Cardinal Dolan, flanked by three of his auxiliary bishops, tweeted from Rome Nov. 15 about the successful meeting the New York bishops had that day with Pope Francis, which capped off their four-day “ad limina” visit.
“We really had a beautiful experience with Pope Francis,” the cardinal said via video on his Twitter feed. Alongside the cardinal were Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne and Auxiliary Bishops-elect Gerardo Colacicco and Edmund Whalen.
The successor of St. Peter, the cardinal said, “spoke to us as a father, as an older brother, but he wanted to hear us, and we made comments, we asked questions. It was beautifully done.”
Bishop Byrne was moved by the pope’s affirmation of the bishops’ pro-life witness. “It was really from the heart,” Bishop Byrne said. “The force of his person and his sincerity was what struck me.”
‘Ad limina’ visits are made every five years.
Bishop-elect Whalen shared that he asked the Holy Father what advice he had for the new bishops. Bishops-elect Colacicco and Whalen will be ordained to the episcopacy Dec. 10 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“It was amazing,” Bishop-elect Whalen said. “He spoke directly to us about ‘four closenesses.’ It was almost like a little retreat that he was able to give us.” The pope highlighted “a closeness to God through prayer, a closeness to our priests, a closeness to the people and a closeness to the collegiality of the priests working together.”
Cardinal Dolan said, “It was a family setting. It was very inspirational. It captivated me very much.”
When Pope Francis met with bishops from New York state, he expressed his gratitude, recognizing the difficulties many of them were facing, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany told Catholic News Service.
At the meeting, Pope Francis told the bishops from the eight dioceses to speak frankly and from the heart; “it was intense, in terms of the painful situations we shared,” he said.
At the same time, the Albany bishop said, “it was joyful, there is a sense of hope,” because of the sincere listening, understanding and desire to support dioceses they experienced during the papal audience and the series of meetings with officials of the Roman Curia during their Nov. 11-15 “ad limina” visit.
“It was very, very edifying,” Bishop Scharfenberger said. “I don’t want to paint a rosy picture because the topics were not easy,” he said in an interview a few hours after the papal audience.
Each bishop, he said, talked about issues that were “close to their own hearts, like myself, I spoke about the work we’re trying to do in assistance to victims and survivors” of clerical sexual abuse.
Other issues brought up by the other bishops, he said, included education and the plight of immigrants.
During the week, while the bishops were praying at the tombs of the apostles and meeting with Vatican officials, media reports emerged concerning two of the bishops on the trip. The reports said Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn was accused of sexually abusing a minor in the 1970s—a claim he strongly denied—and that Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo would step down after an apostolic visitation of his diocese amid claims of his mishandling of abuse allegations.
Still, Bishop Scharfenberger said, “as the week went on, it wasn’t that that wasn’t there, but the focus was really on gratitude to God” and certainty that God will show them the way forward.
Asked about finding the right balance when studies on clerical sexual abuse found that transparency and accountability were often neglected or ignored out of a desire to support one’s priests or brother bishop, Bishop Scharfenberger said their relationships must be “based upon truth and honesty and openness; it’s not an old boy network.”
“The confidence comes not from having each other’s back, the confidence comes from trusting in the Lord who is the one leading us.”
The bishops also spoke to the pope about how in the United States some Christian principles are treated as political or partisan issues and, therefore, create division. The pope was aware of the situation, he said.
In reference to some media reporting signs of resistance in the U.S. Church to the pope, one bishop told the pope they wanted to assure him that they felt “very bonded” to him. Bishop Scharfenberger said the pope replied, “I never doubted that.”—CNS
The staff of Catholic New York contributed to this article.