U.S. ‘ad limina’ visits expected to begin in late 2011

VATICAN CITY — Word around the Vatican is that U.S. bishops will begin making their next round of “ad limina” visits — their first with Pope Benedict — in late 2011, about a year from now.

The visits feature individual and group meetings with the pope, encounters with Vatican officials and prayers at the tomb of St. Peter. In a sense, they are “reporting to headquarters” sessions, and the pope’s speeches to each regional group are considered a highlight.

Theoretically, these visits are made every five years by heads of dioceses around the world, but they’ve been backlogged for some time, so the interval has lengthened. U.S. bishops last came for “ad limina” visits in 2004. That year, it took 10 months for all the U.S. groups to come through Rome.

If the Vatican holds to a similar schedule, that means the pope will be addressing U.S. bishops well into 2012 — an election year, by the way — on topics that typically range from internal church affairs to public policy issues like abortion and gay marriage.

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