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Voices Online Edition
Advent 2000
Volume XV, No. 4

WFF Special Report
US Bishops tackle packed agenda at Fall 2000 meeting

Barely a week after the most conflicted presidential balloting in US history, the the nation's bishops met in Washington for their Fall 2000 meeting November 13-16 and were faced with an unusually heavy and varied agenda.

During the busy sessions of their three-and-a-half-day meeting, the bishops elected officers; approved documents on prison reform, immigrants, issued statements on the Supreme Court and on Sudan.

They adopted new guidelines on church architecture to replace a controversial 1978 statement, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship. The four-chapter guidelines, Built of Living Stones, was made available on the US bishops' web site November 17. They also approved new Conference statutes -- a process initiated a decade ago. (The present two agencies, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference, will be combined and known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

They decided on a Mexican translation for Spanish-language liturgical books; reviewed norms for the age of Confirmation; established a standing Committee on Catechesis (to replace the present ad hoc committee); and revisited and voted on "complementary norms" to implement Canon Law concerning media.

Discussion of the Canons focused on a bishop's right to approve programming on Catholic media (that is, radio and television). The reason given for implementing this canon was that Catholics who represent the Church on the air must be in accord with magisterial teaching. Though it was not mentioned, this had become an issue because Bishop Daniel Foley of Birmingham objected to EWTN's telecasting the Mass with the priest-celebrant facing the same direction as the people (ad orientem), instead of facing toward the people (versus populum), now the usual practice.

On a strikingly similar subject, the bishops returned again to their long-delayed (and required) implementation of the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, issued ten years ago. It had made explicit the bishop's responsibility to assure authentic teaching at Catholic institutions of higher learning. The subject of this phase of the discussion was the "mandatum" [mandate] that a bishop is to give theologians and theologians should request. (A story and a transcription of the discussion on the mandatum can be found here.)

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