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We reproduce here from the L’Osservatore Romano part of the Pope’s frank talk to a group of North American bishops visiting the Pope on their official five-year visit. This talk reminds us of the words of Archbishop Gagnon of the Vatican who said publicly in 1983:

“You know that the Holy Father has repeatedly, for more than 20 years now given orders, such as on general absolution, or children partaking of the Sacrament of Confession before receiving Communion, but these orders are disobeyed.

“And they will not be obeyed, in too many cases, until such time as the local people make their bishops understand that they have to be obeyed, that the bishops have to obey them.”

2. In particular, the bishop is a sign of the love of Jesus Christ: he expresses to all individuals and groups of whatever tendency — with a universal charity — the love of the Good Shepherd. His love embraces sinners with an easiness and naturalness that mirrors the redeeming love of the Savior. To those in need, in trouble and in pain he offers the love of understanding and consolation. In a special way the bishop is the sign of Christ’s love for His priests. He manifests to them the love of friendship — just as he once liked to experience it from his bishop — a friendship that knows how to communicate esteem, and through warm human exchange can help a brother priest even rise from moments of discouragement, sadness or dejection.

3. As a sign of Christ’s love, the bishop is also a sign of Christ’s compassion, since he represents Jesus the High Priest who is able to sympathize with human weakness, the One who was tempted in every way we are, and yet never sinned (cf. Heb. 4:15). The consciousness on the part of the bishop of personal sin, coupled with repentance and with the forgiveness received from the Lord, makes his human expression of compassion ever more authentic and credible. But the compassion that he signifies and lives in the name of Jesus can never be a pretext for him to equate God’s merciful understanding of sin and love for sinners with a denial of the full liberating truth that Jesus proclaimed. Hence there can be no dichotomy between the bishop as a sign of Christ’s compassion and as a sign of Christ’s truth.

The bishop, precisely because he is compassionate and understands the weakness of humanity and the fact that its needs and aspirations can only be satisfied by the full truth of creation and redemption, will proclaim without fear or ambiguity the many controverted truths of our age. He will proclaim them with pastoral love, in terms that will never unnecessarily offend or alienate his hearers, but he will proclaim them clearly because he knows the liberating quality of truth.

Hence the compassionate bishop proclaims the indissolubility of marriage, as did the bishops of the United States when in their splendid pastoral letter To Live in Christ Jesus they wrote: “The covenant between a man and a woman in Christian marriage is as indissoluble and irrevocable as God’s love for His people and Christ’s love for His Church”. The compassionate bishop will proclaim the incompatibility of premarital sex and homosexual activity with God’s plan for human love; at the same time, with all his strength he will try to assist those who are faced with difficult moral choices. With equal compassion he will proclaim the doctrine of Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio in its full beauty, not passing over in silence the unpopular truth that artificial birth control is against God’s law. He will speak out for the rights of the unborn, the weak, the handicapped, the poor and the aged, no matter how current popular opinion views these issues. With personal humility and pastoral zeal the bishop will strive to discern, not alone but in union with the universal Episcopate, the signs of the times and their true application to the modern world. With his brother bishops he will work to ensure the participation of every category of people in the life and mission of the Church, in accordance with the truth of their calling.

This zeal will be manifested in supporting the dignity of women, and every legitimate freedom that is consonant with their human nature and their womanhood. The bishop is called upon to oppose any, and all, discrimination of women by reason of sex. In this regard he must likewise endeavor to explain as cogently as he can that the Church’s teaching on the exclusion of women from priestly ordination is extraneous to the issue of discrimination and that it is linked rather to Christ’s own design for his priesthood. The bishop must give proof of his pastoral ability and leadership by withdrawing all support from individuals or groups who in the name of progress, justice or compassion, or for any other alleged reason, promote the ordination of women to the priesthood.

In so doing, such individuals or groups are in effect damaging the very dignity of women that they profess to promote and advance. All efforts made against the truth are destined to produce not only failure but also acute personal frustration. Whatever the bishop can do to prevent this failure and frustration by explaining the truth is an act not only of pastoral charity but of prophetic leadership.

Taken from L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO English Edition, September 1983.