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Catholic leaders meeting in Orlando seeks to bring ‘Joy of the Gospel’ vision to U.S. church

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — This summer’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders comes at a time when the U.S. Catholic Church is seeking how best to respond to a changing social landscape while bringing Pope Francis’ vision for a church that offers mercy and joy to the world.

Volunteers serve guests lunch in the main dining hall of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016 in Phoenix. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations will gather July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., for the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" sponsored by the U.S. bishops.(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Volunteers serve guests lunch in the main dining hall of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016 in Phoenix. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations will gather July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., for the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” sponsored by the U.S. bishops.(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Called by the bishops, the historic convocation will find more than 3,000 Catholic leaders — bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople — meeting July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, to focus on how the pope’s 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), applies in the United States.

The pope’s document lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization, missionary discipleship, in a positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.

Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and a convocation planner, sees the gathering as a way for Catholics across the diverse spectrum of the church to unify in Christ.

“The beauty of it for us as Catholics is it’s not just another trade meeting,” Reyes said. “This is centered, as Pope Francis said again and again, in the encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s what holds us together. Even Catholics need a moment of unity these days. Not just our country, but we as Catholics need a moment of unity around Christ.”

The idea of missionary discipleship expressed by the pope has taken root in the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s the pre-eminent theme in the 2017-2020 strategic plan the bishops adopted during their annual fall general assembly in November.

Planning for the gathering, titled “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” has been underway for a few years. It is being called to examine today’s concerns, challenges and opportunities for action in light of the church’s evangelization mission, Reyes said.

“So we’re going to encounter Christ together, converse together, pray together, encounter one another and talk very practically about what are the challenges, what’s it mean to be missionary disciples at this moment and how do we go out and do it,” Reyes said.

Planners want people to mix and mingle and learn from each other during the invitation-only event.

“This group of people would never be in the same strategic conversations together if it weren’t for the bishops calling them together. They are in all kinds of ministries throughout the church. They are professionals in all the different fields, education, business, teachers. We have people from all socioeconomic groups,” Reyes said.

Such a gathering of bishops and key church leaders has occurred just once before within the U.S. church.

In 1917, in response to the country’s entry into World War I, the bishops met with a select group of leaders to determine how to respond to social needs emerging from the war. That meeting at The Catholic University of America in Washington led to the formation of the National Catholic War Council “to study, coordinate, unify and put in operation all Catholic activities incidental to the war.” After the war, the bishops met to make the council permanent and established the National Catholic Welfare Council, the forerunner to today’s USCCB.

“They were responding to a very different crisis, World War I. But there was a sense of the importance of the moment that the church of the United States had to come together under the bishops to find a way of going forward, a vision of hope for the country and to serve,” Reyes said.

Today, like the wider society, the U.S. church is grappling with how best to respond to rapid sociological changes: demographics including a rising Latino population and people leaving organized religion, an economy that has led to a smaller middle class, a broadening of the legal definition of marriage, polarization along ideological lines and technological advances that have changed how people relate with each other.

How to respond under the guidance of Pope Francis will begin to be discussed during the convocation. Each day has its own theme for participants to consider in light of changing church and social structures:

  • July 1: National Unity
  • July 2: Landscape and Renewal
  • July 3: Work and Witness
  • July 4: A Spirit of Mission

On days 2 and 3, plenary sessions will feature panel discussions pertaining to an aspect of the themes with nearly two dozen breakout sessions exploring topics influencing the church’s work.

Mass will be part of each day as well. The July 3 Mass will incorporate religious liberty as part of the bishops’ annual Fortnight for Freedom observance.

Reyes and planners, including the bishops envision the convocation as a starting point with Pope Francis providing the inspiration through his call to bring the Gospel to others.

“The Gospel is a pretty good thing to rally around,” Reyes told CNS. “You can build a lot unity out of it.”

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Trump visits Catholic school in Florida to show support for school choice

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ORLANDO, Fla. — President Donald Trump visited St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando March 3 to show his support for school choice.

The president was joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a tour of the school that started with a visit to a fourth-grade class.

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., March 3. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also joined the president. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., March 3. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also joined the president. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

The visit was called a listening session.

One of the tour guests was Denisha Merriweather, who attended a private high school through Florida’s voucher program, which she credits with turning her life around.

“We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving,” Trump said. The president also told school administrators that “the love you have for what you do is really fantastic,” The Associated Press reported.

In his address to Congress Feb. 28, Trump said that education was the “civil rights issue of our time” and urged Congress to pass legislation to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, but he did not offer any details.

St. Andrew Catholic School, which opened in 1962, teaches 350 children from pre-K to eighth grade. On its website it says: “Our goals are simple: college and heaven.”

The school partners with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE,  which serves under-resourced Catholic schools.

A March 3 statement from ACE said the president’s visit gave the St. Andrew’s students “a historic opportunity to share their story with the nation.”

“We are acutely aware that the current political climate is among the most polarized in American history,” the statement said. “These divisions have real implications for relationships here in the St. Andrew community.”

It also stressed that “every family has the right to choose the best school for their child” and that “because of the parental choice program in Florida, this school will continue to empower families, form faithful citizens, strengthen the Pine Hills community, and provide children with educational opportunities.”

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Diversity theme dominates U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore

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BALTIMORE — A groundbreaking new study commissioned by the bishops that finds diversity abounds in the U.S. Catholic Church is a clarion call to Catholic institutions and ministries to adapt and prepare for growing diversity, said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio. Read more »

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Christians should apologize for fostering hostility toward gay people, pope says

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Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM ARMENIA — Catholics and other Christians not only must apologize to the gay community, they must ask forgiveness of God for ways they have discriminated against homosexual persons or fostered hostility toward them, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis closes his eyes as he reacts to a question from Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service Rome bureau chief, aboard his flight from Yerevan, Armenia, to Rome June 26. The pope reacted as Wooden mentioned the June 12 shooting that killed 49 at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis closes his eyes as he reacts to a question from Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service Rome bureau chief, aboard his flight from Yerevan, Armenia, to Rome June 26. The pope reacted as Wooden mentioned the June 12 shooting that killed 49 at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“I think the church not only must say it is sorry to the gay person it has offended, but also to the poor, to exploited women” and anyone whom the church did not defend when it could, he told reporters June 26.

Spending close to an hour answering questions from reporters traveling with him, Pope Francis was asked to comment on remarks reportedly made a few days previously by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, that the Catholic Church must apologize to gay people for contributing to their marginalization.

At the mention of the massacre in early June at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Pope Francis closed his eyes as if in pain and shook his head in dismay.

“The church must say it is sorry for not having behaved as it should many times, many times — when I say the ‘church,’ I mean we Christians because the church is holy; we are the sinners,” the pope said. “We Christians must say we are sorry.”

Changing what he had said in the past to the plural “we,” Pope Francis said that a gay person, “who has good will and is seeking God, who are we to judge him?”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear, he said. “They must not be discriminated against. They must be respected, pastorally accompanied.”

The pope said people have a right to complain about certain gay-pride demonstrations that purposefully offend the faith or sensitivities of others, but that is not what Cardinal Marx was talking about, he said.

Pope Francis said when he was growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, part of a “closed Catholic culture,” good Catholics would not even enter the house of a person who was divorced. “The culture has changed and thanks be to God!”

“We Christians have much to apologize for and not just in this area,” he said, referring again to its treatment of homosexual persons. “Ask forgiveness and not just say we’’re sorry. Forgive us, Lord.”

Too often, he said, priests act as lords rather than fathers, “a priest who clubs people rather than embraces them and is good, consoles.”

Pope Francis insisted there are many good priests in the world and “many Mother Teresas,” but people often do not see them because “holiness is modest.”

Like any other community of human beings, the Catholic Church is made up of “good people and bad people,” he said. “The grain and the weeds — Jesus says the kingdom is that way. We should not be scandalized by that,” but pray that God makes the wheat grow more and the weeds less.

Pope Francis also was asked about his agreeing to a request by the women’s International Union of Superiors General to set up a commission to study the historic role of female deacons with a view toward considering the possibility of instituting such a ministry today.

Both Sister Carmen Sammut, president of the sisters’ group, and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have sent him lists of names of people to serve on the commission, the pope said. But he has not yet chosen the members.

As he did at the meeting with the superiors, Pope Francis told the reporters that his understanding was that women deacons in the early church assisted bishops with the baptism and anointing of women, but did not have a role like Catholic deacons do today.

The pope also joked about a president who once said that the best way to bury someone’s request for action was to name a commission to study it.

Turning serious, though, Pope Francis insisted the role of women in the Catholic Church goes well beyond any offices they hold and he said about 18 months ago he had named a commission of female theologians to discuss women’s contributions to the life of the church.

“Women think differently than we men do,” he said, “and we cannot make good, sound decisions without listening to the women.”

During the inflight news conference, Pope Francis also said:

  • He believes “the intentions of Martin Luther” were not wrong in wanting to reform the church, but “maybe some of his methods were not right.” The church in the 1500s, he said, “was not exactly a model to imitate.”
  • He used the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in 1915-18 because that was the word commonly used in his native Argentina and he had already used it publicly a year ago. Although he said he knew Turkey objects to use of the term, “it would have sounded strange” not to use it in Armenia.
  • Retired Pope Benedict XVI is a “wise man,” a valued adviser and a person dedicated to praying for the entire church, but he can no longer be considered to be exercising papal ministry. “There is only one pope.”
  • “Brexit,” the referendum in which the people of Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, shows just how much work remains to be done by the EU in promoting continental unity while respecting the differences of member countries.
  • The Great and Holy Council of the world’s Orthodox churches was an important first step in Orthodoxy speaking with one voice, even though four of the 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches did not attend the meeting in Crete.
  • When he travels to Azerbaijan in September, he will tell the nation’s leaders and people that the Armenian leaders and people want peace. The two countries have been in a situation of tension since 1988 over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Recognize dignity of all, Orlando bishop says at prayer vigil

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ORLANDO, Fla. — In Orlando and major cities around the nation and the world, people gathered June 13 to pay tribute to those killed and injured in the shooting rampage in Orlando the previous day.

About 700 people also gathered to pray for those attacked and for peace in the world at St. James Cathedral, less than two miles up the street from where the shootings took place at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Patience Carter, one of the survivors of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., cries following a June 14 news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando. A lone gunman, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others early June 12 at the nightclub. (CNS photo/Jim Young, Reuters)

Patience Carter, one of the survivors of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., cries following a June 14 news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando. A lone gunman, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others early June 12 at the nightclub. (CNS photo/Jim Young, Reuters)

The interfaith prayer service was led by Orlando Bishop John G. Noonan, who was joined on the altar by Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, 10 priests of the Orlando Diocese and other religious leaders.

“Our presence here tonight is a symbol of hope. We come to pray,” said Bishop Noonan.

He was joined by Imam Tariq Rashid, of the Islamic Center of Orlando; Bishop Greg Brewer, of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida; Deacon Michael Matheny, of St. Luke Episcopal Cathedral; Huseyin Peker, the Atlantic Institute-Central Florida; the Rev. Tom McCloskey, of First United Methodist Church in Orlando; and the Revs. John Harris, Downtown Baptist Church, and the Rev. Robert Spooney, of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

“We come not as different religions but one in the Lord,” said Bishop Noonan, who noted that he was familiar with violence in his home country of Ireland and stressed that people will only find peace when they recognize the dignity of all people as children of God.

The half-hour service, with readings about love and peace and songs echoing that message, was a somber one. Those in the congregation lit candles and exited quietly after singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

When he invited the local community to attend the service, Bishop Noonan said he hoped it would provide an opportunity for all to join each other in prayer that would “bring about an outpouring of the mercy of God within the heart of our community.”

He urged people to pray “for healing from this vicious assault on human life,” for comfort for those suffering loss and “a sincere conversion of heart for all who perpetrate acts of terror in our world.”

Natalia Gil, a 22-year-old parishioner of St. Isaac Jogues in Orlando, attended the prayer service with 10 others from her parish. “We’’e all one big family. We’re here in the name of Jesus,” she told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Orlando.

“We are gathered here because maybe not all of us have someone in common that we know, but we are all one community no matter the religion, what they believed in or who they were,” she added. Some in her group knew the victims either by face or by name. One young woman in the group held back tears and was unable to speak as she mourned for a cousin who was at Pulse nightclub that night.

Gil said she spoke for the group when she said faith is the source of their strength.

“It’s making us want to help our community more. The strength God has given us, the faith he has given us. The spirit he has given us to move forward to want to help others and console others. We are here to receive so we can give back,” she said.

Imam Rashid, who was invited to participate in the prayer service by his friend Father John Giel, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Orlando, has lived in Orlando for 22 years and has three children in the schools in the city.

“I consider this my city and the city of my children. I feel the same sentiments. I feel extra pain because I have dedicated my life in service to the community. This is the time when the local community from different religions should come together and show terrorists that no matter how much evil they do, they cannot break our unity or break our strength,” he said.

Maria Torres, an accredited representative for Comprehensive Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of Central Florida, attended the prayer service to help translate for Spanish speakers and offer support and consolation to victim’s families.

Torres, who volunteered at the agency’s headquarters where family members were told to wait to hear notifications if loved ones had survived, said it was a blessing to be at the cathedral.

“We can pray anywhere, but it is a special blessing to be here at this vigil, to join with other members of our community in prayer for the victims and their families,” she said.

In the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, Bishop Curtis J. Guillory celebrated Mass at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica for those affected by the mass shooting, which left 50 dead (including the gunman) and more than 50 wounded.

Police said a lone gunman identified as 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, opened fire inside the Pulse club in Orlando in the early morning hours of June 13. News reports said that Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.

In his homily, Bishop Guillory said it is OK to be angry about what happened, as he was, but that anger shouldn’t take over. “We cannot allow our anger to be the GPS that moves us. Rather, it ought to be our faith,” he said.

He also urged the congregation not to “pass judgment as the perpetrator did on a group of people. It’s easy for us to do. It’s easy for us to blame the whole Muslim world simply because this individual was a Muslim.”

“Think about it, we did not blame all of the Germans for Hitler nor did we blame all Anglos because of what happened in Charleston,” he said, referring to the white shooter who killed nine people at a historically black church in South Carolina.

“This is where we cannot be guided by our anger,” Bishop Guillory added.

— By Christine Young and Teresa Peterson, who write for  the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Orlando. Contributing to this report was Carol Zimmermann in Washington.

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Philippine bishops call on Catholics not to bully, harass gay community

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MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Catholic bishops called for vigilance against bullying, ostracism and harassment of gay people in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.

People gather at a June 14 candlelight vigil in Manila, Philippines, in memory of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Philippine Catholic bishops called for vigilance against bullying, ostracism and harassment of gay people in the wake of the incident in which police said a lone gunman killed 49 people early June 12 at the club. (CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPA)

People gather at a June 14 candlelight vigil in Manila, Philippines, in memory of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Philippine Catholic bishops called for vigilance against bullying, ostracism and harassment of gay people in the wake of the incident in which police said a lone gunman killed 49 people early June 12 at the club. (CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPA)

“No matter that we may disapprove of the actions, decisions and choices of others, there is absolutely no reason to reject the person, no justification for cruelty, no reason for making outcasts of them,” the country’s Catholic bishops said in a statement.

The bishops described the incident in which a gunman entered a nightclub, began shooting patrons and held some at gunpoint for several hours as a “hate crime” that was perpetrated against persons for their sexual orientation, ucanews.com reported.

The church leaders said the Philippines must address discrimination, explaining that many Filipinos are forced to the peripheries of the human community because the norms of “decent society” forbid association with people of different sexual preferences.

At least 50 people (including the gunman) were killed, and more than 50 others were injured in the June 12 incident.

“We must continue the dialogue and the conversation with (the gay community) over the things about which we disagree,” read the statement signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops’ conference.

“This dialogue must always be an encounter of brothers and sisters, an encounter of friends in the Lord,” the bishops added.

They said the shooting “challenges us to ask ourselves how we can all, not Americans alone, become a better people after having recovered from our grief.”

In his statement, Archbishop Villegas said it is regrettable that the tragedy occurred in the midst of the observance of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“This grim event merely underscores how right Pope Francis was in convoking this year as a year of mercy,” he said.

“The heartlessness with which so many were cut down in their youth or in the prime of life only makes clear how much the world needs mercy,” Archbishop Villegas added.

The Filipino bishops also expressed their condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the tragedy.

“We can and should never reconcile ourselves with violence in society, whether this be the violence of lawless elements, the violence of the self-righteous, the violence of vigilante groups or the violence of government,” the bishops said.

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Pope offers prayers for Orlando victims of ‘terrible, absurd violence’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered prayers for the families of the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando and expressed hope that people would find ways to identify and uproot “the causes of such terrible and absurd violence.”

Pope Francis . (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis . (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A lone gunman, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, killed 49 people early June 12 at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Another 53 people were injured before the gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, was killed by members of a police SWAT team.

Police said Mateen, a private security guard, legally purchased the two guns he used in the shooting, which is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Describing the shooting as an expression of
“homicidal folly and senseless hatred,” a Vatican statement said, “The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil.”

“Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion,” said the statement released June 12. “Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort.

“We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity,” the statement concluded.

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U.S. bishops approve statements on pornography, politics during meeting in Baltimore

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BALTIMORE — The U.S. bishops approved a formal statement on pornography, and an updated revision of a quadrennial statement on the intersection of Catholic teaching in the political arena as part of their Nov. 16-19 fall general meeting in Baltimore.

The votes were made during the public portion of the meeting, which ran Nov. 16-17. The bishops were to meet in executive session Nov. 18-19.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, center, listens to a speaker Nov. 16 during the opening of the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, center, listens to a speaker Nov. 16 during the opening of the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

All votes had to be recorded the old-fashioned way, by hand, as the electronic voting system, which brings near-instantaneous results, failed. With the failure of electronic voting, results were not known for hours after the votes. 

Political responsibility

The 2015 version of political responsibility document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” passed 210-21 with five abstentions, and a separate vote on the statement’s introductory note passed 217-16 with two abstentions; two-thirds of diocesan bishops, or 181 votes, were needed for passage.

It reflects on long-held concerns related to abortion and the needs of poor people. It also references emerging issues related to court decisions on same-sex marriage, public policies that affect religious freedom, and a rising concern for the environment as climate change affects more people around the world.

Questions came from five bishops who said that the document does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has asked the church to do.

The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and euthanasia, that some people “outside of this room” would misuse the document and claim other issues did not carry the same moral weight.

“It does not take into account that Pope Francis has rapidly transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements, not the truth of them, not the substance of them, but the prioritization of them,” Bishop McElroy said.

Porn ‘mortal sin’

The pornography statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” declares that pornography is a “mortal sin” and urges Catholics to turn away from it. Approval of the statement came on a vote of 230-4 with one abstention, with 181 votes needed for passage.

Bishop Richard J. Malone, of Buffalo, New York, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, described pornography as a “dark shadow in our world today.”

He added that pornography is a “particularly sinister instance of consumption” where men, women and children are “consumed for the pleasure of others.”

Priorities

The bishops approved the revised priorities and plans for 2017-20 in a 233-4 vote Nov. 17. The plans emphasize their upcoming focus in five major areas: evangelization, family and marriage, human life and dignity, religious freedom and vocations and ongoing formation.

The revised plans include the same headings but feature some different wording in the “emphasis areas,” which provide more detailed explanations.

In comments on the floor, there were mixed views about the revised plans presented by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Priorities and Plans and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops secretary, along with Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary-elect.

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago said he was afraid the plans seemed “too self-referential” with their emphasis on advocacy for religious freedom and not enough emphasis on global poverty or immigration reform.

Elected

As part of a series of elections, the bishops chose for Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati as treasurer-elect. They also elected Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield as the new general secretary; he has been associate general secretary for five years. He will succeed Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, who has served two three-year terms.

The bishops also voted on a number of chairmen-elect for standing committees. These elect positions mean the winning bishops will take office at the conclusion of the 2016 fall general meeting.

Terror, refugees

While the Nov. 13 terror attacks on Paris were not formally on the USCCB agenda, it crept into the conversation nonetheless.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, issued a statement Nov. 17 on the floor of the meeting.

“I am disturbed,” Bishop Elizondo said, “by calls from both federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States” in the wake of the attacks. “These refugees are fleeing terror themselves, violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization.

“Moreover, refugees to this country must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States, more than any arrival to the United States. It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process. We can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need,” he added.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, told the bishops Nov. 17 that Catholic Charities has been sent “disturbing mail from people angry that we are trying to help these people. It’s tragic.” She added of the Syrian refugees, “We’re ready to help, if we can get them here.”

“Pastor’s presence”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, USCCB president, urged his fellow bishops to pray for virtues that would help them be better spiritual leaders.

“Lord, give us an understanding heart and a credible moral voice,” he said in his homily at a Nov. 16 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.

Archbishop Kurtz also urged the bishops to pray for the “eyesight to see as Jesus sees” and for the renewed grace to love God and serve others.

In his USCCB presidential address, Archbishop Kurtz called on his fellow bishops Nov. 16 to imitate the “pastor’s presence” exhibited by Pope Francis during his recent U.S. visit, “touching the hearts of the most influential, the forgotten and all of us in between.”

Noting the upcoming Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8, Archbishop Kurtz said a ministry of “presence means making time and never letting administration come between me and the person. It’s seeing the person first.”

“Our hearts respond to (the pope’s) call to be pastors who are present, welcoming and eager to walk with our people,” he added.

Pastoral plan

On the first day of the assembly, an afternoon session took up how the U.S. Catholic Church can move forward in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage this year. To that end, the U.S. bishops are planning to develop a pastoral plan for marriage and family life. The pastoral plan, according to Bishop Malone, will seek the bishops’ input.

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said the Supreme Court’s decision was a “great disappointment,” but it was not unexpected.

Orlando convocation

A convocation for Catholic leaders planned for 2017 represents “a new way of reaching and teaching our people,” Bishop Malone said in a presentation to his fellow bishops.

Bishop Malone was joined by two other bishops in a presentation on the national convocation, planned for July 1-4, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, and the communications research leading up to it. The theme of the meeting is “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio painted a dire picture of “a pastoral problem that affects all of us” in a report to his fellow bishops about the “desperate” shortage of Catholic priests serving as military chaplains.

The head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said there were only 217 Catholic priests serving the 1.8 million Catholics in the U.S. armed forces around the world, and the numbers would soon decline due to retirements and medical leaves.

“Witnesses” fortnight

“Witnesses to Freedom” will be the theme of the 2016 observance of the Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, told the assembly.

“The fortnight gives us an opportunity to remember those witnesses past and present through the church, witnesses who testify to the meaning of freedom of conscience and the obedience of the truth,” he said.

The two-week event will include a nationwide tour of first-class relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. Archbishop Lori said details of the tour have yet to be arranged, but that a schedule will be distributed when it is finalized.

Contributing to this roundup were Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Dennis Sadowski and Carol Zimmermann.

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