Bishops must promote communion, unity with pope, new U.S. cardinal says

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Chicago-born Cardinal Robert F. Prevost, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, greets a bishop in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican after Pope Francis made him a cardinal on Sept. 30, 2023. CNS photo/Lola Gomez

VATICAN CITY. Every bishop in the world has made a promise to live and work in communion with the pope, a promise that includes obedience, said new U.S. Cardinal Robert F. Prevost, the first of 20 cardinals to receive his red hat from Pope Francis at a consistory Sept. 30.

The 68-year-old Chicago-born prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops spoke to Catholic News Service soon after the ceremony about his role leading the Vatican body responsible for all matters concerning “the correct and fruitful exercise” of the episcopal office, including necessary intervention or apostolic visitations if needed.

While not speaking of any case in particular, Cardinal Prevost was asked what his office saw was the best or most pastoral way to handle “dissident” bishops.

“I would hesitate to use one category of dissident bishops,” he said. However, “there, I think, is a need sometimes to remind each and every bishop that when we, before we receive ordination to the episcopate, we make a special promise, or vow if you will, of a promise to live and work in communion with the Holy Father, including obedience.”

Therefore, “each and every bishop” is asked “to reflect on that continually and to walk together to promote communion in the college of bishops,” he said, and “unity with the Holy Father.”

The ways the dicastery works with different bishops “varies a lot,” he said.

“In the news lately there have been things about visits to dioceses or visits to bishops,” the cardinal said. “Speaking with many people, I think the spirit of synodality includes a need and a desire to listen not only to the bishop himself, but to many people in the diocese to see what’s the best way to promote authentic church in each and every diocese in the world.”

Cardinal Prevost was also asked about Pope Francis’ remarks in a meeting with Jesuits in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 5, saying the Catholic Church in the United States has “a very strong reactionary” element and about how he saw his role in helping the pope with appointing bishops he would like to see.

“Obviously there are some great challenges facing the Church, the universal Church, as well as the Church in the United States,” he said.

“I think sometimes the pope, when he expresses certain things, if you interpret him too literally, you don’t really understand the point he’s trying to get at.”

“He has a way of wanting to put a spark under people, to make them think and to find ways to create within the Church the spirit of let’s not just stay as we always have been but to look for the movement of the spirit,” the cardinal said.

“I don’t think his intention is to offend people but I think he is trying to challenge everyone, all of the bishops in the United States and throughout the world to look: where do we need to go together as Church,” he said.

While Cardinal Prevost has been a member of the Dicastery for Bishops since November 2020, the pope appointed him prefect in January. In 2022, for the first time, the pope also appointed three women to the dicastery, which is also responsible for recommending to the pope candidates to fill the office of bishop in many of the Latin-rite dioceses of the world.

Asked about what has changed with women members, he said, “there has been a noticeable difference, if you will, I think a very fine addition to the work of the dicastery and our plenary sessions.”

The women – Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Raffaella Petrini, Salesian Sister Yvonne Reungoat and Maria Lia Zervino – are from “different countries with different perspectives. And the spirit of dialogue that we are actually trying to promote, if you will, in this spirit of synodality, I think it does make a difference.”

An Augustinian friar, Cardinal Prevost served as prior general of his order from 2001 to 2013 and was named bishop of Chiclayo, in northern Peru, in 2014.

He also attended the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican in 2012 and told synod members about the need to counter anti-Christian perspectives and lifestyle choices that the mass media fosters.

CNS asked him if anything about his thinking had changed since 2012 and under Pope Francis’ leadership.

“Given many things that have changed, I would say there’s been a development in the sense of the need for the Church to open and to be welcoming,” he said.

“Pope Francis made it very clear that he doesn’t want people to be excluded simply on the basis of choices that they make whether it be lifestyle, work, way to dress or whatever. Doctrine hasn’t changed and people haven’t said yet, you know, we are looking for that kind of change,” he said.

“But we are looking to be more welcoming and more open and to say all people are welcome in the Church,” the cardinal said.

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