The bishop had already taken part in such regularly scheduled meetings in previous years with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
“The whole purpose of this visit is to connect with Peter,” Bishop Malooly said in a telephone interview after his Dec. 3 meeting at the Vatican. “And Peter in this generation is Francis, so we go back to the threshold of the apostles. This is my third ad limina trip. I did one in ’04, I did one in ’12 and I’m doing my last one. Each is different, but this has been very special.”
Bishop Malooly celebrated his 75th birthday Jan. 18 and — as required by canon law — submitted his resignation to Pope Francis. The pope has not yet accepted it.
The bishops of every diocese in the United States began meeting with Vatican leaders in November, reviewing detailed reports on the life of the Catholic Church in their dioceses. The meetings in Rome continue through February.
“We let the Holy Father know what we’re doing,” Bishop Malooly said. “We let the congregations know what we’re doing. We ask for support for different things, especially around clergy abuse. We asked for their help and the congregations and dicasteries have been very engaged and very supportive, know our needs, and are doing everything they can to help.”
Because of a papal scheduling conflict, the bishops of U.S. Regions IV and V — District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Archdiocese for the Military Services, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee — all met the pope together for close to three hours.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said “the bishops felt free to bring up topics that are joyful and life-affirming, but also topics that are very painful for us.” The topics included the clerical sexual abuse scandal and the need for accountability among bishops.
The past 18 months have included the scandal of Theodore E. McCarrick, the former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, and a long process by the U.S. bishops as a body to institute a system for reporting the misconduct or crimes of a bishop and for holding him accountable. Archbishop Lori had been appointed earlier in the year to investigate allegations of sexual and financial improprieties made against Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, former bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va.
To have the U.S. bishops making their “ad limina” visits now is “very providential, a sign of God’s love for us,” Archbishop Lori said.
“We couldn’t possibly have had that many bishops in the same room talking with the pope and not talk” about the abuse scandal and accountability, the archbishop said.
Bishop Malooly was joined on the trip by Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, Diocese of Wilmington vicar general and moderator of the curia.
“The visit was very nice, the Holy Father was very warm,” Bishop Malooly said. “Having both regions IV and V there was good, because we always do things with Region IV which is our immediate area. But having some of the south with us, it was just nice. There were 50-plus of us in the room. It was three hours, he just kept taking questions and offering responses. I know Msgr. Hurley enjoyed the opportunity to meet the Holy Father.”
Bishop Malooly has learned the different characteristics of three popes.
“Each one brings a different charism and approach,” he said. “All three have been very warm and engaging. The Holy Father was just anxious to have a conversation and to be with us and to be a spiritual father to all of us.”
“We talked about the issues that we face in our dioceses. What was engaging for me was the emphasis on missionary discipleship, leadership, the spiritual realm of rejoicing in the gifts that God has given us. In some of our congregational discussions, obviously, Catholic schools are a very big piece of the universal church. Of course, that’s really important to me and I think resonated with everybody.”
In previous encounters with Pope Francis, Bishop Malooly said the pontiff consistently implores him to “pray for me.”
“I beat him to the punch. I said ‘Holy Father, I’ve been praying for you, as you told me to do several times in recent years’ and he just smiled a bit. But at the end of the meeting, that’s exactly what he asked us to do. He said, ‘I pray for all of you. You need to pray for me.’”