Pope meets Italian bishops at beginning of their spring meeting

Pope Francis opens the spring general assembly of the Italian bishops' conference in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican May 23, 2022. The pope and the bishops met for a two-hour, closed-door conversation. Also pictured are Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Città della Pieve, outgoing president of the conference, and Bishop Stefano Russo of Velletri-Segni, secretary-general of the conference. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis held a closed-door, two-hour meeting with members of the Italian bishops' conference late May 23 as the bishops were preparing for new leadership and for a discussion on authorizing a study into clerical sexual abuse in the country.

Neither the Vatican nor the conference provided details about the pope's conversation with the bishops, although Italian news outlets reported they discussed the election of the new president of the conference, the war in Ukraine and its impact on Catholic-Orthodox relations and ways to make the Italian church more "synodal."

Several Italian newspapers also reported that Pope Francis told the bishops he did not want to undergo surgery to repair or replace the knee that has been causing him so much pain that he has begun using a wheelchair.

One of the first items on the agenda for the bishops' meeting May 23-27 was the election of three candidates to present to Pope Francis and from whom he would choose the next president of the bishops' conference.

Unlike other bishops' conferences around the world, which hold direct elections of their presidents, the Italian bishops' conference rules give the final choice to the pope "in consideration of the special bond between the Italian episcopate and the pope, the bishop of Rome."

The conference announced May 24 that from the list of three, Pope Francis had chosen 66-year-old Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, who, according to Italian news reports, was the first choice of the bishops.

Clerical sexual abuse and child protection was another top issue on the bishops' agenda.

Opening the assembly, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Città della Pieve, the outgoing president of the conference, told his fellow bishops, "We confirm our commitment to child protection and the prevention of abuse. We want safe and child-friendly environments for the youngest and most vulnerable. Therefore, as we have already reiterated on other occasions, we intend to promote a better understanding of the phenomenon of abuse in order to evaluate and make protective and preventive measures more effective."

Groups that monitor abuse cases and advocate for survivors have called on the bishops to authorize and fund an independent study into the abuse scandal in Italy and to go back decades. However, some bishops have said they believed the conference's office of child protection should lead the study, working with their diocesan counterparts.


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