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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVI, No. 4
Advent - Christmas 2011

Bishops' Conference Focus
on Religious Liberty at November Meeting

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

The bishops of the United States showed their determination to overcome recently intensified intrusion into key issues involving religious liberty at their plenary meeting in Baltimore November 14-16.

Although the challenges involving the right to life, liberty, and religious freedom are not exactly new, the undermining of these inalienable rights by the government, at both federal and state levels, has been particularly aggressive in recent months.

We have seen this most recent escalation in the increasing pressure by the government on Church agencies operating social welfare programs to provide clients with contraception, sterilization, and abortion, and requiring them to place children for adoption with same-sex couples; as well as mandating that Catholic institutions provide health-insurance coverage for contraception and abortion to their employees. Recent opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, federal legislation that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, is also of concern to Catholics.

New Committee on Religious Liberty

The active response by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to these external threats to the Church that undermine essential moral and ethical principles is most strikingly evidenced by their creation of a new Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty — announced by USCCB president Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York only weeks before their November meeting.

At a meeting of the USCCB Administrative Committee in September, the bishops overwhelmingly approved the creation of the new committee, and the hiring of additional staff in the offices of general counsel and government relations to address the issue. Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was named chairman.

Members include Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. of Philadelphia; Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville; Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta; Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis; Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix; Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois; Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile; Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington.

Among the consultants are John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America; Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law School; Judge Michael McConnell, Stanford University Law School; Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus; and Richard Garnett, University of Notre Dame Law School.

In his address to the USCCB on Monday, November 14, Bishop Lori stressed the need to focus on both “the Church’s teaching on human dignity and religious liberty, a dignity and freedom inscribed on the human heart and revealed fully in Christ” and the “heritage bequeathed by the Founding Fathers: a bold Declaration of Independence that recognizes inherent human rights, ‘endowed by their Creator’; and the Constitution with its Bill of Rights that accords a certain primacy to our freedom to respond to that Creator, in every aspect of our lives, without undue government interference, along with the indispensable adjuncts of freedom of speech and assembly”.

“If religious liberty is prior to the state and not a privilege the government grants and so may take away at will, then we rightfully look to our government to fulfill its duty to protect religious liberty, to promote tolerance among various religious faiths and those who profess no faith, and broadly to accommodate the place of religion in American life”, Bishop Lori said. He continued:

Indeed, Archbishop Dolan gave voice to what we collectively see: “Never before have we faced this kind of challenge in our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider.  If we do not act now, the consequence will be grave” (National Catholic Register, Oct. 23, 2011).

Among the challenges we see is a pattern in culture and law to treat religion merely as a private matter between an individual and his or her God. Instead of promoting toleration of differing religious views, certain laws, court decisions, and administrative regulations treat religion not as a contributor to our nation’s common morality but rather as a divisive and disruptive force better kept out of public life.  Some invoke the so-called doctrine of separation of church and state to exclude the Church from public policy, thus ignoring the historic role of churches in ending slavery, in securing civil rights, in promoting just labor practices, including the introduction of child labor laws.

So while religion is indeed a personal matter, it is not a private matter, for there is no religious liberty if we are not free to express our faith in the public square and if we are not free to act on that faith through works of education, health care, and charity ... just as there is no freedom of speech if one is free to say what he or she believes only privately but not publicly through the media, the arts, libraries, and schools.

Bishop Lori called for the active involvement of priests and laity, and thanked his brother bishops for “seeing the urgency of defending religious liberty for our Church and for all believers”. He said he hopes that “the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty will be of greatest service to all of us in our dioceses, in our role as teachers, as pastors, as lovers of truth and freedom —as watchmen!”

(Bishop Lori’s complete address is accessible on the USCCB web site.)

During a press conference, Archbishop Dolan reported that he had met with President Barack Obama a week before the USCCB meeting. They discussed religious liberty issues in their “off-the-record” conversation, Archbishop Dolan said, and described the meeting as very cordial.

New Nuncio to the United States

The new apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, whose appointment was announced October 19, was introduced to the assembly at the beginning of their meeting. In his address to the bishops, the archbishop said, “Despite the many challenges you may encounter today in modern society, the Holy Father is putting great hope in the Church in this country for the future of the Universal Church”.

Archbishop Viganò, 70, succeeds Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who died in July. He has served in the Vatican’s diplomatic service and in the Secretariat of State, and his most recent position was as the second in command of the commission that runs the government of the Vatican city-state.

Memorials for Blessed John Paul II and Marianne Cope

As anticipated, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to add an optional memorial for Blessed John Paul II to the liturgical calendar for the United States. His feast will be observed on October 22, the date of his assuming the papacy.

They also voted to add Blessed Marianne Cope (1838-1918) to the official US calendar at a date to be determined. Sister Marianne, then superior of the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, New York, went to Hawaii in 1883 to work among lepers with Blessed Damien of Moloka’i. She was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in May 2005.

Update on New Missal

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, presented an update on the use of the new translation of the Roman Missal, which was introduced in US parishes on November 27, the first Sunday of Advent.

Archbishop Aymond reported that revised translations for the blessing of oils used during Holy Week have been delayed, but are expected to be received before Holy Week; and that an interim version of the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children has already been published. (This book, to be used only when the congregation is made up of young children, is not a complete new translation, but it does include the revised translations of the preface dialogue, Sanctus, words of institution, memorial acclamations, and concluding doxology.)

He also responded to questions that have arisen about using the new texts of the Roman Missal for other rites of the Church. The responses (e.g. “and with your spirit”), the Confiteor (“I confess”), the Creed, the Lamb of God, and the dismissal are to be used in any other rituals where these occur, even though new translations of these rites have not yet been done. The new Missal collects (opening prayers) are also to be used at funeral Masses, he said.

The new collects may also be used at the end of the Liturgy of the Hours, Archbishop Aymond said, although the collects in the current books may still be used. He also reported that the status of the Liturgy of the Hours is under discussion by the Committee — including use of the Grail Psalms and other scripture translations.

In response to a question from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston about administering Holy Communion in nursing homes, where some older people may have difficulties in making the proper responses, Archbishop Aymond said that “the guideline is to use the new translation, but pastoral practice may dictate [being] more flexible on that in certain circumstances”.

Anglican Ordinariate

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Washington, DC, announced that the new Anglican Ordinariate will be established for the United States on January 1, 2012, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, at which time the leader of the Ordinariate (who may be a priest or bishop) will be named. Cardinal Wuerl heads the USCCB ad hoc committee on the Ordinariate, designated to lead efforts in the United States to receive Anglican groups into the Catholic Church, allowing them to retain some elements of Anglican liturgical practices. It stems from the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus issued by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009, which authorized the creation of ordinariates, geographic regions similar to dioceses but typically national in scope.

Cardinal Wuerl also announced that Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth was appointed by the Vatican as Ecclesiastical Delegate for the “Pastoral Provision”, through which married Anglican priests become diocesan priests in the Catholic Church. The “Pastoral Provision” was created by the Holy See in 1980, under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It oversees formation of former-Anglican priests who enter the Catholic Church. The Pastoral Provision is separate from the Ordinariate, although they will work closely together.

Other Actions

Other items on the bishops’ packed two-day agenda included reports on the Conference’s restructuring plans, setting priorities for coming years, reviewing financial plans, and election of several new USCCB committee members. (Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle was chosen as secretary-elect.)

The bishops also established a Subcommittee on Health Care issues, which will serve under the Committee on Doctrine, and they were informed about the new activities that have been initiated for strengthening marriage (notably online resources on the USCCB web site). In addition to the press conferences following the main sessions, a special press conference was held to report on Project Rachel, the post-abortion healing ministry that is now overseen by the USCCB Pro-life Activities Committee.

Helen Hull Hitchcock and Susan Benofy attended all sessions of the USCCB conference that were open to the press.

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