By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published June 19, 2008
The end of June usually finds me with the bishops of the United States on many occasions. I was with a number of them during this academic year’s final meeting of the Catholic University of America board, of which I am a member. I was with a larger group of bishops at the recent installation ceremonies for Archbishop Thomas Rodi, the new archbishop of Mobile, Ala., and this week I will be with the full body of bishops at our June meeting in Orlando, Fla. And then during the final week of June, I will be with the bishops of the Province of Atlanta at our annual meeting; this year it will be held in Raleigh, N.C.
Some of you might wonder: “What do bishops talk about when they get together?” We talk about you!
Each bishop worthy of his miter thinks about and worries about and prays about his people. When we are together, we talk about the people who occupy the major portion of our hearts. Bishops like to share the pride and hopes that we have in the people that we are privileged to serve. Like proud parents, we are never lacking for something to say about the people that we shepherd. We talk about the challenges that we face as well as the triumphs that we might have achieved. And we learn from one another about what might work in our own dioceses and what wouldn’t stand a chance of working at home. In short, we compare pastoral notes.
So many of the pastoral activities that fill a bishop’s calendar are very similar—confirmations, ordinations, jubilees, staff meetings, priest appointments, and activities with our kids, to mention just a few. Yet the regional and individual differences among the dioceses also often provide a variety of things for us to share.
In the South, the Church is growing—quickly and very fortunately. Although some of the bishops in the South had to confront the awful devastation that Katrina and Rita brought to our region and shutter or cluster some parishes and institutions, most of the bishops of the South are grappling with growing congregations and burgeoning populations.
On the contrary, many of the dioceses in the North, New England and the Midwest are downsizing or reconfiguring parishes and institutions. Why is this necessary? People have moved, shifted in their religious practices, and there are fewer priests to serve in parishes. These reorganization processes are never easy and there are countless examples of where they have created bitter feelings and anger with the church, with the bishop, and with the changes in general that society has forced upon communities. These conflicts have received widespread attention in the media and left many Catholics confused and enraged at what may have happened to a beloved parish or school. In most of those cases all of the aforementioned reasons for the changes are operative at the same time.
In the South our challenges are more focused on planning for our growth and development. We need to make sure that new parishes, new schools and new institutions are located in the best possible locations so that they will serve and be available to the greatest numbers of parishioners. Growth is a happier problem with which to cope than loss or shifting of population that requires downsizing.
I listen carefully to the experience of other bishops and share whatever wisdom we have gained here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. In the end, I return home knowing a little bit more about the Catholic Church in the United States and giving thanks for the issues that we confront as less problematic than those of many other bishops.