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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIII, No. 4
Advent - Christmas 2008

USCCB Report - November 2008
Bishops Respond to Crisis on Life Issues, Catholic Teaching

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

Barely a week after the US presidential election, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) faced a densely packed agenda at their Fall General Assembly held in Baltimore November 10-13. Months of intense and controversial campaigning had raised critical issues involving fundamental Catholic teaching — in particular, on abortion and related “life issues”— and the political responsibility of Catholics, whether elected officials, candidates for office, or voters.

At the opening session, Chicago Cardinal Francis George set the tone for the meeting in his Presidential Address, in which he underscored the fundamental obligation of bishops — and all Catholics — to uphold the truth of Christ in the face of “enormous challenges”. Some excerpts:

The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice. If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be president of the United States. Today, as was the case a hundred and fifty years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good.…

The Church and her life and teaching do not fit easily into the prior narratives that shape our public discussions. As bishops, we can only insist that those who would impose their own agenda on the Church, those who believe and act self-righteously, answerable only to themselves, whether ideologically on the left or the right, betray the Lord Jesus.…

The bishops also heard addresses from the Apostolic Nuncio to the US, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, and Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum; and they released a brief statement of concern about the current economic crisis.

Blessing for a Child in the Womb
Significantly, the first “action item” on the bishops’ list was a new liturgical service, the Order for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, introduced by Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, the chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship. The Committee on Pro-Life Activities helped draft the new blessing service, which received overwhelming approval from the bishops. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville commented that this blessing “is obviously a very tangible way for us to witness pastorally and sacramentally to the life of the unborn child. It’s very consistent with the priorities we’ve raised.”

When the required Vatican approval (recognitio) is received, parishes in the US may use the Blessing liturgy — either within Mass or outside of Mass, in English or Spanish. (For a sample, see: “Blessing for the Mother of an Unborn Child”, page 31.)

Statement on Abortion and “Freedom of Choice Act”
In executive sessions (closed to the press) on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning the bishops discussed a public response to the “enormous challenges” Cardinal George alluded to — in particular to the “Freedom of Choice Act”, which would prohibit any restrictions on abortion, and would retroactively undo all restrictions that now exist in any states. President-elect Barack Obama had promised that enacting FOCA would be a priority of his administration — and Vice President-elect New Jersey Senator Joseph Biden is a life-long Catholic who is consistently pro-abortion.

In a September 30 letter for use during October, Respect Life Month, Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote, in part:

[W]e face the threat of a federal bill that, if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket. The “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA) has many Congressional sponsors, some of whom have pledged to act swiftly to help enact this proposed legislation when Congress reconvenes in January.

FOCA establishes abortion as a “fundamental right” throughout the nine months of pregnancy, and forbids any law or policy that could “interfere” with that right or “discriminate” against it in public funding and programs.…

We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot tolerate an even greater loss of innocent human lives.…

(Full text:

In the public session Tuesday morning, the bishops continued their discussion of the implications of FOCA, with the objective of making an immediate public statement, to be issued by the president, Cardinal George, because a formal statement of the entire conference would entail procedures that would make it impossible to issue it during this meeting.

In the vigorous discussion that ensued, more than forty bishops offered suggestions and strong support for a clear and prophetic statement on the critical issues and their implications. Here are a few of the bishops’ comments:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, auxiliary of Chicago and chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance:

I speak in strong support of Point 3 regarding the defense of the unborn child from the moment of conception. In particular we need to be aware of the significant and adverse effects of the proposed Freedom of Choice Act, which the president-elect has indicated he would sign if the Congress passes it. A devastating consequence for Catholic health care institutions and providers would be the fact that the Freedom of Choice Act in its present form would nullify all conscience laws allowing doctors, nurses or other state-licensed professionals and hospitals or other health-care institutions to object conscientiously to performing or participating in abortions. If this is allowed to happen, the next step would likely be for federal law to require abortions to be performed by all hospitals, including our Catholic hospitals, which, of course, we cannot do. This could necessitate discontinuing all obstetrical services at Catholic hospitals. However, I suspect that the forces of abortion would further seek to require health care institutions to provide abortion services. If that were to happen we would need to consider taking the drastic step of closing our Catholic hospitals entirely. It would not be sufficient simply to withdraw Catholic sponsorship or sell our hospitals to someone else who would provide abortion services, since giving permission to sell or alienate Catholic hospitals to those who would perform abortions would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil. I do not think that I am being alarmist in suggesting the need to consider taking such drastic steps. I am saying that we need to be prepared to respond in a morally appropriate and responsible fashion in the face of increasingly militant and virulent threats to pre-born human life and the moral rights of conscience to protect such life. Thank you.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Philadelphia, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, suggested quoting Pope John Paul’s address during his visit to St. Louis in 1999:

The Dred Scott decision and slavery has already been mentioned, and the Cardinal [George] referred to it in his presidential address. I would like to simply read twelve lines or so, and ask if it might not be possible to insert this quotation from Pope John Paul II on his visit to the United States, precisely to St. Louis, when I was the archbishop, and the quotation which may possibly be able — because the phrases are quite — they’re quite impressive. If I may just read the twelve lines:

“There are times of trial, tests of national character in the history of every country. America has not been immune to them. One such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis. Here the famous Dred Scott case was heard. And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings — people of African descent — outside the boundaries of the national community and of the Constitution’s protection. After untold suffering and with enormous effort that situation has, at least in part, been reversed. America faces a similar time of trial today. Today the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings — the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped and others considered unuseful — to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. Because of the seriousness of the issues involved and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences”.

Perhaps this could be referred to explicitly. Thank you.

Bishop Robert Hermann, administrator, St. Louis:

Your Eminence, I just wanted to really encourage you to make this a very, very strong statement about what we really believe. For this reason: we have lost perhaps fifty times as many children in the last thirty-five years as we have lost soldiers in all the wars since the Revolution. And that is a horrible, horrible thing to answer for. And therefore I think any bishop here would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow to bring about the end of abortion. Now if we’re willing to die tomorrow to bring about the end of abortion, then we should be willing to spend the rest of our lives dedicated to take all kinds of criticism, whatever it is, to stop this horrible genocide. So, I know we’re giving you a tough assignment, but we know you can rise to the occasion. So, I just want to encourage my brothers as they go back home not to be afraid to stand up. To see the gravity of this and not to be afraid to stand up in the pulpit and to defend whatever it is that you write. Thank you.

The one-page statement, released November 12, addressed the destructive effects of FOCA. It called 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade “bad law”, and warned “that a bad court decision will be enshrined in bad legislation that is more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself” if FOCA is passed.

The statement also emphasized the unity of the bishops: “On this issue, the legal protection of the unborn, the bishops are of one mind with Catholics and others of good will.… The bishops are single-minded because they are, first of all, single-hearted.”

It concluded: “Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion”.

This important statement appears on page 6 (Visit the WFF web site — — to access the statement and more bishops’ comments.)

Concerns about CCHD
Chiefly due to questions raised during the election campaign, the bishops heard a report that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has now cut off all funding to any Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)-affiliated groups because of financial irregularities and its support of some pro-abortion groups. There was a lively discussion during Bishop Roger Morin’s presentation to the bishops on November 11. CCHD, originally organized in 1970, does not give direct support to poor people, but does community organizing. (See the November 12 report on CCHD on the USCCB web site: The CCHD mission statement is also on the USCCB web site:

Other Liturgy Decisions
In addition to the Order for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, the bishops voted on two other liturgy items. They approved the second of twelve sections of the English translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal, the Proper of Seasons, the parts of the Mass special to Advent, Lent, Christmas, etc. (The vote was 180 yes, 30 no.) This modified text will be submitted to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, where it will be reviewed and perhaps further altered before it receives final approval. (The Order of Mass received Vatican approval in July, though it will not be used until the entire Missal is completed.) Bishop Serratelli estimated the Roman Missal translation would be in print and ready for use in 2010.

A new translation of psalms for liturgical use, the Conception Abbey Revised Grail Psalter, was approved by a vote of 230-5. It would be used in the Lectionary, Mass texts and for the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office). It, too, requires recognitio from the Holy See.

(For more detail on the bishops’ liturgy actions, see Adoremus Bulletin, Dec 2008 - Jan 2009:

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