Some highlights of the USCCB Meeting
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met in Baltimore November 12-14 for their semi-annual meeting. At the open sessions of their packed schedule, the bishops elected officers, reviewed the restructuring of the conference committees and USCCB “priorities and plans”, voted on statements on Catholics and voting, approved two documents on catechetics and three concerning the liturgy. Susan Benofy and I attended the meeting as members of the press corps.
Much of the bishops’ time was in closed sessions (bishops only): regional meetings on Monday afternoon, a prayer service on Tuesday afternoon, and Wednesday afternoon was entirely devoted to an executive session to discuss Canon 915, which says that Catholics who “obstinately persist in grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” a topic of particular concern in view of the forthcoming election year in which pro-abortion Catholics may be candidates for state and national offices.
As expected, Chicago Cardinal Francis George was elected as president of the USCCB (the vice-president is customarily elected president) He received 188 votes out of the 234 cast. Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas is the new vice-president; Bishop Joseph Kurz of Knoxville was elected Treasurer; and Bishop George Murry, SJ, of Youngstown was elected to fill the unexpired term of Bishop Kicanas as Secretary.
Eight other committee chairmen and two chairmen-elect were also selected at this meeting: Archbishop José Gómez of San Antonio Committee on Cultural Diversity; Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland, Oregon Committee on National Collections; Archbishop Roger Schweitz of Anchorage Committee on Marriage, Family Life, Youth; Cardinal Sean O’Malley Committee on Consecrated Life, Vocations; Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago Committee on Canonical Affairs & Church Governance; Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry of Los Angeles, Committee on Catholic Education; Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany Committee on Justice and Peace; Bishop Blaise Cupich of Rapid City Committee on Protection of Children and Young People; Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta chairman-elect of the Committee on Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs; and Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine chairman-elect of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.
The most extensive discussion (and the most media attention) was given to a new version of “Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States”, a statement on the political responsibilities of Catholic voters. (It does not deal with pro-abortion Catholic politicians who present themselves for Communion, however.)
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, chairman of the Committee on Social Development and World Peace, led the discussion. “Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election”, the statement says. The new document, and its companion summary, is a statement of the entire conference (not just its administrative committee, as in the past). It is posted on the USCCB web site: http://www.usccb.org/bishops/FCStatement.pdf.
Papal Visit to US and UN Announced
In his address to the USCCB on November 12, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, announced Pope Benedict’s visit to the US and the United Nations April 12-20, 2008.
The main purpose of the visit, Archbishop Sambi said, is to observe the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first diocese in the United States, Baltimore (which then included New York, Philadelphia and Boston). The pope will arrive in Washington April 15, receive an official welcome at the White House, and address the US bishops’ conference on April 16, his 80th birthday. The next day he will meet with representatives of Catholic education institutions at the Catholic University of America and at the John Paul II Center; then go to New York on April 18 where he will address the United Nations and meet with ecumenical religious leaders, and on the 19th will meet with youth and seminarians. On the 20th there will be a meeting with religious and an afternoon Mass at Yankee Stadium.
“Responsible transition” in Iraq
On Sunday, before the USCCB meeting began, the bishops had a workshop on “The Ethics of Responsible Transition in Iraq”. The USCCB Administrative Committee had authorized USCCB President, Bishop William Skylstad of Seattle, to prepare a letter, and Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, who heads the Bishops’ International Policy committee, to prepare a summary statement of USCCB policy on Iraq. Bishop Skylstad’s letter calls for “bipartisan cooperation on responsible transition in Iraq” and “withdrawal at the earliest opportunity consistent with that goal”. The statement notes a “dangerous political stalemate in Iraq that blocks national reconciliation”, and says that “We are alarmed by the political and partisan stalemate in Washington. Some policy makers seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the reality and failures in Iraq and the imperative for new directions. Others seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the potential human consequences of very rapid withdrawal. These two forms of denial have helped contribute to partisan paralysis”.
During the brief discussion, two bishops (Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago, and Bishop James Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas) suggested there needed to be more balance in the statement, and it should include some of the reasons that brought us into the war. No vote was required for the letter and summary. (The documents are on the USCCB web site: http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/index.shtml).
Catechetical Curriculum Guidelines
Two guidelines for publishers of catechetical books were presented by Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, chairman of the Committee on Catechesis. The first, “Catechetical Formation for Chaste Living”, is a resource to assist publishers to shape catechetical materials for teaching human sexuality in Catholic schools. Archbishop Wuerl stressed that “this is not catechetical education in sexuality, but in morality and virtue. Biology and physiology are not the focus of this draft.” The second document provided guidelines on doctrinal elements for high-school religion textbooks. All books produced by individual publishers will be subject to approval by the Catechism Committee. The bishops overwhelmingly approved both guidelines: 98.2%, and 100%, respectively.
Other committee members are Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB (Indianapolis); Archbishop José H. Gómez (San Antonio); Bishop Leonard Blair (Toledo); Bishop Michael Burbidge (Raleigh); Bishop Richard Malone (Portland, Maine); and Bishop David L. Ricken (Cheyenne).
Liturgy Actions: Music, Weekday Celebrations; Lectionary
The three liturgy “Action Items” the bishops approved were 1) a set of guidelines on music for worship replacing two outdated statements; 2) a liturgical document providing for weekday “Word-and-Communion” services without a priest; and 3) a second segment of a re-revised Lectionary for Mass. The latter two items require Vatican approval. All were introduced by Bishop Donald Trautman, of Erie, who concluded his tenure as chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy at the end of this meeting. He is succeeded by Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson.
“Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship” replaces earlier BCL statements on music, “Music in Catholic Worship” and “Liturgical Music Today”, which provided the rationale for the production of liturgical music in the US. It is meant to supplement the “Directory on Music in the Liturgy”, which was approved by the bishops last November and is still awaiting recognitio (approval) from the Congregation for Divine Worship.
The bishops also reviewed the 399 amendments to the document submitted before the meeting by more than a dozen bishops, and a few more received during the meeting. The bishops’ proposals for changes were mostly thoughtful suggestions, and many were accepted by the committee. This significantly improved the result. But the bishops did not see the altered text before they voted on it. It was issued as a formal statement of the USCCB, which required 2/3 majority vote. After a very brief discussion, it was approved by 88% (132). Only 12 bishops voted against it.
The bishops also overwhelmingly approved (90%) a liturgical document in English and Spanish versions, “Weekday Celebration Liturgy of the Word”, to provide daily services when no priest is available, similar to the “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest”. As an official liturgical document, it requires recognitio of the Holy See, and it includes the stipulation that it may be used only with the permission of the diocesan bishop. Though its title does not refer to Communion, it also includes distribution of Communion by a deacon or lay person (extraordinary minister of Holy Communion). Bishop Trautman, in introducing the document, said it is intended to be used when there are no nearby parishes that people can attend, such as in rural areas, jails, or nursing homes.
The third liturgical action of the bishops was approval of the second segment of a new revision of the Lectionary. This part contains readings for the Sundays of Lent and the Passion account. As with the Advent readings approved last November, the justification given for the revision is to provide translations that are “more suitable for proclamation, and more understandable”. (The Lectionary currently in use had required correction by several US bishops and Vatican officials because of the deficiencies in the base Scripture texts used chiefly “inclusive language” problems.) This newly revised segment received approval of 95% of the bishops (16 bishops voted against it.)
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