BALTIMORE — Though there were no actions on the U.S. bishops’ agenda in Baltimore dealing with immigration, poverty and other public policy issues, the president of their conference said Nov. 11 that he hopes to meet with President Barack Obama and House and Senate leaders soon on several topics.
In a brief comment during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, said he had heard from many of his brother bishops about those issues and hopes conferring with the politicians will supplement the work that committees and USCCB staff are doing.
He told Catholic News Service that he intends to pursue a meeting with the president and congressional leaders as soon as December.
In other action on the second public day of the Nov. 10-13 meeting, the bishops:
• Approved several liturgical items, including a revised translation of the ritual book used whenever a new church is built or when a new altar is made; the first official English translation of the ritual book “Exorcisms and Related Supplications”; and a supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours that is an English translation of the prayers used for the feast days of saints who have been added to the general calendar since 1984.
• Voted to proceed with a revision of a section of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services dealing with partnerships.
• Endorsed the sainthood cause of Father Paul Wattson, co-founder of the Society of the Atonement in 1899, and in his day a leading advocate of Christian unity.
• Approved a 2015 budget of just under $189.5 million. They also voted on a 3 percent increase in the diocesan assessment for 2016, but the vote fell short of the required two-thirds majority of the 197 bishops required to approve it. Eligible members absent from the Baltimore meeting will be canvassed to determine the final vote.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina, chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, gave a presentation on the newly revised “Guidelines for Receiving Pastoral Ministers in the United States.”
As the number of priests and pastoral ministers from other countries increases in the United States, he said the resource, now in its third edition, provides information for dioceses, eparchies and religious communities to prepare international ministers for their service and help the communities that receive them.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, USCCB secretary and chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans, told the bishops that a myriad of activities revolving around four key goals of the USCCB is an indication that “the conference planning process is working quite well.”
The current four goals, or priorities, are faith formation and sacramental practice; strengthening marriage and family life; the life and dignity of the human person; and religious liberty.
The bishops also heard a report on the work of various committees — pro-life, domestic justice, international justice, evangelization and religious liberty — which together are trying to pinpoint what Catholics in the pew are thinking and why they accept or disregard church teaching.
The compilation of vast data is being assembled for bishops to read and also will be relayed in series of workshops. One of the major findings from the study — that Catholics want to find out more about their faith — has prompted plans for a 2017 convocation in Orlando, Florida, the week of July 4.
In considering the bishops’ ethical directives for Catholic health care, the discussion focused on whether to revise Part 6, “Forming New Partnerships with Health Care Organizations.” It will take into account principles suggested by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Once completed, the revision will be presented to the bishops for final approval.
Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, invited the bishops to a 2015 Lay Ecclesial Ministry Summit. The June 7, 2015, event will mark the 10th anniversary of the bishops’ statement “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.” It will be held just prior to the USCCB spring general assembly in St. Louis.
In elections, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans won the secretary-elect spot. The committee chairmen-elect are: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, pro-life activities; Auxiliary Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Indianapolis, communications; Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, cultural diversity; Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, doctrine; Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Alabama, national collections. Each will assume their offices next November for a three-year term.
The meeting included reports on the recently concluded extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family; Catholic education and an outreach to Hispanic students in underserved communities; the progress of planning for the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia; the status of the 2013-16 USCCB strategic plan, “The New Evangelization: Faith, Worship, Witness”; the 2015 Fortnight of Freedom; and the defense of marriage.
Several bishops who participated in the synod talked about their experience there, and also discussed it in one of three news conferences during the meeting’s public sessions. Cardinal Dolan said at the news conference that he thought reports of the synod as “confrontational and divisive” conflicted with his impressions. “The one we were at was hardly as spicy (and) juicy,” he said.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington and chairman of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on the Church in Africa, reported on continuing strong growth for the church in Africa and said U.S. Catholics deserve thanks and credit for their financial support for the effort. “Some dioceses (in Africa) have more catechumens than Catholics,” he said, adding that in some dioceses as many as 5,000 people have joined the church in a year. Such growth rates “are somewhat like the early centuries of the church,” he said.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, reported on a 12-day prayer pilgrimage for peace in the Holy Land in September. Eighteen bishops visited sacred sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and met with people who helped them understand the struggles of the people of each faith.
“We know peace is possible,” Bishop Cantu said, “because God is our hope.” But “after another Gaza war, hope is now in short supply. What is needed now is the transformation of human hearts, so that one side’s hearts is less deaf to the concerns of the other.”
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the committee, extended for another three years, planned to focus more on teaching and expanding networks with Catholic lay groups and interfaith and ecumenical partners. He said threats to religious liberty remain a great concern.
“The challenges to religious liberty with regard to the redefinition of marriage grow daily,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, in his report.
He said that for several years, the subcommittee has “sought to defend marriage’s unique meaning, while also calling attention to the real negative consequences and anticipated threats that marriage redefinition poses to religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia formally opened its arms to the world as Archbishop Charles J. Chaput announced that registration has officially begun for the World Meeting of Families next year there.
On Nov. 10, the bishops concelebrated Mass at Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to mark the 225th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Baltimore, the first diocese created for the United States. It was made an archdiocese in 1808.
Archbishop Lori said in his homily that all Catholics are heirs “to this precious legacy” set forth by the first nation’s first Catholic bishop, Bishop John Carroll.
“Let us humbly ask for the grace to build on the foundations that John Carroll set down,” Archbishop Lori said.