Pope opens major bishops meeting in febrile atmosphere of abuse scandals

Pope gives Chinese bishops ‘warm welcome’

VATICAN CITY: (From left) Brazilian Archbishop Sergio da Rocha, Madagascan Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, Burmese Archbishop Charles Maung Bo and Papuan Archbishop John Ribat attend the Synod of Bishops, focusing on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment yesterday at the Vatican. —AFP

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis opened a gathering of bishops yesterday with the Catholic Church in a swirling state of crisis over sex abuse, urging its leaders not to let the next generation’s faith be snuffed out “by our own shortcomings, mistakes and sins”. In signs of the extraordinary pressure the Church has come under from the worldwide abuse scandal, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia had called for the “youth synod” to be cancelled so the Vatican could concentrate on preparing another bishops’ meeting on preventing sex abuse.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, New Jersey stayed home to deal with the scandal’s fallout, and a Dutch bishop, Robert Mutsaerts of Den Bosch, boycotted, saying the synod lacked credibility. More than 250 other bishops from around the world will attend the month-long meeting with about 40 young people invited to take part as observers.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis yesterday offered a “warm welcome” to two Chinese Catholic bishops attending a synod for the first time following a landmark deal between China and the Vatican. “Today, for the first time, we have also with us two bishops from mainland China,” the pontiff said in a speech to kick off the month-long advisory body meeting on the role of young people in the 1.2 billion-member church. “We offer them our warm welcome: the communion of the entire episcopate with the successor of Peter is yet more visible thanks to their presence,” he said.

On September 22, the Vatican and China reached a provisional agreement under which Pope Francis recognized seven clergy initially ordained by Beijing without the Vatican’s approval. The accord could pave the way for the normalization of ties between the Catholic Church and the world’s most populous country. One of those recognized, Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai, is attending the synod along with Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaotin, another member of the Patriotic Catholic Association (PCA), a body created by the Chinese government to administer the church.

Although the synod’s official title is “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment,” the worldwide sexual abuse scandal looms large in the background and many believe it will be part of the informal agenda in the discussions. “May the Spirit give us the grace to be a memory that is diligent, living and effective, that does not allow itself from one generation to the next to be extinguished or crushed by the prophets of doom and misfortune, by our own shortcomings, mistakes and sins,” Francis said in his homily. The Church is enmeshed in sexual abuse crises in countries including Chile, Germany, the United States and Australia, and the Vatican knows it has to win back disenchanted young people.

The synod began a day after a new Pew Research Center survey found that confidence in the way the pope is handling the sexual abuse crisis has plummeted among American Catholics. While seven-in-ten American Catholics said the overall opinion of the pope was favorable, six-in-ten said Francis was doing an “only fair” or “poor” job handling the abuse scandal, nearly double the figure at the beginning of 2018. Francis said he hoped the meeting, which ends on Oct 28 and will result in a papal document, will be “anointed by hope”. The danger was that young people would be left “exposed to stormy seas, orphans without a faith community that should sustain them, orphans devoid of a sense of direction and meaning in life”, he said. – Agencies

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