Raleigh bishop says pope making impact before US trip
Posted September 9, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh is among the members of the church hierarchy who will be spending some time with Pope Francis during his trip to the United States in two weeks.
As many as 2 million people are expected for the pope's final Mass on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Burbidge said he knows Francis' message will go far beyond those in attendance.
"It's not uncommon for me to be greeted by someone in the community, 'Bishop, I'm not Catholic, but I love your pope,'" he said Wednesday. "'So do we,' I say."
Still, Burbidge knows that popularity will go only so far when Francis broaches subjects like poverty and climate change on Capitol Hill and the United Nations.
"My prayer is that the president, the members of Congress, those at the United Nations and the faithful really do have open ears and an open heart," the bishop said.
Francis already is setting a tone for his appearances in New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Burbidge said.
In the past week, the pope has declared an upcoming Holy Year of Mercy during which priests will be allowed to absolve women who have had abortions of their sins. Some bishops, including Burbidge, already allow priests to absolve women who have had abortions, while in other dioceses, bishops have reserved the decision for themselves.
"No sin, when we have a desire to be forgiven, to begin anew, is greater than the love and mercy of God, and this latest act was a way of reinforcing that idea," he said.
On Tuesday, Francis reformed the process for annulling marriages, overhauling 300 years of church practice by creating a new fast-track annulment and doing away with an automatic appeal that often slowed the process down.
Burbidge said, however, that the Catholic church is not making divorce easier.
"The church in no way could ever do that because of its strong belief in the sacredness (or marriage). It's not a contract, it's a covenant," he said.