DANBURY — Joseph Cann Sr. soon will be ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church — a special office that gives him limited priestly duties while allowing him to remain a married father of two.
Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT
FAIRFIELD—The sexual abuse crisis has led to a call to reform and purify the Church, and meaningful change is already underway in many dioceses across the country, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said at the first Listening Session held at Notre Dame High School.
As your diocesan Bishop, I am committed to hearing your concerns directly as we continue our healing journey together.
Retired Superior Court Judge Holzberg is conducting an investigation into clergy sexual abuse of minors and the Diocesan response to that abuse. In order to fully include the voices of survivors and others affected by this abuse in his report, his team has established a toll free call in line for any person who wishes to provide information related to past incidents of abuse or their experience with the Diocese in regards to such abuse. Survivors and witnesses are encouraged to call 1-833-990-0004 to provide this information or to report online using the following link www.lighthouse-services.com/diobpt Once the contact is made either Judge Holzberg or one of his team will contact you directly.
Ways to reach the hotline:
- English speaking USA and Canada: 833-990-0004
- Spanish speaking USA and Canada: 800-216-1288
- Spanish speaking Mexico: 01-800-681-5340
- French speaking Canada: 855-725-0002
When contacting the hotline, an individual may choose to identifying themselves or not. However, anonymous reports involving sexual abuse of a minor significantly limit the ability to investigate a complaint and potentially prevent further harm to minors. We urge individuals to consider this when reaching out to the Judge and his team.
PLEASE NOTE THAT ANY NEW ALLEGATION OF SEXUAL ABUSE SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE APPROPRIATE AUTHORITIES, INCLUDING YOUR LOCAL POLICE OR THE CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES (Care line 1-800-842-2288). IN ADDITION, THE DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT ENCOURAGES ALL SURVIVORS OF CLERGY ABUSE OF MINORS THAT HAVE NOT PREVIOUSLY REPORTED THIS ABUSE TO CONTACT THE DIOCESAN SAFE ENVIRONMENT OFFICE (203- 650-3265 or 203-241-0987).
Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano
Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport
238 Jewett Avenue
Bridgeport, CT 06606
Dear Bishop Caggiano:
Let me take this opportunity to provide you with an update on the efforts we have undertaken to fulfill your mandate to provide you and the Diocese with a comprehensive, detailed and transparent investigation and report with respect to clergy sexual abuse of minors, and the Diocese’s response to that conduct, for the period 1953-present. This is a significant undertaking and we appreciate the full and enthusiastic cooperation we have received from the leadership and staff of the Diocese to date.
The scope of our undertaking is extensive, involving review of thousands of files, hundreds of thousands of individual documents, inspection of offsite locations such as Parish offices and files, the capture and review of electronically stored information, interviews with key participants, review and analysis of past and current sexual abuse and reporting policies, and upon completion of the data gathering portion of the process, reviewing, analyzing, synthesizing and reporting out our findings and conclusions.
In accordance with the foregoing we have been focused, in the initial four months of our investigation, with data collection which include the following efforts:
- Meetings and interviews with you and your leadership team, other key Diocesan officials and inspections of the diocesan headquarters and file storage areas.
- Meetings with current and former counsel for the Diocese as well as counsel for those bringing claims against the Diocese.
- Outreach to victims/survivors of clergy abuse, and the members of the Diocese, through individual meetings as well as the anticipated launch of a dedicated complaint phone line and email address by the end of March.
- Review of archival material at the Catholic Center, including Bishop and senior leadership files, legal correspondence, litigation files and previously collected data from court proceedings. All relevant files and computer files have been electronically
- The capture of electronically stored information on the Diocese email system, website, cloud storage system and personal devices.
scanned/imaged and will be electronically analyzed using criteria relevant to the scope of the investigation.
Following the data collection phase, described above, we will shortly begin the review and analysis phase of our investigation. The analysis of the data and information that has been collected is a challenge both in terms of time and efficiency. We have retained nationally recognized data-analytic experts whose software has the ability to review and analyze in a fraction of the time the massive amount of data, both electronic and paper, that human review would require.
At the conclusion of this process, we will provide to you and your parishioners a detailed, comprehensive report outlining the history of clergy sexual abuse of minors from 1953-present and the Diocese response to such abuse. I am of course always available to speak with you about our progress and the process going forward. Thank you again for the opportunity and the honor to work on a project of this importance.
Robert L. Holzberg
DANBURY—The Most Rev. Frank Caggiano, together with a planning committee of Survivors of Sexual Abuse as Minors by Priests, will hold a very special Mass for anyone who has been sexually abused as a minor and for others who have been impacted.
My Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:
In my letter of September 7, 2018, I announced the urgent need for administrative action with regards to the current crisis in the Church. Several initiatives have already begun and additional initiatives are planned. I am pleased to take this opportunity to report on these efforts.
WESTON—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano delivered a somber message about the abuse of power within the Church at the Mass of Hope, Healing and Reconciliation at St. Francis of Assisi Church held on Sunday in Weston.
WESTON- The Most Rev. Frank Caggiano, together with a planning committee of Survivors of Sexual Abuse as minors by Priests, will hold a very special Mass for anyone who has been sexually abused as minor and for others who have been impacted.
The Mass will be held on November 18th, 2018 at 2 PM at St. Francis of Assisi located at 35 Norfield Road, Weston, CT 06883. Light refreshments will be served immediately following the Mass.
There are regularly scheduled gatherings for any person who has been sexually abused as a minor to meet with the victim assistance coordinators and fellow survivors of sexual abuse for friendship, prayer, and peer support. For more information, please contact Erin Neil: Eneil@diobpt.org.
My Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:
I write to you today to report the findings related to certain action items I communicated in my September 8, 2018 letter addressing the sexual abuse crisis as it has impacted our Diocese.
In my letter to the faithful, I announced that, by today, I would issue a comprehensive Financial Accountability Report regarding the settlement amounts for past claims of clergy sexual abuse of minors from the establishment of the Diocese to the present, along with a verified summary of the financial support currently provided by the Diocese to any priest who has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor and who is currently on administrative leave or has been laicized.
The much-needed financial accounting that is the focus of this report only hints at the profound toll of human and spiritual suffering caused by the sexual abuse of children. My hope is that as we communicate these findings, we will further the process of healing and reconciliation, address the legitimate desire for change, and restore your confidence in every level of leadership so that we can fully realize the divine mission of the Church.
Allow me to conclude by offering a personal reflection. My heart breaks at the harm to victims and betrayal of the faithful caused by the sin of abuse, and the Church’s repeated failure to act decisively and transparently to protect young people. I wish to express my heartfelt apology to all those affected by this tragedy. I also recognize that restoring trust will require the heroic witness of holiness on the part of every priest, especially myself. I am confident that the Lord will heal and strengthen us, one person at a time.
I pray that this financial report and other measures we are taking represent the beginning of a new chapter of transparency and accountability in the diocese and a significant step toward bringing closure to all those who have sought justice and a full accounting of an issue that has deeply wounded so many people and life of our entire Church.
During these troubling days, please be assured of my prayers for you and your families. I also ask that you continue to pray for the lay leadership of the Church, our clergy and for me.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano
Bishop of Bridgeport
BRIDGEPORT—“Many words have been said regarding the crime of sexual abuse of minors and the scandals that these crimes have produced, words that are needed to express our grief, anger and confusion. However, words alone are insufficient. The time for further action has come,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, in his letter to all those visiting the new A Pledge to Protect website, which launched on October 30.
This website (www.bridgeportdiocese.org/pledge) is one of the many ways that the bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport has planned to address the abuse crisis in the Church by focusing on a movement toward accountability and transparency.
“This newly designed website brings together and updates information concerning diocesan Safe Environments efforts, our outreach to victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse, and the comprehensive policies and practices we have put in place to prevent future abuse and intervene immediately when allegations are brought forward,” said Bishop Caggiano.
The bishop acknowledges that, although we can never fully atone for the pain caused to the victims of clerical sexual abuse, healing, reconciliation and rebuilding trust must be the Church’s goal.
“It is my desire to attack this evil in a variety of ways, starting with a series of spiritual initiatives and administrative actions. Our spiritual efforts focus on the grave need for the clergy to seek reparation for the past sins of those who have sinned and harmed innocent children and young people,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his response to the sexual abuse crisis.
A Pledge to Protect outlines specific promises to everyone that has been affected, which is the whole Church. The bishop specifically addresses the faithful of the diocese, the clergy and the seminarians.
Most recently, Bishop Caggiano has commissioned a Financial Accountability Report that will address transparency regarding past incidents of sexual abuse of minors and a financial report that will address settlement amounts for past claims, include sources from which the funds were obtained and other information on financial support of accused clergy. The report will be issued on Wednesday October 31.
The website also links to the Safe Environments page, which has all necessary information about registering for VIRTUS training, which is required by all diocesan volunteers and employees, reporting an incident, resources for survivors and background checks. In an effort of full transparency, there is a list of accused clerics, which includes the names of accused diocesan clerics or accused religious order priests who served in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
On October 3, the bishop announced that retired Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert L. Holzberg, who is a partner in the law firm of Pullman & Comley LLC of Hartford and Bridgeport, will serve as counsel and lead investigator for the Clerical Sexual Abuse Accountability Investigation being conducted for the Diocese of Bridgeport.
Results of the investigation will be presented in a public report that will address sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Diocese of Bridgeport, along with the response of Church leadership to that abuse. The report will also contain any relevant recommendations to the bishop resulting from the review.
Bishop Caggiano has also released a number of spiritual initiatives in an effort of healing and reparation throughout the diocese and the greater Church. On the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Saturday, September 15, Bishop Caggiano led a Holy Hour with Rosary and a Mass of Reparation and Purification at the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Bridgeport, which more than 800 priests, deacons, religious and laity attended.
The bishop also asked all pastors to celebrate a local Mass of Reparation in their own parishes no later than October 31. After the diocesan Mass of Reparation, the bishop led the faithful in reciting the St. Michael Prayer, which he has now mandated to be said after Mass in every parish throughout the diocese.
“Along with A Pledge to Protect website, all these initiatives act as tangible steps toward healing for the whole Church, as we move forward in transparency, accountability and hope,” says Bishop Caggiano.
(Visit the new A Pledge to Protect website at: www.bridgeportdiocese.org/pledge).
ROME—Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, has become one of the most closely watched American prelates at a time when the Church in the United States is in full crisis mode, making it perhaps unsurprising that he was the first bishop to raise the issue of clerical sex abuse during this month’s Vatican summit on young people.
His name is now often rumored as a potential replacement for Cardinal Donald Wuerl in Washington, D.C. or for Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia when he reaches retirement age next year.
Even so, Caggiano brushes off such rumors, insisting that he’s focused solely on his diocese and, particularly, building on the energy and ideas coming out of the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” where he has joined nearly 300 bishops around the world for his first go at a synod.
Among the topics he discussed in an interview with Crux last week are:
- The upcoming meeting of U.S. bishops next month where he insists that the issue of accountability of bishops must be settled.
- His plans for a youth synod in his own diocese.
- Why hearing stories of Christian martyrdom have challenged him to consider what he’s willing to sacrifice for the faith.
Crux: Since this is your first Synod of Bishops, give us your impressions of the experience thus far.
Caggiano: The presence of the youth here has been tremendous. They’ve given an energy and a focus to everything we do, which I did not expect to happen. I think there’s general harmony, and the bishops seem to be moving in the same general direction, which in my greater fears I was wondering if that would happen, but it is, in fact, happening.
I’ve been so involved with young adults back home that a lot of these themes resonate in my heart. The one take-away, which has changed me the most, is the global sense: what other bishops are struggling with young adults, we are not. It’s basic human needs, human problems, that have been a sobering experience for me in the Church, that we in the United States don’t have.
Give us some examples.
Human trafficking. Martyrdom. Some of the bishops gave beautiful, compelling stories of young women and young men who literally gave their life because mobs wanted them to renounce their Catholic faith. I’ve read it in books in the ancient Church, but this is going on in Asia and Africa right now and in our midst, and I think it’s something our young people need to hear.
Not only is it inspiring, but also it calls them to greatness, to say “What’s the skin in the game for us—for me and for you?” These young people gave everything and that was spiritually compelling for me, and I’ve been praying about it ever since. Even personally, “What am I willing to give as a spiritual leader, as a mentor, and as a man of faith?
In the synod, you were the first to raise the issue of sexual abuse. Certainly in the first part of synod, and now in the small groups, that’s continued to be discussed. Realistically, what do you expect this synod to produce with regard to forward movement toward reform on sexual abuse?
The day before I left, I met with a number of young people from Bridgeport. I said to them, what message do I bring and every single one of them began with this question of abuse. The real question was the credibility of leadership, and the real question was “can I trust you?” One young woman said, “can I trust you?” Meaning me, not “you” in the plural. So, I promised them I’d bring it, and it confirmed in my heart what I knew I had to raise.
I think that since there’s the February gathering where they’re going to get in the nuts and bolts, that is the venue where we’ll get in the details.
(Editor’s Note: Pope Francis has convened a meeting in Rome in February 2019 for the head of every bishops’ conference from around the world to discuss the issue of sex abuse and the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.)
I think young people need to understand and hear from us: A. We understand the problem. B. We sympathize and empathize with the position they are now in—that we need to earn their trust. And C. That we stand with survivors. If there’s a characteristic that marks young people, it’s that they understand the underdog and they want to stand with those who are victimized, and they want us to stand with them, and we have to. So, I think if we can state that, and apologize earnestly for what happened, that will set the prelude to the February meeting.
We’ve heard apologies before. We’ve heard Francis apologize, we’ve heard Benedict apologize, and we’ve heard the U.S. bishops apologize. At the same time, we still see mistakes that shouldn’t be happening, so how do you think trust can be regained?
Yesterday’s homily that I gave at the synod, the most important words that I gave were the last ones. I spoke about broken hearts, and I said we’re going to re-learn how to be physicians “one broken heart at a time.” The last six words is the method.
There is no document on earth that is going to heal the broken trust that one individual has. We have to find the courage in this generation to come to sit with individuals and let them express what they’re really feeling and be able to answer to that. To a certain extent, I think it’s good that we empathize, but when I go back to Bridgeport, it’s going to have to be my ministry and to allow that forum to tell me directly how they feel and to be able to answer that, because that is where we’re going to be able to rebuild trust.
Speaking of going back to Bridgeport, what are you going to take back from the synod? What new things are you going to bring into the conversation?
I think the immediate task would be to say, “Whatever the Holy Father tells us is the direction” and ask how do I translate that into Bridgeport? That translation is going to be from affluent communities to some of the poorest communities in Connecticut. The bottom line is, I think we have to gather together—I think youth and their mentors and on a diocesan wide level have some assembly, some gathering, maybe even a synod—to be able to ask where do we go next? I think a synod shouldn’t be an exercise in visiting the dinosaurs, and it should be a regular experience in the life of the Church.
When you get back to the States after the synod, there is also the meeting of U.S. bishops coming up in November. What do you expect?
My hope is that the question of the accountability of bishops be definitively addressed. On Facebook I got a posting from someone who was a colleague of mine in Brooklyn before I was a bishop. We were together in Albany for a gathering on the Charter [adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002 in response to sex abuse]. She reminded me that I turned to her and said, “we’re talking about priests and deacons, but what about the bishops?” I wrote back to her and said, “thank God I said that!” We definitively have to answer that question in November and refer something to the Holy See to get approbation.
On the question of former Cardinal McCarrick, I’m not sure what will happen with that, but I think the people of my diocese would really appreciate hearing a direction going forward. In either case, I haven’t heard anything concrete, but on the first matter, it’s something we need to do and on the second matter, it’s something I’m hoping we’ll do.
Last question: are you going to go home more or less optimistic about the prospects of the Church because you took part in this synod?
Two reasons. Because the youth—the ones who are here – are committed, and they’re the tip of the iceberg. They’re willing to slug it out even in these times for their faith and for the Church, so it gives me great hope.
The second is that no matter what happens with the aftermath of what we’re going through in the United States, this may be a period of humility, and it may even be a period of humiliation for the leadership of the Church. But, in that being stripped, you people will see leaders who are not standing over them but are standing with them. They’ll respond to rebuild the Church. I think there’s a whole army of young people who are willing to say yes.
When you take away the pomp and circumstance, and if you’re just standing with them in the rags, they’ll be with us. And I think that could be a moment of great grace in a moment of great woundedness and great hurt, so I think that’s what I go back with.
Original article from Crux
BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano today (October 3) announced that retired Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert L. Holzberg, who is a partner in the law firm of Pullman & Comley LLC of Hartford and Bridgeport, will serve as counsel and lead investigator for the Clerical Sexual Abuse Accountability Investigation being conducted for the Diocese of Bridgeport.
Judge Holzberg, who has extensive experience as an investigator, mediator and arbitrator, will lead the Accountability Investigation by overseeing a comprehensive analysis and review of claims of clerical sexual abuse of minors, the Diocese’s knowledge of such abuse and its response to allegations and information presented to it concerning the alleged clergy abuse. As part of his investigation, Holzberg, a Middletown resident, will have complete and unrestricted access to all Diocesan files, records and archives dating from 1953, when the Diocese was founded, to the present, and the opportunity to interview Diocesan clergy and administrators with information relevant to his inquiry.
Work on the Accountability Investigation will begin immediately and is expected to be completed by Spring 2019. Judge Holzberg, who is not Catholic, will direct a team of attorneys and investigators to conduct the investigation.
Results of the investigation will be presented in a public report that will address sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Diocese of Bridgeport, along with the response of Church leadership to that abuse. The report will also contain any relevant recommendations to the Bishop resulting from the review.
“Judge Holzberg epitomizes long-term, dedicated and conscientious service to the community,” Bishop Caggiano said. “He possesses the highest integrity, and he has made substantial contributions to the administration of justice in Connecticut. We are grateful that he has agreed to lead this significant review.”
“I am committed to supervising a comprehensive, impartial and transparent investigation into clergy sexual abuse of minors and the Diocese’s response to that abuse over the past 65 years. As a condition of taking on this assignment, I met with and obtained the commitment of Bishop Caggiano that I will have full and unlimited access to all materials relevant to this investigation and that I will have full discretion to conduct this investigation as I deem appropriate. Bishop Caggiano pledged his full cooperation and commitment to this important initiative,” Holzberg said.
Prior to his retirement from the bench in 2012, Holzberg successfully mediated claims against St. Francis Hospital in Hartford involving allegations of decades long sexual abuse of minors by a hospital employee. In 2014 Holzberg was retained by the Stamford Corporation Counsel to lead an investigation into allegations that a Stamford Board of Education high school teacher was involved in a sexual relationship with her student.
The Bishop personally met with Judge Holzberg and assured him that he would have the full and unfettered access to Diocesan records and files necessary for a comprehensive review.
Bishop Caggiano announced plans for the Accountability Investigation on September 7 in response to the national clerical sexual abuse crisis and failures of Church leadership in accountability and transparency.
His letter was read in parishes throughout the diocese and widely distributed through the diocesan newspaper, website, and social media. He announced plans for the report and outlined some of the spiritual and administrative actions that the diocese will take to ensure transparency and accountability.
“My hope is that these measures will begin to heal the wounds that we feel and address the legitimate desire for real change that restores confidence in every level of leadership,” he said.
The Bishop also committed to presenting a financial report on settlement amounts for past claims of clergy sexual abuse of minors from the establishment of the diocese to date. The report will include sources from which funds were obtained to settle claims and provide an account of the financial support currently given to any priest who has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor and who is currently on administrative leave or has been laicized. The report will be released on October 31.
“These measures also build upon the extensive work we have done since 2002 to reach out to and support survivors of clergy sexual abuse in addition to providing the training and safeguards to protect our children and ensure that adults recognize the warning signs of any potential abuse,” Bishop Caggiano said.
“I believe that the Church is facing a moment of crisis that demands honesty and repentance from the bishops and decisive action to ensure that these failures will never happen again,” Bishop Caggiano said.
About Judge Holzberg (Ret.)
Retired Judge Robert Holzberg leads the Alternative Dispute Resolution practice at the law firm of Pullman & Comley, LLC. He has extensive experience serving as a mediator and arbitrator in civil matters in state and federal court, including personal injury, employment, construction, environmental, probate, insurance, intellectual property and commercial disputes.
He retired from the bench in September 2012 after more than 22 years of service as a Superior Court judge.
He was appointed to the Superior Court in 1990 by Gov. William O’Neill. While on the bench, he served as the presiding judge for civil matters in the Middlesex, New Britain and Waterbury judicial districts. During his career, he earned a reputation for his skill in crafting settlements in some of Connecticut’s highest profile and most complex cases and became one of the state’s most sought-after mediators.
He has received several awards, including the 2011 Connecticut Bar Association’s Henry J. Naruk Award for distinguished service and the 2005 Hon. Robert F. Zampano Award for Excellence in Mediation. In 1998, he received the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association Judicial Award.
Before his appointment to the bench, he was on the faculty of the University of Connecticut School of Law and also served as an Assistant Public Defender in the Office of the Chief Public Defender. He is a frequent speaker and author on the topic of mediation and arbitration. He has been an invited speaker on ADR strategies for the Practicing Law Institute, the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, the Connecticut Defense Lawyers Association and the Hartford County Bar Association. Holzberg serves as co-chair with Retired Chief Justice Chase Rogers of Day Pitney LLP of Connecticut Lawyers for Immigration Justice. www.ctjustice.org
Pullman & Comley will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019 and is one of Connecticut’s largest firms, providing a wide range of legal services to clients in the New England region, as well as throughout the United States and internationally. The firm has offices in Bridgeport, Hartford, Stamford, Waterbury, and Westport, Connecticut and White Plains, New York. The firm is an active member of the Law Firm Alliance, an international affiliation of law firms. For more information, please visit www.pullcom.com.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Brian Wallace, Director of Communications
Diocese of Bridgeport
Pullman & Comley, LLC
BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Caggiano has asked pastors to celebrate a local Mass of Reparation in their parishes no later than October 31, 2018. In the coming weeks, the bishop will announce additional spiritual initiatives and administrative measures to address the sexual abuse scandal in a spirit of transparency and accountability.
ROME—As the Synod of Bishops on youth and young adults prepares to open, one of the American delegate bishops said that for any efforts to minister to young people today to bear fruit, the church must first reclaim credibility by addressing the clergy sexual abuse scandal head on.
“I am going to advocate that the synod needs to make that a major topic now, without a doubt,” said Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who spoke to NCR in an interview September 27. “If you’re going to speak relevantly to young people, you cannot but do that.”
He added that he hopes the synod will produce “not just words but some significant initiatives in that regard.”
The 59-year-old bishop said such a move is “essential,” a word he repeated several times, for the Catholic Church to be seen as credible in its outreach to young people. He described the present abuse scandal now in a second phase “all about authenticity. It’s about leadership being accountable. It’s about transparency. I think the greatest scandal is when, you know, things are not accounted for, or hidden or not transparent. That shakes people’s faith.”
Caggiano added that “authenticity speaks powerfully to young people,” and the church must demonstrate what it believes in how it lives and acts, and with the abuse crisis, how it responds.
“For young people, I think this is a moment for the church to recapture their imagination by using this as a moment of truth, humility and repentance and purification, and do what we have to do to hold people accountable. And those who remain, please God, to rededicate ourselves to lives of true personal holiness. That speaks powerfully,” he said.
A first-time delegate, Caggiano will be one of six U.S. bishops participating in the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment, which will run October 3-28. He departed Monday for the Vatican, just days after he had returned from Italy, after leading his diocese’s annual pilgrimage.
The synod, which is led by Pope Francis, will bring together 300-plus bishops and non-voting observers and participants from around the world to examine how the church can develop new ways to join young people in their faith journeys, or as the pre-synod working document puts it, “to accompany all young people, without exception, towards the joy of love.”
While this will be his first Vatican synod, perhaps few bishops bring with them Caggiano’s experience in youth ministry. The Bridgeport bishop is a regular speaker at major youth events, including World Youth Day, to which he serves as episcopal liaison for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Since 2013, he has served as episcopal advisor to the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry. He is also chair of the U.S. bishops’ subcommittee on catechism.
Caggiano, who is fluent in Italian but acknowledges his Spanish is a bit rusty, also arrives to Rome with experience running a synod of his own.
In February 2014, he convoked the first synod in the Bridgeport Diocese in more than three decades. Among its four themes was empowering youth. Twenty-five youth delegates participated in the synod’s five general sessions, with another 400 youth co-delegates holding their own sessions. Caggiano also held a special listening session with the diocese’s young people, something that has become a staple of his five years in Bridgeport and Fairfield County.
Some initiatives resulting from the diocesan synod, which closed in September 2015, have been the creation of a diocesan choir and the Catholic Service Corps. Caggiano said both programs have allowed young people to express their faith in new ways and have offered new entry points to encountering God.
A major takeaway from the process, Caggiano said, was “one person at a time,” the idea of putting many different paths before youth and hoping one of them resonates.
“It’s going to be almost like planting seeds: Some sprout earliest, some sprout later, but to be patient because this is the Lord’s work, right? This is not about flashy headlines, this is about people’s lives,” he said.
As part of his preparation for the youth synod, he held another listening session with young people in his diocese Sept. 28, ensuring their voices would be among the final ones he heard before departing three days later for Rome.
“I’m going to ask them, so if you had an opportunity to address the synod, what would you say? You, as a young person, what is on your mind? What are your concerns? And I’m very curious to see what they come up with, to be honest,” he told NCR ahead of the event.
From his work with young people over the years, he said many of the questions they have are affective in nature — “questions of the heart, not the mind” — about belonging and self-worth, connection and community. He said the synod working document, the instrumentum laboris, does a good job of summarizing these concerns and discussing relationships. An important question for the synod to address, the bishop said, is “what is the relevance of being a part of an established community, rather than creating my own community?”
That is particularly true in an age of social media, which the bishop says can play a key role in how the church connects with youth, but also something it must better understand in terms of how new technological advances impact not only their lives but also their physiological development. Caggiano said he plans to urge the synod to explore such issues further as part of his intervention.
The Bridgeport Diocese under Caggiano has worked to expand its social media footprint. The bishop has a weekly video series on his Facebook page, where he has also shared updates from the recent pilgrimage and his experiences to date at the synod.
Another challenge he sees for the synod to address is how to transmit the faith, primarily done by words in modern times, at a time when images are becoming a more predominant medium. In the Middle Ages, the church built great cathedrals and basilicas as a type of “living catechisms” conveying the faith, Caggiano said. He’s not certain what that would look like today, but sees St. Thomas Aquinas’ idea of truth, beauty and goodness as paths to God as an essential paradigm for ministry.
As for approaches to reaching young people who have left the church or considering such an exit, he sees accompaniment and apologetics — explaining and defending church teachings — as “two sides of one coin,” believing arguments for one or the other as a “false choice.”
“It’s the journey and the destination,” Caggiano said.
With the synod itself, he hopes it produces a document that provides a “general roadmap” that bishops can take back to their home countries and dioceses to implement in ways unique to each’s culture and conditions.
“My hope is that the document will lay down a basic groundwork, and then it’s going to be different in Nairobi as it is in New York as it is in you know, I don’t know, Lima, Peru. But we’ll all kind of be going foundationally in the same direction, even though it may look very different in the lived experience,” the bishop said, adding it was important to allow the document “to become a living document and evolve.”
In the U.S., Caggiano is well aware of the trends of people, especially the young, leaving organized religion behind. (Connecticut was even identified as a somewhat “ground zero” for Catholics leaving the church.) He has heard the “spiritual but not religious” axiom — what he defines as “spiritual is me, religious is we” — and is familiar with surveys that show people desiring a more welcoming and inclusive church. To him, it all comes back to the relevance of community, and the church making itself credible again. “And credible, in my mind, means authentic.”
“All of that is different ways of saying we have to live what we believe. We have to love in the truly authentic way that Christ has taught us,” Caggiano said. “I think young people who encounter communities like that then find the rationale to say you know what, I am spiritual but maybe it’s worth being religious.”
By Brian Roewe | National Catholic Reporter