By Linda Bordoni
In his address on Monday evening to Italian bishops gathered for a General Assembly scheduled to last until 23 May, Pope Francis described the relationship between bishops and priests as “the backbone” that supports all relationships within a diocese.
Relationship between bishops and priests
A bishop, the Pope said, has the obligation to be close to his priests “without discrimination and without preferences or favoritism”.
He said “a true shepherd lives among his flock and knows how to listen to and welcome all without prejudice”.
“We must not fall into the temptation of welcoming only priests who are nice or are flatterers” he said.
He also urged bishops to take care to not give assignments only to the eager and to the “climbers,” ignoring those who are “shy, meek or problematic.”
It happens, the Pope said, that priests are disrespected, made fun of or even condemned because of the errors or crimes of some of their colleagues, so they need to be able to find support, encouragement and consolation from their bishop.
He expressed sorrow for those cases in which some bishops “have difficulty establishing a relationship with their priests, thereby running the risk of ruining their mission and weakening the mission of the church.”
Synodality and collegiality
On the issue of synodality and collegiality, Pope Francis highlighted the need for everyone in the church to walk together and work together to share the Gospel is the lifestyle God wants from his people.
He mentioned that he had heard rumours of possible plans of a Synod of Bishops for Italy and said the first step would be to ensure that laypeople, priests and bishops all recognize they have a shared responsibility for the life of the church.
Marriage annulment reforms
The Pope also expressed his disappointment that so many Italian dioceses have yet to implement the reforms he ordered to make the marriage annulment process quicker, more pastoral and less expensive.
“I am saddened to note that the reform, after more than four years, remains far from being applied in most Italian dioceses”, he said.
In September 2015, Pope Francis issued two documents, “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge”) for the Latin-rite church and “Mitis et misericors Iesus,” (The Meek and Merciful Jesus) for the Eastern Catholic churches, in which he reformed sections of canon law dealing with requests for the declaration of the nullity of a marriage.
The reforms aimed to streamline the process and help couples in need of healing, he pointed out, underscoring the fact that “the procedural reform is based on proximity and gratuity.”
“Proximity to wounded families means that the judgment, as far as possible, takes place within the diocesan church without delay and unnecessary extensions. And gratuity refers back to the Gospel mandate which says, ‘Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” referring also to the fact that the reform states that the annulment process be free of charge or as close to free as possible.
The Pope said he hoped the reforms would find “their full and immediate application in all the dioceses” of the country, noting that they aim to help dioceses demonstrate that “the Church is mother and has at heart the good of her children, who in this case are wounded by a love that has been shattered.”