To the threshold of the apostles Print
Notes from the Vicar General
Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

"Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days" (Galatians 1:18).

Notes from the Vicar General, by Msgr. James BartyllaBeginning in early November 2011 and extending through much of 2012, the ad limina visits by United States bishops will constitute the most comprehensive review of Church life in the United States since Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005.

The approximately 200 bishops of U.S. dioceses will arrive in Rome in 15 regional groups. Each bishop is asked to prepare in advance a report on virtually every aspect of diocesan life, including family life, education, clergy and religious, lay involvement, vocations, priestly formation, religious practices, and demographics. These reports are circulated to heads of Vatican agencies and to the pope ahead of time, so that meetings can be productive.

Meetings, communion, collegiality

The schedule for the weeklong visits combines prayer and liturgy with administrative meetings at key Vatican offices. Several U.S. bishop groups plan to celebrate Masses at the altar of the tomb of Blessed John Paul II, who appointed many of the U.S. bishops.

The U.S. bishops will have substantial group meetings with Vatican congregations (i.e., offices) in charge of doctrine, clergy, bishops, worship, education, and religious orders, and with pontifical councils that deal with ecumenism, the family, and the laity. The bishops are also encouraged to meet with the recently created Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and some bishops will hold talks with the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.

"If we only looked at the administrative aspect of these visits, we would not understand them. They are first of all moments of communion and collegiality, a faith experience," stated Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops.

One significant advantage of the ad limina visit is that bishops have a chance to pray and celebrate Mass together, have informal conversations among themselves, and get time away from local concerns and see things from a more universal perspective.

Pope has modified format

However, the meetings with the pope have always been the highlight of the ad limina visits. Pope Benedict has recently adopted a modified format, meeting with seven to 10 bishops at a time instead of having an individual meeting with each bishop. The small group discussion lasts about 45 minutes to an hour, featuring a relatively unstructured give-and-take with the Roman Pontiff.

John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter recently listed the topics that the bishops are discussing most frequently with Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials, among them: the sex-abuse crisis, marriage and family, parish closings, the new English translation of the Mass.

The pope also formally addresses the larger regional groups of bishops, usually on a particular theme or aspect of the Church's experience in the United States. Vatican sources say the thrust of the papal talks to the bishops will be on the "New Evangelization" in U.S. society.

The New Evangelization seeks to strengthen the faith and "evangelize culture" in traditionally Christian countries. This includes how culture and religion should intersect, especially in current situations found in secular society, education and the particular importance of Catholic schools, building good relationships between bishops and priests, which have suffered in the clerical sex abuse scandal, and religious freedom as a challenge not only in countries where Christians are a minority, but in places where radical secularism is taking root.

Bishop Morlino's ad limina visit

Bishop Morlino has presented his quinquennial report pertaining to the Diocese of Madison to the Holy See in anticipation of his ad limina visit in February. The report and its accompanying exhibits include over 1,000 pages of materials.

It includes 23 sections covering the life of the diocese including the following: Pastoral and Administrative Organization of the Diocese, Identification and General Religious Situation of the Diocese, Ministry of the Diocesan Bishop, Liturgical, Sacramental Life, and The Cult of the Saints, Catholic Education, Catechesis, Life and Ministry of the Clergy, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Missionary Cooperation, Laity, Ecumenism, Other Religions, Pastoral Care of the Family, Evangelization of Culture, Social Communications, Social Justice and the Social Teaching of the Church, Christian Charity and Human Development, Health Care, Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, Artistic and Historical Patrimony of the Church, Financial State of the Diocese, General Assessment and Future Outlook, and a Summary of the Overall Report.

The complete process of preparing the report took approximately six months under the leadership, guidance, final review, and approval of Bishop Morlino. Nearly all diocesan staff members and over 40 members from related Catholic entities in the Diocese of Madison contributed to segments of the report.

I know Bishop Morlino extends his sincere thanks for the generous commitment of so many faithful Catholics in the preparation of the materials for the quinquennial report of 2012 and for the coordination and logistical efforts of Grant Emmel of the diocesan staff in compiling the report into its final format.

Under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, let us all pray for a blessed and fruitful ad limina visit to Rome for our shepherd, Bishop Morlino, and all of the bishops in the United States.


Msgr. James Bartylla is the vicar general of the Diocese of Madison.