Archbishop Kurtz hits the right notes in opening talk to U.S. bishops


             Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, USCCB president

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, gave an important talk on the first day of the U.S. bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore today. I was impressed by the tone and points of emphasis, especially when he spoke about how the church evangelizes:

“We all strive to be faithful pastors, so we know what this looks like. Think of the home visits we've all done in parishes. When I'd come to someone's home, I wouldn't start by telling them how I'd rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn't begin by giving them a list of rules to follow.

Instead I'd first spend time with them, trying to appreciate the good that I saw in their hearts. I'd acknowledge that, like them, I was in the process of conversion toward greater holiness. I would then invite them to follow Christ and I'd offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way. Such an approach isn't in opposition to Church teachings; it's an affirmation of them. Our call as bishops is to bring the Good News to others as true missionary disciples, inspiring them to go forth and do the same.”

It seems to me that Archbishop Kurtz was deliberately tuning in here to the approach of Pope Francis, who has said that in spreading the Gospel, the church needs to emphasize patience, dialogue and accompaniment, and not focus on doctrinal rules. As Kurtz put it, quoting the pope, the church today should be “a place of mercy freely given.”

Just before Archbishop Kurtz took the floor, the bishops heard from the Vatican’s representative in the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who among other things told the bishops: “We must not be afraid to walk with our Holy Father.”

Kurtz himself cited the pope’s call for church leaders to be “joyful messengers” of the Gospel and its challenging proposals, to serve the voiceless and the vulnerable, and to “go out into the streets and manifest God’s love.” (That last phrase, by the way, was identified in a footnote as a quotation from the pope’s Twitter feed – a first in my experience.)

So much of what the bishops discuss at these annual meetings is preordained by prior agendas. I’m hoping those agendas going forward will reflect what Archbishop Kurtz enunciated in his first such address as president of the conference. In delivering a separate report, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said his committee was discussing specifically how to take Pope Francis’ ideas and “work them into our strategic planning.”

The Francis effect is clearly on the bishops’ minds. The question is how deeply it will affect their priorities in the months and years ahead.


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