This wasn’t publicized in advance, but news is beginning to trickle out: 

A group of about 70 cardinals, bishops and theologians gathered privately for two days here from March 25-26 for conversations focused on how the U.S. Catholic Church can better support the agenda of Pope Francis.

Through a series of keynote presentations and panel discussions centered on tracing the roots of Francis’ papacy to the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, invited participants also considered the opposition the pope continues to face from some quarters of the U.S. church, more than nine years after his March 2013 election.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, one of the attendees, told NCR that part of the purpose of the event was to “understand the spirit of what they call the ‘opposition.’ ”

“We have this what they call ‘opposition’ to the pope. It’s trying to build walls, going backwards — looking to the old liturgy or maybe things before Vatican II,” said Rodriguez, who is also the coordinator of the pope’s advisory Council of Cardinals.

“Vatican II is unknown by many of the young generation,” said the cardinal. “So, it’s necessary to come back and to see that all the reforms of Pope Francis are rooted in Vatican II.”

The event, which carried the title “Pope Francis, Vatican II, and the Way Forward,” was co-organized by Loyola University Chicago’s Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, Boston College’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, and Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture. Also helping with the organization was NCR political columnist Michael Sean Winters.

The conversations were held under the “Chatham House Rule,” meaning attendees agreed they could speak afterwards about the contents of the discussions but not reveal who had made any particular comment, with hopes of fostering a more open and forthright atmosphere.

Christine Firer Hinze, one of about a dozen theologians attending the event, said she found the conversations between the participating academics and bishops “heartening and hopeful.” Pointing to the willingness of the bishops to listen to the theologians’ viewpoints, Hinze called the experience an example of “servant leadership.”

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I suspect we’ll be hearing much more about this in the days ahead. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: A few more details have emerged from America’s Michael J. O’Laughlin.


As a participant in the conference (I moderated a panel about the quickly evolving Catholic media landscape), a few items stuck out to me.

First, there seemed to be a willingness among bishops to listen to their lay collaborators.

Two of the keynotes were delivered by lay theologians—Villanova University’s Massimo Faggioli and Loyola University Chicago’s Therese Lysaught—and the panels were composed of lay experts in theology, media and the economy. Cardinals and bishops asked thoughtful questions and offered observations, but much of the talking came from laypeople. (Thus, I wonder if Chatham House rules were necessary. As a journalist, I’d say probably not, since transparency is good and the message at the conference was hopeful. But perhaps the promise of anonymity made it easier for bishops to agree to participate.)

Ms. Lysaught, who delivered a paper about political culture wars and divisions in the church, said that the spirit of collaboration stuck out to her.

“It’s the first time in my 30 year career as a Catholic theologian that I’ve been invited to spend two days meeting, eating with, listening to and discussing the church, theology, and pastoral realities with bishops,” she told me in an email following the conference. “I was impressed by how closely they listened, by the honesty of their comments, and in seeing them in such serious conversation with each other and with the other participants at the meeting.”

She said she hopes those conversations demonstrate to bishops that they have a reservoir of support available from Catholic laypeople who want to see their leaders succeed.

“I hope they left with a sense that they’re supported, that there is hope for the church in the U.S., that there is a large cadre of scholars and laypeople who’ve got their backs and that building relationships with and engaging in conversations with each other and these scholars and laypeople will only strengthen their ability to lead the church, and even make it easier,” she said.

Second, the participants recognized that threats to the implementation of the Second Vatican Council should be taken more seriously and that Pope Francis’ emphasis on synodality might be the way to counter those attacks.

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