Helping bishops who stray from the Faith

In those cases [. . .] where individuals or groups, for whatever reason, have departed from the indispensable norms of religious life, or have even, to the scandal of the faithful, adopted positions at variance with the Church’s teaching, I ask you my brother Bishops, sustained by hope in the power of Christ’s grace and performing an act of authentic pastoral service, to proclaim once again the Church’s universal call to conversion, spiritual renewal and holiness. And be sure that the same Holy Spirit who has placed you as Bishops to shepherd the Church (cf. Acts 20:28) is ready to utilize your ministry to help those who were called by Him to a life of perfect charity, who were repeatedly sustained by His grace and who have given evidence of a desire-which must be rekindled-to live totally for Christ and His Church in accordance with their proper ecclesial charism. In the local Churches the discernment of the exercise of these charisms is authenticated by the Bishops in union with the Successor of Peter. This work is a truly important aspect of your episcopal ministry, an aspect to which the universal Church, through me, asks you to attach special priority in this Jubilee Year.

As an expression of my solidarity with you in this area of your pastoral service, acknowledging the special links between religious life and the Holy See, I am hereby appointing Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco as Pontifical Delegate to head a special Commission of three Bishops whose task it will be to facilitate the pastoral work of their brother Bishops in the United States in helping the religious of your country whose Institutes are engaged in apostolic works to live their ecclesial vocation to the full. Associated with him in the Commission are Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly of Louisville and Bishop Raymond W. Lessard of Savannah. Working in union with the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes and following a document of guidelines which the Congregation is making available to them and to you, the Commission has authority to set up a suitable program of work which, it is hoped, will be of valuable help to the individual Bishops and to the Episcopal Conference. I would further ask the Commission to consult with a number of religious, to profit from the insights that come from the experience of religious life lived in union with the Church. I am confident that the religious of contemplative life will accompany this work with their prayers.

In asking the Commission to be of assistance to you in your pastoral ministry and responsibility, I know that it will be very sensitive to the marked decline in recent years in the numbers of young people seeking to enter religious life, particularly in the case of Institutes of apostolic life. This decline in numbers is a matter of grave concern to me-a concern which I know that you and the religious also share. As a result of this decline, the median age of religious is rising and their ability to serve the needs of the Church is becoming increasingly more limited. I am concerned that, in a generous effort to continue manifold services without adequate numbers, many religious are over-burdened, with a consequent risk to their health and spiritual vitality. In the face of this shared concern, I would ask the Commission, in collaboration with religious, utilizing the prayerful insights of individual religious and major superiors, to analyze the reasons for this decline in vocations. I ask them to do this with a view to encouraging a new growth and a fresh move forward in this most important sector of the Church’s life.

— from the letter of His Holiness to the Bishops of the United States (1983)