During their annual fall assembly Nov. 13-14 in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops dealt with pressing issues of the day, such as racism and immigration reform, but they also paid close attention to the words used during children’s baptisms. They approved the use of a new translation in the baptismal rite for the first time in 40 years.
The bishops also acknowledged that Catholic families and married couples need more support from the Church and hope to offer it by giving parishes plenty of resources through a pastoral plan for marriage and family life. A proposal for such a plan was introduced to the bishops on the second day of their meeting and was approved with 232 votes in favor.
Other key issues where Church leaders are responding include health care, taxes and abortion, mentioned by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in his first address as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He took office at the close of last year’s fall assembly.
He explained that the National Catholic War Council, created by the U.S. bishops in 1917 in response to the world refugee crisis that emerged from World War I and the forerunner to the USCCB, was formed to address great national and international needs at a time, not unlike today.
The cardinal emphasized other modern challenges such as recent natural disasters and mass shootings.
The problems of the day should not overwhelm Church leaders who should recognize signs of new hope in the Church, mentioned by the papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who addressed the bishops at the start of the meeting.
The archbishop told them to be adventurous in the “new frontier of faith” and to make a strong effort to accompany young people who often question their faith.
The bishops also heard from the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, at a Nov. 12 Mass where he was the main celebrant and the homilist, and at a dinner celebrating the USCCB’s 100th anniversary.
Cardinal Parolin told the U.S. bishops that the Church needs them today to “bring not only material assistance but also the spiritual balm of healing, comfort and hope to new waves of migrants and refugees who come knocking on America’s door.”
He urged them to follow the pope’s call to accompany the modern Church.
The longest and most passionate discussion on the first day of the meeting focused on immigrants, on how to help them and also how to drive home the point that they, too, are our brothers and sisters and should not be demonized. The bishops focused on how to raise the national level of discussion on immigration and racism, starting in the church pews.
They acknowledged the current polarization in the country and divides within the Catholic Church and stressed their responsibility as Church leaders to promote immigration reform, educate parishioners on justice issues and listen to those affected by “sins of racism.”
On immigration, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the Committee on Migration of the USCCB, called for a “path to legalization and citizenship for the millions of our unauthorized brothers and sisters who are law-abiding, tax-paying and contributing to our society.”
The bishops responded with applause and an agreement by voice vote to issue a statement calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
The bishops were keenly aware that their defense of immigrants was not necessarily the view of the U.S. Church at large.
Assisted suicide and abortion remain the focus of the Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, according to Cardinal Dolan, the committee chairman, in his remarks Nov. 13. The 2017-2018 Respect Life program with the theme “Be Not Afraid” was unveiled in October, and planning was already under way for the 2018-2019 Respect Life program, the cardinal said.
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit will be the next secretary of the USCCB, taking office next November. Bishops voted 96-88 to elect Archbishop Vigneron Nov. 14. The Detroit prelate will serve one year as secretary-elect and then start a three-year term in office at the conclusion of the 2018 fall general assembly.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., was elected over Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee as chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty by a 113-86 vote. He assumed his duties at the conclusion of the assembly. At their spring meeting in June, the bishops voted to make what was an ad hoc religious liberty body a permanent standing committee.
Bishops also voted for chairmen-elect of five committees. Those elected will serve for one year before beginning three-year terms at the conclusion of the bishops’ 2018 fall general assembly.
Those elected include:
• Committee on Pro-Life Activities: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, over Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, 96-82.
• Committee on Communications: Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va., over Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, 116-70.
• Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church: Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland over Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., 102-77.
• Committee on Doctrine: Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., over Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo, Ohio, 110-95.
• Committee on National Collections: Bishop Joseph R. Cistone of Saginaw, Mich., over Archbishop Michael O. Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, 124-65.
The second public day of meetings did not tackle major societal issues but examined ways the bishops can continue to uphold the Catholic faith from specific wording in the baptismal rite, a review of catechetical materials and a pastoral plan for marriage and family life that will give Catholic couples and families resources to enable them to live out their vocation.
They also voted to move forward the sainthood cause of Nicholas W. Black Elk, a 19th-century Lakota catechist who is said to have introduced hundreds of Lakota people to the Catholic faith. The episcopal consultation process is a step in Church’s process toward declaring a person a saint.
The bishops approved the budget for their restricted and unrestricted funds for 2018 in a 125-4 vote, with three abstentions. Passage required a majority of members present. They narrowly approved a 3 percent increase in the diocesan assessment for 2019 by a vote of 136-31, with five bishops abstaining. With 197 diocesan and eparchial heads in the United States, the vote required approval by two-thirds, or 132 of them.
The bishops had voted down a request last year to increase the assessment, noted Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati, who is treasurer of the USCCB and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Budget and Finance.
As a result, he said, “the staff worked diligently over several weeks...to balance the budget—cutting programs and travel, cutting building maintenance” and curtailing wages “below market value for the D.C. area. It’s a tight, balanced, unrestricted-funds budget.” —CNS