy Spirit and to the
path of Christian discipleship.
In dedicating ourselves anew to this mission, Holy Father,
we thank God for your ministry as Vicar of Christ, as Successor of Peter,
and we ask for your prayers and your Blessing.