Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., during his general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican Dec. 7. Bishop O’Connell and other New Jersey and Pennsylvania bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses.
CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., during his general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican Dec. 7. Bishop O’Connell and other New Jersey and Pennsylvania bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses.

CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

By Anthony J. Mingarino | Special Contributor and Rayanne Bennett | Associate Publisher

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is currently in Rome as part of his first “ad limina”  visit to the Holy See as Chief Shepherd of the Diocese of Trenton.  Bishop O’Connell, along with several other Trenton Diocesan officials, began their 10-day visit to the Vatican Nov. 30 along with the bishops of Region 3, which consists of the (arch) dioceses of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“Ad limina” simply means “to the threshold of” and in the case of a bishop’s visit to the Holy See, it means a visit “to the threshold of the Apostles.”

The custom of bishops visiting the pontiff dates back many centuries but has taken its present discipline found in the Decree of the Consistorial Congregation, issued by Pope Pius X in 1909. This decree states that every bishop must render to the pope an account of the state of his diocese once every five years, a period known as the quinquennial period.  In the United States, diocesan bishops go to the Vatican by region. 

The Diocese of Trenton last made an “ad limina” visit in 2004 for the period 1998 through 2003 and was actually due for its next visit in 2009.  However, the death of Pope John Paul II and the elevation of Pope Benedict XVI to the papacy in that year resulted in a delay in the regular schedule. Bishop O’Connell’s visit this year is really a report on the state of the diocese for a seven-year period, 2004 through 2010.

The Quinquennial Report is a comprehensive view of the state of the diocese for the prescribed period, and includes a three- to four-page summary section in which the bishop provides an overview of the diocese, the priorities, the challenges, and a general blueprint for the future.  Since Bishop O’Connell was the diocesan bishop for only one month of the seven year period, the report reflected more on his plans for the future.

Key to the Quinquennial Report is a side-by-side comparison of statistics and other measurable indicators from two points in time: January 2004 and December 2010.  The statistics reflect trends, growth and changes in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The report notes that the Catholic population increased from 780,925 to 831,707; the number of diocesan priests decreased from 202 to 194; the number of religious priests decreased from 51 to 32; the number of religious women decreased from 405 to 321, and the number of seminarians increased from 24 to 35.

Other sections, to name a few, report on efforts put in place in the diocese in the areas of liturgical and sacramental life; Catholic education; catechesis; life and ministry of the clergy; the laity; pastoral care of the family; social communications; social justice, and Christian charity.  The Quinquennial Report also includes a financial State of the Diocese and a General Assessment and Outlook for the Future.

During his visit in Rome, Bishop O’Connell will have met with the heads of various Vatican congregations and pontifical councils, and the pope himself during the course of the week, answering whatever  questions they may have.

Bishop O’Connell was accompanied on this trip by Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith.
 

Mingarino serves the Diocese of Trenton as chancellor and chief administrative officer.