Editorial: An open letter to U.S. bishops ahead of their fall plenary

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Bishops are seen at the spring general assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore June 11, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Dear members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,

As we write this letter, your 2019 fall plenary assembly is a few weeks away. We begin by expressing our gratitude. It has been another year full of challenges for the Church, yet despite all of that, we remain thankful for our Catholic faith and for you, our shepherds. Your task is not easy. As members of the laity, we are committed to living out our baptismal call to work in cooperation with you, the body of bishops, to bring Christ to all people.

Yet the evidence shows that we, as a Church, are failing to answer that call.

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We are sure you have all seen by now the recent survey results from the Pew Research Center. The number of Catholics in the United States continues to decline; the number of Christians overall continues to drop; and the number of “nones” is swelling. Young people who should be burning brightly with the light of Jesus Christ instead find themselves in the darkness, drawn to “nothing in particular.” These are not just statistics on a page; they are souls. In order to bring others to Christ, all members of the Church must recognize their calling and fully live out their baptismal obligation to preach and live the Gospel. As Jesus instructed, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16).

In humility and charity, therefore, we propose three ways in which we as laypeople might work together with you as bishops to bring about a necessary renewal in the life of the Church. To do so, we take our cues from our three most recent popes, each of whom offers an important message for Catholics in these times.

Be not afraid. Pope St. John Paul II, in one of his first homilies, reminded the Church that there is nothing to fear and implored all “to open wide the doors for Christ.” We must not be afraid to accept the cost of discipleship. As disciples of the Lord, both laity and clergy are called to sacrifice pleasure, comfort, honor, wealth, security — indeed, our very selves — for love of God and others. We encourage you to lead fearlessly during these challenging times, for it is your strong leadership that will serve as a witness to a world desperately in need of it. Be not afraid of sharing the Gospel. Be not afraid of the cost of leadership modeled after Christ. Be not afraid of losing power, of losing prestige or of suffering. Be not afraid of how the media may spin your words. Be not afraid to “open wide the doors for Christ” — to be filled with the Holy Spirit as were the first apostles — your very predecessors — and to proclaim boldly the message of Our Lord.

Be witnesses to truth. We live in an age when subjectivity rules the day, when even something as fundamental as a person’s biological sex is in question. Our culture has lost sight of the truth — and the Truth. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger pointed out, shortly before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” As committed Catholics, we must live differently. We must be witnesses to the truth. The clergy abuse scandal has revealed much for which we must atone. And while apologies, charters and policies are important, they are not enough. We must shine the light of truth on a system that once protected the likes of the predator Theodore McCarrick and that couldn’t see the serious infractions of Bishop Michael Bransfield because it was blind to his extravagant spending. If we do not actively demand and uphold the truth, no matter the cost, then our claim to be believers in the Truth falls flat, and our numbers will continue to decline. Others will judge the credibility of the Gospel in the light of our actions.

Be missionary disciples. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, reminds us that “in all the baptized … the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization.” We are called to go out and to engage the world with the message of Jesus Christ. And the world is yearning for it! There is much confusion present today in the Church and in our society. People — yes, many of those who say they believe in “nothing in particular” — are longing for clarity and direction, perhaps without even knowing it. They are longing to make sense of life. They are, naturally, longing for the truth that is inscribed in our hearts. We know that Jesus is the answer, and so we must share him with them — not by shying away from or glossing over difficult Church teachings, but by embracing them in all of their beauty.

Only in the Truth do we find life. Let us, laity and leadership, not be afraid to be disciples on mission for Christ together.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.