The flags of the District of Columbia, the Vatican and the U.S. are seen on a light poll in Washington Sept. 22 during the visit of Pope Francis (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review).

Pope Francis Meets with U.S. Bishops in Washington, D.C.

Pope Francis is now meeting with the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. What will he says to them?

Earlier this year, Fr. Diego Fares, an Argentine Jesuit who is close with Pope Francis, outlined the pope’s vision for the role of the bishop in today’s church in the article, “Pastors Not Princes”:

The image of “pastors, not princes,” which some in the media have portrayed as a reproach to bishops and priests, if properly read does not convey scorn; it is much more profound. It is part of a discernment about an epochal change; and, even more significant, it is an invitation that no bishop or priest let himself be robbed of the joy of being a shepherd. “By so doing we will know the missionary joy of sharing life with God’s faithful people as we strive to light a fire in the heart of the world” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” No. 271)….

Downward and outward toward all—with two simple pastoral, not princely, movements, the newly elected Pope Francis placed himself within the great tradition of the church and Vatican II and generated a new spiritual dynamism among God’s faithful people.

The council tells us that just as Christ “emptied himself” and was sent to “bring the good news to the poor,” the church is also called to follow the same path, and therefore it “encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” No. 8). When Pope Francis bowed his head to receive the blessing of his people, and each time that he gets into the popemobile and travels around the plaza until reaching its edges, or when he chooses borderlands to make his visits, his movements make us not only see but experience an image of how a bishop can be in the midst of his people. This role does not seek to “replace” that of other bishops or popes but rather asks to be viewed and accepted with the attitude of “friendship and closeness” of one who knows how to discover “the harmony of Spirit in the diversity of charisms,” as Francis himself asked of “his presbyters”—the cardinals—two days after his election.

Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., the editor in chief of America, also recently wrote about misperceptions of bishops in the United States:

There is a certain type of sentence often spoken in our ecclesial discourse, whose subject is “the bishops,” as in “The bishops should do X” or “The bishops think Y.” Many Catholics make this sort of statement. It’s perfectly reasonable, of course, considering the essential role that the episcopate plays in the life of the church.

Yet statements that refer to “the bishops” often belie a diverse and complex reality. In the last few years, I have traveled extensively throughout this country, and I’ve met a lot of bishops. I’ve learned that our perceptions don’t always align with their realities. I’ve learned, for example, that “the bishops” do not exist, if by that phrase one means a single, monolithic community of men who think and act the same way. To be sure, they are all devoted to the church and to its teachings on faith and morals. Apart from what is essential, however, they have widely different opinions about contestable or prudential matters and different pastoral and political sensibilities. It is inaccurate, for example, to assume that “the bishops” all vote the same way when they enter the voting booth.

Check back at 2 pm for reporting from Gerard O’Connell from the bishops’ meeting.