ST. PETERSBURG — As the Roman Catholic Church grapples with an unfolding sexual abuse crisis worldwide, about 200 bishops from across the United States are in St. Petersburg this week for a long-planned, once-in-three-year assembly focused on prayer and reflection.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops assembly runs through Saturday at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.
The bishops, who hold two general meetings a year, schedule a retreat every three years for "prayer and refreshing their souls," said Mar Muñoz-Visoso, assistant director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.
Muñoz-Visoso said the bishops are getting a group discount at the luxury hotel, where Tuesday some were seen in street clothes.
Browsing through a display of clerical shirts, collars and other appointments, Bishop William Patrick Callahan, newly appointed to the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., said he has friends in the Tampa Bay area and was enjoying the weather, humidity and all.
Some of his colleagues also stopped to take in the display that included an amethyst ring, pectoral crosses starting at $895 and the green and gold cords from which they hang. It all had been "schlepped down here from New York" by Marvin Goldman, 82, of Duffy & Quinn. He said his Jewish family became clothing suppliers for Catholic clerics when the custom-made suit business declined.
"My father said, 'We will make a black suit for the clergy," said Goldman, who was offering "special price reductions" for the conference.
Tuesday he also displayed the firm's mitres that can sell from $250 to $495, "depending on the fabric and trim," birettas that fold flat for travel, cassocks and other vestments. The magenta zucchettos or skullcaps the bishops wear are, however, imported from the legendary Gammarelli tailors in Rome, who have outfitted popes for more than 200 years.
The media was not allowed at the retreat, but Bishop Robert N. Lynch, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, which spans Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, offered an insider's peek at the weeklong gathering in his May 31 blog.
"It is relaxed and informal," he said.
"It is something like five days of continuing education and this year the general theme is 'the bishop and his priests' … Relationships between bishops and priests is an important topic because it has changed for the worse since the sexual-abuse controversy of 2001 and following. In many places priests don't trust their bishops any longer and are terrified that they will receive a call and be asked to come and see the bishop for fear it might be a complaint or something of that nature," Lynch wrote.
He said that the assembly had invited Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana to deliver the homilies at morning and evening prayer and daily Mass and to lead the holy hours and the service of reconciliation and penance.
But there will be opportunities to relax. Evenings are open for informal conversation or even seeing recent movies, Lynch said.
The bishops were supposed to see The Blind Side on Tuesday and Invictus today. There's also the option to go sightseeing.
"If you happen to be in downtown St. Petersburg … and see a group of men in the evening walking through Straub or Vinoy Park, it will likely be some of us," the bishop told his flock.
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