Twelve Roman Catholic bishops from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico will spend this week in Rome for a special visit that includes a two-and-a-half-hour group meeting with Pope Francis, the boss who “keeps us on our toes,” said Bishop Michael Sheridan, who leads 180,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
“It’s always an opportunity to renew our unity with the Holy Father and with the Church in Rome,” Sheridan said Friday, as he prepared to depart on Saturday for an “ad limina apostolorum,” Latin for “a visit to the threshold of the apostles.”
The Holy See requires the more than 3,000 ruling bishops around the world to participate in the combined business and spiritual trip. Bishops must submit a report on accomplishments and challenges in their dioceses and travel to the Vatican to review the report with the pope and overseers. They also pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul and celebrate Mass at major churches in Rome.
It’s been nearly eight years and one pope ago since the last ad limina apostolorum for Sheridan, who has headed the local diocese for 17 years. It most likely will be his last. Sheridan turns 75 on March 4, the obligatory retirement age for Catholic bishops.
Sheridan said he will submit his resignation on his birthday, but won’t step down immediately.
“It usually takes time in Rome to identify a successor,” he said, “and they won’t accept my resignation until they’ve identified somebody who’ll succeed me.”
He doesn’t expect the topic to come up during his Vatican visit.
Regional bishops sent their reports off to the Holy See last August, Sheridan said. Among the highlights he mentioned are the 17 priests he’s ordained since he arrived in Colorado Springs in 2003 and six or so additional priests who were already ordained that he’s brought here.
“That was a big goal of mine because we had so few diocesan priests,” Sheridan said.
Local Catholic schools are more than holding their own, he also mentioned in the report. Attendance this school year is up by 100 students for a total enrollment of 1,550 in preschool through 12th grade at various sites.
“It’s going in the right direction,” Sheridan said. “Schools remain a challenge, but we’ve deepened our identity of our Catholic schools and are encouraging more parents to send their kids.”
Sheridan also touted the diocese’s social outreach through the Marian House Soup Kitchen and related services for homeless and low-income residents that include assistance with jobs, access to housing, medical care and support for families and pregnant women.
An ongoing goal, he said, is evangelical outreach to those on the fringes of the Church and young people leaving.
“Sadly, every diocese is suffering from that,” he said.
The Colorado attorney general’s report on clergy sexual abuse that was released in October was not included in the local report because it was due in Rome two months before the report came out, Sheridan said. It’s a subject that the pope could raise, he said.
The Diocese of Colorado Springs had three documented cases of child sex abuse by clergy and several incidents involving a priest when the diocese was under the archdiocese of Denver. Reparations of more than $1 million have started being paid o some of the 78 people statewide who met a recent filing deadline.
Sheridan met Pope Francis, often referred to as a “no frills” pope who identifies with the marginalized and has ventured outside the bounds of traditional theology, during a pilgrimage with local parishioners he led to Rome years ago, and also co-celebrated Mass with the pope at his residence.
"His style is quite different from any other pope in my time," Sheridan said. "But it's appreciated greatly, as he tries to be close to the people."
The ad limina visit is busy, he added, with meetings and activities from early in the morning late into the evening.
“It’s all very interesting, the kind of things you hear about and read about, you get to be right there and ask people questions and talk with them,” Sheridan said.
“But let’s be honest,” he joked, “I look forward to the pasta.”
Sheridan said he plans to remain in Colorado Springs after retirement and help whoever becomes the new bishop learn the job.