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Analysis: The USCCB 'abortion debate,' and what came after

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 19:45

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday, 69 U.S. bishops voted against the inclusion of a paragraph in a letter they plan to soon publish. Within hours, a conservative social media figure said those bishops “are not Catholic,” and ignited an online firestorm. Here’s how that happened.

The bishops were at the fall meeting of their episcopal conference, discussing proposed amendments to a short letter they intended to send out, as a supplement to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their 2015 document on voting and public life.

On Monday Nov. 11, the bishops had been given the opportunity to review a draft text of the letter and propose changes. They had several hours to submit written amendments, which would be debated Nov. 12, before a vote on the entire letter.

Cardinal Blase Cupich proposed an amendment.

Cupich proposed to add into the letter paragraph 101 of Pope Francis’ 2018 Gaudete ex esultate. The paragraph cautions against those who would relativize “the social engagement of others,” or act as if “the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”

The cardinal said in his proposal that he wished to add the paragraph because “the draft proposed wording citing this paragraph omits ‘equally sacred’ from the start of that list of important concerns, defacing the point the pope was making, which is obviously that ‘defense of the unborn is not ‘the only thing that counts.’”

Led by Archbishop Jose Gomez, the letter’s drafting committee reviewed the Cupich proposal, along with dozens of other amendment proposals, on the evening of Nov. 11, before presenting them the next day, alongside recommendations from the committee on each one.

On the Cupich amendment, the committee asked the bishops to accept a compromise recommendation, namely, to include the phrase “equally sacred,” but not the entire paragraph Cupich proposed. The committee said the whole paragraph would add length to a letter already three pages long, but it encouraged adding the words “equally sacred,” which seemed to be the key phrase Cupich wanted.

On Tuesday, Cupich rose to ask for a reconsideration of that recommendation. He said he appreciated the desire for brevity, but he wanted the whole paragraph.

From his view, the proposed paragraph contains “all of the elements in the call to holiness that we are to exercise as faithful citizens. He speaks about the need to make sure we avoid those kinds of ideological frameworks that our society today is so paralyzed in our political discourse by, but also, he wants to make sure...that not only do we avoid that, but we engage one another and he also makes sure that we do not make one issue that a political party or group puts forward to the point where we’re going to ignore all the rest of them.”

Bshop Frank Dewane said the committee had tried to accommodate the cardinal’s request, and suggested he could add even more additional language into the text as a compromise.

Cupich was not interested in that suggestion.

“I appreciate that attempt at accommodation. My point is that this is the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis put in a very succinct way, and I think we can all benefit from it as we speak to our people about issues...so I would still like to have the entire paragraph,” he said.

Gomez asked the body of bishops to debate and vote on the point in question: Should the committee summarize the pope’s text, or include the entire paragraph Cupich had mentioned?

The disagreement was not, at that point, perceived to be a matter of doctrinal debate. To be sure, some bishops have speculated privately that Cupich wanted to include the full text to advance his commitment to a “seamless garment” vision of social justice. Others, though, noted that Cupich has a regular habit of calling for greater use of the pope’s texts in conference documents; one bishop called this habit “obsequious.” But several others, even some who regularly disagree with Cupich on serious doctrinal matters, took the suggestion at face value, telling CNA they thought the amendment was a good idea.

To that point, the question was about whether to include a text or to summarize that text. No one who had spoken disagreed with the substance of the paragraph; their conversation had been about how best to present it.



As the debate began, Bishop Robert McElroy rose to speak first. He said that he supported Cardinal Cupich’s amendment for the reasons already stated, and because of his objection to a line in the bishops’ letter he called “at least discordant” with the pope’s teachings. The line said that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”

The “preeminent quote” he said would be used to undermine what he understood the pope’s point to be in the paragraph suggested by Cupich.

“So either we should get rid of ‘preeminent,’ or, if we’re going to keep ‘preeminent’ in there, let’s at least give the pope a fighting chance with his view, to keep that whole paragraph in there, because that’s where he articulates his vision of this very controversial question.”

“It is not Catholic that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not. For us to say that, particularly when we omit the pope’s articulation of this question, I think is a grave disservice of our people...so either we shouldn’t have preeminent in there, or we should have the pope’s full paragraph where he lays out his vision of this same question, delicately balancing all of it in the words he does,” McElroy said.

Many bishops looked shocked by McElroy's words.

The draft language McElroy objected to, that abortion “remains our preeminent priority because it directty attacks life itself” came from an amendment proposed by Archbishop Joseph Naumann. Any bishop had been free to stand and ask that it be given separate consideration, rather than be passed on a consent agenda. That was exactly what Cupich had done with his proposed amendment, and McElroy had been free to do the same.

But for some reason McElroy had not asked for debate on the Naumann “preeminent priority” amendment. Instead, the bishop made his objection to the language in the speech he gave while the Cupich amendment was on the table.

In short, McElroy’s objection to “preeminent priority” was not formally manifested according to the rules of order, even though it could have been. The motion on the table was still about the Cupich amendment.



After McElroy spoke, Bishop Joseph Strickland was given the floor.

“I absolutely think ‘preeminent’ needs to stay,” Strickland said.

The bishop seemed to think that McElroy had changed the matter up for debate. Some journalists suggested he had gotten confused. Although he made his point plainly, “preeminent” was not up for debate, there was no formal question of taking it out.

Strickland has been lauded by some Catholics for the courage he is thought to have shown by his remark. But whatever his reasoning, the bishop contributed to McElroy's diversion: he weighed in on a debate the body wasn’t actually having. It was not the first time at the meeting that Strickland seemed to be out of step with the conversation.

On Monday morning, as they got underway, the bishops were asked to approve their meeting’s agenda, a standard part of the rules of order. Bishop Earl Boyea made a motion that an update on the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation be added to the agenda. Strickland seconded that motion. The bishops voted and Boyea’s motion, seconded by Strickland, passed by a voice vote.

Immediately after that vote, Strickland asked for the floor and was recognized.

“I echo the request for the investigation of the report on McCarrick,” Strickland said, before proposing that “future agendas” include a section “to address the questions of guarding the deposit of faith,” though the bishop did not specify what exactly he meant.

Strickland’s “echo” seemed out of place: He stood, it seemed, to “echo” a motion that he himself had already seconded, and that had already passed the entire assembly of bishops. In the press gallery, journalists asked one another whether the bishop understood that the idea had just passed, after he personally seconded it.



On Tuesday, it was Archbishop Charles Chaput who got the debate over the Cupich amendment back on track. He spoke after Strickland.

“I am certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s statement,” Chaput said.

“I think it’s a beautiful statement, I believe it,” the archbishop added, weighing in on the motion on the floor.

Chaput then turned his attention to McElroy’s remarks. He did not address the question of whether “preeminent” ought to remain in the document. But he did address the argument McElroy used to support the Cupich amendment.

“I am against anyone stating that our saying [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. Because that isn’t true. It sets an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true. So I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used. It isn’t true.”

“We do support the Holy Father completely, what he said is true, but I think it has been very clearly the articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the preeminent issue. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity, it’s just time, in the certain circumstances of our Church, in the United States,” Chaput said.

The bishops applauded Chaput.

An analysis of Chaput’s remarks suggests two things: that he might have been favor of Cupich’s amendment, of which he said he was "not against;" and that he opposed the argument used by McElroy to support that amendment.

After Chaput, Gomez said the committee preferred to leave the long quote out, mentioned that a reference to the full text was made in a footnote, said the committee was “called to have a brief document,” and called for a vote.

By a vote of 143-69, the bishops chose the committee’s summarized text over Cupich’s preference for a long excerpt from Pope Francis.

Based upon his own remarks, it is reasonable to conclude that Chaput himself may well have voted in favor of including the whole text, which he called “beautiful,” even while he strongly disagreed with McElroy on why the reasons to vote for it.



Shortly after the vote, Strickland weighed in again, this time by tweet. “Thank God the USCCB voted to uphold the preeminence of the Sanctity of the life of the unborn.  It is sad that 69 voted no,” he tweeted.

Strickland’s tweet went viral. It was an incorrect interpretation of the vote, based upon the bishop’s apparent belief that the language of preeminence was up for a vote. Not to belabor a point, but it never was.

A half hour after Strickland tweeted, a conservative YouTube commentator named Taylor Marshall retweeted the bishop’s text, adding his own brief comment: “69 USA bishops voted ‘no,’ which means 69 USA bishops are not Catholic.”

That tweet, like Strickland’s took off into the ether of social media, and soon more voices weighed in, accusing bishops of heresy and spinelessness.

The vote was over whether bishops should quote a long paragraph, or summarize it. For that, bishops were accused of heresy.

On Nov. 14, Strickland weighed back in, tweeting about “the hard data that approx 1/3 of the bishops voted against the language of ‘preeminence.’”

“I pray for unity, Guarding the Deposit of Faith with Pope Francis,” he added.

By his own tweeted admission, the bishop who sparked an online backlash that ended with bishops being called heretics did not know what they had actually voted about.

The consequence of that backlash is that some Catholics may needlessly lose trust in their bishops, and lose confidence in the claims of the Catholic Church.



The U.S. bishops face a serious divide over their understanding of Pope Francis, occasioned by a small number who seem to have positioned themselves as the pope’s authoritative interpreters. It seems clear that divide may well boil to a head.

But the bishops are also divided by what seems to be a hermeneutic of suspicion, which allows some among their number to accuse others of voting against the dignity of human life, even when that misrepresents what’s actually happened.

The bishops are in danger of the kind of partisanship that could lead them to reflexively oppose those with a different viewpoint, rather than doing the hard work of listening carefully, condemning what is false while seeking unity whenever possible. That kind of partisanship would inevitably heighten disunity among practicing Catholics.

Bishops like Chaput and the late Cardinal Francis George, who sought unity with brother bishops even amid real disagreement, are often hailed as models for a conference that could address serious issues with an authentic spirit of fraternity. But whether those models will be heeded by future generations of leaders remains to be seen.

Praying for unity is important. So is the virtue which leads to it. In the social media era, bishops can feed the polarization and nastiness of hot-take culture, even inadvertently. Charity, especially amid disagreement, must be a “preeminent priority” of the apostles, if Christ’s Church is to live in unity.

Catholic identity carefully guarded at CRS, bishop says

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 18:20

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- Adhering to Church teaching is a priority for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and policies are in place to ensure it is not complicit in immoral activities as it partners with groups that do not hold Catholic beliefs, said the bishop who heads the agency’s board.

“Our efforts overseas are seen as among the finest examples of a morally-based Catholic agency,” said Bishop Gregory Mansour, chairman of the board of directors for Catholic Relief Services.

“Nonetheless, we are seen as a bit strange by some international agencies that serve the poor, because we believe that serving the poor is just that – not eliminating the poor by abortion or contraception, but by truly serving them in all their human dignity.”

The bishop stressed that CRS prioritizes Catholic teaching, to the point that the agency stands out internationally for its insistence on carefully crafting grant language to ensure that it is not participating in immoral programming. The agency will not get involved in grants that require it to compromise on Catholic doctrine, he said.

CRS was founded in 1943 and is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.

Mansour, who heads the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, offered an update on the work of CRS to the U.S. bishops at their fall general assembly in Baltimore this week.

As part of that presentation, the bishop stressed the importance of Catholic identity in CRS’ work.

“We’re Catholic to the core, training our 6,700 employees throughout the world – whether they’re Catholic or not – on all the tenets of Catholic social teaching,” he said. He pointed to the agency’s zero tolerance policy and whistleblower program.

“The grants we apply for at CRS to serve - whether from large donors, from the U.S. government, the Global Fund – are vetted to be sure that we do not agree to do anything against Catholic teaching as we serve the poorest of the poor, and we have that same fidelity to all of those people who give either in a second collection for CRS or Operation Rice Bowl,” he added.

Following the presentation, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, thanked Mansour, as well as CRS President and CEO Sean Callahan, for safeguarding the integrity of the agency and listening respectfully to those who have had concerns.

“Thank you for all that you’ve done to protect the Catholicity of all that we’re doing, and I just applaud your great work,” he said.

Mansour replied that both the CRS staff and board of directors are “very conscious” of Catholic identity.

“And so we’ve been listening to anybody who has any criticism, trying to see if there’s some validity to it, and if there is, we deal with it. If there’s not, we tell them, ‘Please. We’ve vetted this, we’ve looked at it. And we’re at peace with it’,” he said.

At various times in the past, CRS has faced criticism from Catholic groups and individuals who are concerned that the agency is cooperating in immoral activities, including the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients.
 
In 2013, Catholic Relief Services was accused of being involved in a contraception and abortifacient distribution program in Madagascar.

However, the agency suggested that the allegations mistook the actions of CRS staffers with those of non-staff community health workers, who are locally chosen on the ground of the countries where they work. CRS was training Madagascar community health workers in areas such as children’s health, nutrition, and malaria prevention, and these health workers may also have been involved in contraceptive distribution programs, but they were not affiliated with CRS in doing so, the organization said.

In 2016, the agency was accused of being complicit in a contraceptive distribution program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. CRS responded that while the language in the grant report was unclear, the agency had actually been working to promote Natural Family Planning in accordance with Catholic teaching. It said the report was written by an outside group that may not have understood the difference between Natural Family Planning and artificial contraception.

Catholic Relief Services has repeatedly said that it follows Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception.

When CRS partners with groups that disagree with Catholic doctrine, the extent of their work together is limited to efforts that align with Church teaching, such as work to prevent malaria, promote childhood nutrition, or offer clean drinking water, the agency says. Both bishops and moral theologians review programming to ensure that it complies with Church teaching.

At a press conference following the presentation, CNA asked Mansour if he could elaborate on efforts to ensure the Catholic identity of programs in which CRS participates.

“To be honest, we are the only group that won’t do contraception, that won’t do referrals for abortions. And we make that quite clear when we write grants,” Mansour replied.

However, he said, international grant funding is often given to joint projects with multiple partners. When CRS works with partners – including other Christian groups – that do not abide by Church teaching, the agency tries to avoid scandal and make it clear that they are only participating in work that is morally acceptable.

“And all of those the grants are vetted by moral theologians and bishops on the board, as well as laity who have a strong sense of Catholic identity,” he added.

In addition, Mansour said, “when we get a complaint, we investigate it on the ground. We go to the place and we investigate with everybody. We do our best to do that.”

The agency works with more than 1,000 different partners globally, so these investigations can be a lot of work, the bishop acknowledged.

However, he added, “I’m not afraid of doing it. I myself as chair, any time anybody had a criticism, I dealt with it personally.”

CRS has a team in place to look at concerns raised, he said. “So I think if there are still complaints out there, our ears are open to listening.”

Congressional committee examines state pro-life measures

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 14:10

Washington D.C., Nov 14, 2019 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- A House of Representatives committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to investigate restrictions on abortion clinics passed in pro-life states. 

The hearing, titled “Examining State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care” will feature testimony from abortion advocates and the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. 

The hearing is being convened by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by the majority-member Democrats. 

Allie Stuckey, a new mother who hosts a podcast discussing politics and culture from a conservative, Christian perspective, is scheduled to be the minority witness.

The hearing will focus on recent laws passed in Missouri, which may become the first U.S. state without an abortion clinic. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told NPR in a statement that Missouri has served as a “case study” in state resistance to abortion under the Trump administration. 

“State governments have been emboldened in their efforts to restrict access to abortion by the Trump Administration’s systemic attacks on reproductive health care, including by dismantling the Title X federal family planning program and expanding providers’ ability to discriminate by denying care,” the Committee on Oversight and Reform said in a background explainer before the hearing.

The Trump administration announced a new policy that does not allow Title X fund recipients to perform abortions or refer people for abortions. Planned Parenthood, the nations’ largest abortion provider, lost millions in funding due to its refusal to stop providing abortions. Title X funds are designated for family-planning purposes. 

Additionally, the administration has moved to protect conscience rights of doctors and other medical professionals who consider abortion to be against their religious beliefs. 

The hearing also concerns the “draconian steps” taken by some states to limit the availability of abortion. Due to these new state laws, six states have only one abortion clinic. 

Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic was denied a state license earlier this year and was scheduled to close. It remains open only because of a court order.

Planned Parenthood sued the state of Missouri May 28 after the state’s health department declined to renew the clinic’s license. Representatives of the clinic have argued that there is no valid reason for state rules that mandate two pelvic exams before the administration of abortion-inducing drugs. It has also rejected state demands that officials interview its medical trainees on staff.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services rejected a license renewal request June 21 from the clinic, citing an “unprecedented lack of cooperation, failure to meet basic standards of patient care, and refusal to comply with state law and regulations.”

'We need to become an evangelizing Church,' says new USCCB VP

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 13:05

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 11:05 am (CNA).- The new vice president of the U.S. bishops’ conference says that he wants to help bring a spirit of evangelism to the conference as organized religion continues to decline in the U.S.

“We need to become an evangelizing Church where the faith is passed from person to person more directly,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, told CNA on Tuesday on the sidelines of the bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Archbishop Vigneron was elected vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday after a third-ballot run-off. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles was elected the new president of the conference.

Vigneron has served as archbishop in Detroit since January of 2009, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI. Prior to that, he was first coadjutor and then bishop of Oakland, California since 2003, and was previously rector-president of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit from 1994 until 2003.

The archbishop told CNA that there must be an “urgency” of evangelization in the U.S. at a time when the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian continues to decline.

A report by Pew Research last month revealed that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian fell by double digits since 2009, and that Catholics no longer make up a majority among Hispanics in the U.S.

Evangelization is the answer to this, Vigneron said, pointing to a 2016 archdiocesan synod he convened with lay faithful, priests, and religious in Detroit. The synod led to his pastoral letter, issued the following year, “Unleash the Gospel.” In that letter, Vigneron established ten “guideposts” for evangelization and warned against certain “capital vices” in the local church.

“It galvanized the diocese from bottom to top,” Vigneron said of the synod, telling CNA that evangelization cannot just be one among many priorities for the Church, but that it is “the form that’s supposed to inform everything.”

“It was of inestimable worth for us to have a synod,” Vigneron said, pointing to a time of  “epic change” in Church in the U.S., with a shift away from institutions that were once powerhouses of evangelization—schools and charities—but are no longer.

Evangelization, he said, “involves everybody learning some way, or thinking about, how today am I going to meet people that I can bring to Christ? And everybody can do that.”

Following his election as USCCB vice president, Vigneron also spoke with CNA about the church’s response to the clergy sex abuse crisis, including an update given to the bishops on the Vatican’s much-anticipated report on Theodore McCarrick. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told the conference on Tuesday that the report had been prepared and was awaiting papal approval before publication either before Christmas or early in the New Year.

Vigneron told CNA he was early awaiting the report’s release, and that it was a necessary step in healing the breach of trust between bishops and the faithful in the United States.

“I think it will be good for us to understand how this evil behavior was allowed to continue in the life of someone who—in whom so much pastoral trust was placed so that we can start on a path so that we don’t do it again,” he said.

As part of the related abuse scandals to hit the Church in the last 18 months, many dioceses are facing investigations by states’ attorneys general into clergy sex abuse. The Pennsylvania grand jury report, released in 2018, revealed more than a thousand allegations of abuse over the span of several decades, and more than a dozen other states - including Vigneron’s own state of Michigan - have open investigations.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched his investigation into clergy sex abuse in all seven Catholic dioceses in the state last year. In May, Nessel’s office announced charges of 21 counts of criminal sexual conduct against five priests in the ongoing investigation.

Vigneron told CNA that he was committed to working with civil authorities to address historic injustices, but that he and other bishops did not know when the investigation might conclude.

“I don’t know where the work of the Attorney General in our seven dioceses stands right now,” Vigneron told CNA but said he and the Archdiocese of Detroit were being “very cooperative” with state officials.

Vigneron told CNA that although the McCarrick scandal had been painful for the Church in the United States, many past victims of abuse had now come forward, and that is an important part of serving justice and healing in the Church.

“I can account for some of this matter by saying that the investigations that became very prominent led some people to come forward and speak up, and—when in the past they didn’t do that,” he said.

In past decades, abuse victims were asked by some dioceses to sign confidentiality agreements as part of settlements with Church authorities, something now specifically prohibited by Pope Francis. Vigneron said that it was important that no victim felt intimidated into silence.

“I think the time for confidential agreements is gone,” he said.

Vigneron’s three-year term as USCCB vice president formally began on Wednesday, at the conclusion of the conference’s Fall Assembly in Baltimore.

Catholic group to start holistic addiction recovery home in Kentucky 

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 05:12

Lexington, Ky., Nov 14, 2019 / 03:12 am (CNA).- A Kentucky diocese is leasing a tenantless building to a Catholic charity to create a holistic recovery program for people in the area struggling with drug addictions.

“It's an exciting possibility,” said Jenny Ramsay, co-founder and director of Catholic Action Center (CAC), the homeless service agency in Lexington which will be helping run the new program.

“Our [clients] need it so desperately … This place is welcoming, and it includes the holistic approach with environmental sustainab[ility],” she told CNA.

The Diocese of Lexington announced Friday that the Catholic Action Center is beginning a three-year lease on the Cliffview Retreat and Conference Center in Lancaster. The facility will be known as Divine Providence Way at Cliffview, and CAC will have an opportunity to purchase the property at the end of the lease.

The Catholic Action Center will be in charge of developing a holistic environment for the addiction recovery center. This will include recreational therapy, such as music and art. The medical side of the recovery efforts will be run by Mountain Comprehensive Care, a mental health and addiction center based in eastern Kentucky that has partnered with CAC for the past two years.

The program will also offer job training through Bluegrass Community and Technical College, which will take place at a specific satellite campus for the beneficiaries. There, the clients will have access to educational opportunities including culinary art, sustainable living, building and maintenance, and information technology.

Ramsay said the building and maintenance program will focus on skills like carpentry and solar panel installation. She said the IT program will teach some basic coding and other entry-level IT skills.

The program will be environmentally sustainable, Ramsay said, relying on green energy from solar panels and incorporating beehives, chicken coops, and greenhouses.

“We are creating the environment at Cliffview, which will include sustainable agriculture. Holistic care of the people includes the fact that their environment needs to be something that renews them,” she said.

“We're human beings and we all have different brokenness, but we all relate and can be healed through [a holistic approach] … We're not going to say that one size fits all, but when we engage with the earth and engage the mind, body, and spirit, then changes happen,” she added.

The idea for Divine Providence Way was developed after staff members at the Catholic Action Center witnessed a need for greater addiction care among the homeless population.

The initiative comes amid an ongoing opioid crisis in the United States. Kentucky has been among the states hit hardest by the epidemic. From 2012-2017, more than 6,700 overdose deaths were reported in the state, according to data from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. In 2017,  Kentucky had a drug overdose rate of 37.2 deaths per 100,000 people, the fifth-highest in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We see the individuals, we see the overdoses, we see the challenges,” said Ramsay, when asked about the opioid crisis.

Founded in 2000, the Catholic Action Center is an initiative inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. According to its website, the organization has served more than 5.5 million meals and distributed over 2.5 million items of clothing. The agency has also covered 90 funerals for clients who had no families.

Ramsay stressed that it is a Christian’s duty to care for all people, even those struggling from addiction and currently abusing drugs. She said it is an example set by Christ.

“As Catholic Christians, we're called to address [this] and to...help those in need,” she told CNA. “Knowing that we may have the opportunity to help others in a unique situation, we couldn't turn our back on [them].”

“Jesus said feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty. He didn't say feed the hungry who are sober,” she added.

What people with intellectual disabilities can teach us about friendship

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 02:38

South Bend, Ind., Nov 14, 2019 / 12:38 am (CNA).- When French Catholic Jean Vanier brought two men with intellectual disabilities to live with him in his home, he did so more out of a sense of religious duty than anything else.

But as time went on, he began to realize that what the men needed was not help, but friendship. In the founding of his L’Arche (The Ark) homes for people with intellectual disabilities, friendship became the pillar of what those communities were and are all about.

“In short, Vanier had discovered they shared a common world,” Professor Stanely Hauerwas said in his keynote address on Nov. 8 at the University of Notre Dame’s annual conference sponsored by the De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

Hauerwas, a theologian and the Gilbert T. Rowe professor emeritus with joint appointments at Duke divinity school and Duke law school, was a personal friend of Vanier, who died at the age of 90 earlier this year.

“I don't know where we would be without such witnesses today. It's remarkable,” Hauerwas said of his friend.

In L’Arche homes, core members are permanent residents who have intellectual and other disabilities, while assistants are adults and trained caregivers who live in L’Arche communities with the core members, typically for a one-year commitment at a time.

As the L’Arche website states, being an assistant is primarily about being a friend.

“In the communities of L'Arche, we live and journey together, men and women with disabilities and those who feel called to share their lives with them,” Hauerwas said.

“We are all learning the pain and joy of community life where the weakest members open hearts to compassion and lead us into deeper union with Jesus. We are learning to befriend them, and through and with them to befriend Jesus.”

Friendship with people with disabilities is often hindered by fear and false perceptions on the part of non-disabled people, Hauerwas noted.

“We are fragile creatures whose vulnerabilities produce fears that make our being befriended by the disabled frightening,” Hauerwas said.

This is in large part because people with disabilities have the gift of honesty, Hauerwas said - they are unimpressed by accolades and accomplishments, and are only interested in you as yourself.

“Such fears do not go away, even if we have been befriended by the disabled. That is why, as I will suggest, that friendship must be communal because only a community who is made of those aware of their limits can create the peaceful space for all to flourish, disabled and abled alike.”

The false assumption that people with disabilities are suffering can hinder friendship with these people, Hauerwas noted.

“As (Brian Brock, an author on disability) points out, ironically, those who are severely intellectually disabled do not struggle with their disability because they're wondrously free from pondering what others suppose them to lack,” Hauerwas said.

“Brock is challenging the presumption that those who are labeled intellectually disabled suffer from being intellectually disabled. They suffer from the attitudes and behaviors of those who imagine how they would feel if they were intellectually disabled. In short, we project on the disabled how we think we would regard our lives if we were them,” he said.

“But because people who are mentally disabled are not people other than who they are, they accordingly can and do enjoy who they are,” he added.

Brock, whose own son Adam has Down syndrome and is autistic, notes in his writings that knowing Adam has led him to a deeper theological understanding of what it means to accept the gift of people with intellectual disabilities.

“(Brock) understands the Christian Gospel to offer a way of life that enables our ability to live as vulnerable beings who have made peace with our limits and are able to delight in the unexpected,” Hauerwas said.

“Such a way of life can be joyous and free because we seek no longer to be gods, but to be content, to be creatures whose flourishing does not mean we will not suffer, but as the stories of scriptures often make clear, it is through suffering and vulnerability that we discover our place in God's story.”

Throughout his life, Vanier testified to the real friendships he had with his friends with disabilities. Some people still doubt whether such friendships were possible, because they believe that friendship necessitates an equality in agency, Hauerwas noted. He then provided several examples of stories of friendship between assistants and core members, or the family members of the disabled, to show how such friendships are possible.

“Vanier's friendships with the core members with whom he lived stands as a stark reminder that friendship between people who are intellectually disabled, and those that are not, is an actual reality,” Hauerwas said.

Hauerwas drew several examples from Patrick McInerney, an English anthropologist who lived for 15 months in a L'Arche home and wrote of his experiences in a paper entitled: “Receiving the gift of cognitive disabilities: recognizing agency in the limits of the rational subject.”

McInerney, not unlike Vanier at the beginning of his work, started at L’Arche presuming that the core members did not have agency like non-disabled people.

“He encountered Rachel who was making random hand gestures. Sarah who was rolling herself around and around in her wheelchair. And Martha, who spoke constantly but did not seem to make sense. McInerney assumed such women were incapable of active engagement with the world,” Hauerwas said.

But he eventually came to see these women in a different light, and realized that their agency comes from their own acknowledgment of their vulnerabilities and dependency on others.

In one example, Maria, a long-term assistant, told McInerney about an experience with core member Sarah, who could not communicate verbally. Maria was given the task of bathing Sarah, but was having difficulties.

“Maria confesses she did not know what she was doing. But she assumed that neither did Sarah know what she was doing. Finally, however, after some time, Maria figured how to help Sarah bathe herself. She (later said) to Sarah: ‘And you just sat there very patiently and quietly letting me make error after error. When I finally worked out what the right thing to do was, you looked at me dead in the eye and then you laughed at me,’” Hauerwas said.

“Through these exchanges, the core members’ gifts of the heart are discovered,” he added.

In another story of friendship and encounter, Hauerwas recalled Hilary, an assistant who watched a core member smiling and swaying and enjoying herself in front of a full-length mirror. Hilary said she realized that Sarah was not able to care whether other people might consider this behavior self-obsessed, and so she was free to love and enjoy herself.

“Sarah really loves herself and she helps me to start loving myself,” Hilary told McInerney.

The lessons learned from accepting one’s life as a gift, and accepting others’ lives - including those with disabilities - as a gift, leads to a system of ethics that stands in stark contrast to ethicists like Peter Singer, who believes that people with disabilities are of limited moral value to society, Hauerwas noted.

The lives of people with intellectual disabilities “have more in common with unruly saints of the Church, according to McInerney, than the rational agents such as Peter singer assumes. Those who have learned to be their friends, friends with people like Sarah, value the way they transgress assumed norms of behavior and express the value of a liminal community.”

“I think that my own view is that if in a hundred years Christians are identified as those people who do not kill their children or their elderly, we'll have done a pretty good job, but that's the challenge,” Hauerwas said.

In one final example of friendship, Hauerwas recalled the friendship between a core member Eric and Vanier. Eric was blind, deaf and could not speak, but Vanier knew he could still communicate through touch.

“That is what they did day after day. They held and washed his body with respect and love. Slowly but surely they were able to communicate with him and he communicated with them,” he said.

Vanier reflected on this friendship “by suggesting what Jesus commands us to do is to be befriended by the weak those in need, the lonely.”

“For when the poor, the weak and the lonely claim us as friends, they prevent us from falling into the trap of power, especially the power to do good,” Hauerwas said. “To be befriended by the poor and the disabled saves us from the presumption we must save the savior and the church.”

Ohio bill would target proposal on abortion reversal notification

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 17:20

Columbus, Ohio, Nov 13, 2019 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Two Democratic lawmakers in Ohio have introduced legislation that would prohibit the state from requiring doctors to provide patients with information that is not recognized by expert medical associations or supported through peer-reviewed research.

The bill challenges another piece of proposed legislation in the state, which would require physicians to inform patients seeking a medication abortion about the possibility of an abortion reversal. Supporters of the abortion reversal protocol argue that initial research indicates it increases the survival rate of a baby after the first part of a two-pill medical abortion regimen has been administered, without risk of harm to the mother or baby.

On Nov. 12, State Reps. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) and Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) introduced a bill that would prevent the state from requiring doctors to give patients information that they deem to be lacking evidence-based support, peer-reviewed research, or backing from medical organizations, as well as information they consider inappropriate for the patient’s circumstances.

“Government shouldn’t force healthcare providers to lie to their patients,” Liston said. “People should be able to trust their doctors and nurses to give them accurate and complete information.”

Earlier this month, the Ohio senate passed a bill that would require doctors administering medication abortions to inform women about the option to pursue an abortion reversal if they changed their minds.

Liston criticized that legislation in May, saying it was based on inaccurate medical information and “an extreme ideology.”

“Abortion pill reversal is not true medicine,” Liston said at the time. “This is legislation that interferes with standard practice and inappropriately puts politicians between doctors and patients.”

Other states - including Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah - have passed laws requiring that patients undergoing medication abortions receive information about the possibility of a reversal. These laws have frequently been met with legal challenges.

Medication abortions have become an increasingly common method of abortion in the United States, making up 30-40% of all abortions.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first pill, mifepristone (RU-486) blocks the progesterone hormone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the baby. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the baby.

Some women, after taking the first pill (mifepristone), experience regret and do not want to follow through with the abortion by taking misoprostol.

The abortion reversal protocol, administered after the mifepristone is taken, floods a woman’s system with more progesterone, in the hopes of overriding the progesterone-blocking effects of the drug she has in her system.

A study published in April 2018 in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68% with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64% with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25% fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that the progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births.

The study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Delgado told the Washington Post that he thinks more research should be done on abortion pill reversal, but that he believes there should be nothing to stop doctors from using the progesterone protocol in the meantime.

“(T)he science is good enough that, since we have no alternative therapy and we know it's safe, we should go with it,” he said.

Advocates of the abortion reversal protocol stress that progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone in pregnant women that has been used for decades to treat women at risk of miscarriage.

Nurse practitioner Dede Chism, co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colo., stressed that hundreds of successful abortion pill reversals that have been documented in the U.S., without evidence of risk to the mom or baby.

Chism told CNA last year that it is common practice in medicine to share information about protocols that have yet to undergo even more rigorous prospective studies, if they have been shown to be safe and effective in case studies.

“We’re not causing harm, and even if the possibility of saving a baby is small, even if the population who desires it is small, is it not worth it to recognize it?” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful that there could be a possibility that just maybe could change and help you out when you’ve made a decision that you’ve regretted?”

“To be able to tell a patient that it may be possible in some circumstances to reverse an abortion pill, I think that is simply informed consent,” she added.

 

Bishop DiMarzio denies allegations of sexual abuse

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 15:54

Newark, N.J., Nov 13, 2019 / 01:54 pm (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn is rejecting an allegation that he sexually molested a minor in the 1970s, calling it a “false allegation.”

Allegations were reported Wednesday against DiMarzio, who recently concluded an investigation into accusations of cover-up against Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo.

“I am just learning about this allegation,” DiMarzio told the Associated Press. “In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation.”

The bishop said in a Nov. 13 letter to members of his diocese that he will vigorously fight the allegation and is confident that his name will be cleared.

According to the Associated Press, 56-year-old Mark Matzek says DiMarzio and another priest, who is now deceased, repeatedly abused him when he was an altar server at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Diocese of Newark. DiMarzio was a priest there at the time.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Newark earlier this week notifying them that he is preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Matzek, according to the AP. The suit will ask for $20 million.

The Archdiocese of Newark said it had received the allegations and reported them to law enforcement, in accordance with Church policy for handling abuse accusations, the AP reports.

The state of New Jersey recently passed a law extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims. The window to file a lawsuit under the new legislation will open next month.

DiMarzio said in his letter that sex abuse is a “despicable crime” that he has worked for more than 15 years to eradicate in the diocese. He noted that the diocese has, under his leadership, instituted background checks and sexual abuse awareness training aimed at abuse prevention, as well as a victim assistance ministry and annual healing Mass to help reach out to victims.

DiMarzio recently completed an Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo, which has faced months of scandal surrounding its bishop, Richard Malone, who has been accused of mishandling sex abuse claims against a priest in his diocese.

Leaked documents and recordings from within the diocese appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before he removed the priest from ministry. Malone has said that he fell short in responding to the allegations, but denies that his actions amounted to a cover-up. He has resisted calls for his resignation.

The visitation, a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission, was ordered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops.

DiMarzio made three trips to Buffalo for the visitation, interviewing nearly 90 people. On Oct. 31, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that the visitation had been completed.

Garabedien, the attorney preparing the lawsuit, told the AP that the allegation against the DiMarzio taints his investigation into Bishop Malone, and said law enforcement should carry out a new investigation in Buffalo.

Adriana Rodriguez, press secretary for the Brooklyn diocese, told CNA Nov. 13 that the visitation report had been submitted to Rome the previous week.

US reporting mechanism for episcopal abuse cases could go live by February

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 13:48

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2019 / 11:48 am (CNA).- A national third-party reporting system for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct against bishops could be activated by February 2020, the U.S. bishops’ conference said Wednesday.

Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told bishops Nov. 13 at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore that a contract had been finalized for the anticipated third-party reporting mechanism for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops.

The system could be ready for use by February 2020, he said, well ahead of the Holy See’s May deadline. However, metropolitans and dioceses would need to be ready to receive allegations.

Picarello spoke to the U.S. bishops near the close of their general meeting in Baltimore held Nov. 11-14. The bishops had elected a new conference president—Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—and a new vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, as well as six committee chairs.

In September 2018, the bishops’ executive committee had initially proposed a third-party reporting mechanism to handle accusations made against bishops. The decision followed new claims of sex abuse that had been made against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in the summer of 2018; in August, McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals and assigned a life of prayer and penance.

At their November 2018 meeting, however, the U.S. bishops did not take substantive action on the abuse crisis following instructions from the Vatican that they not act until a clergy sex abuse summit in Rome would be convened in February 2019.

After that February summit, Pope Francis issued his apostolic letter Vos estis lux mundi, which outlined a canonical process of handling accusations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops.

To handle such accusations, the U.S. bishops voted overwhelmingly at their spring meeting in June to authorize a third-party reporting mechanism to receive accusations made online or by phone.

The mechanism had to be updated from the bishops’ September 2018 proposal. For instance, Vos estis called for allegations against bishops to be sent to regional metropolitans, not just the apostolic nuncio. Also, the system would have to handle specific violations outlined in Vos estis, not those listed in the U.S. Bishops’ Code of Conduct.

Picarello said on Wednesday that at their September 2019 meetings, the bishops’ administrative committee picked the vendor Conversant for the reporting system, decided how costs would be allocated, and finalized a contract. Dioceses would be billed directly for their portion of the overall cost.

The contract provides that the reporting system could go live by February 2020, he said.

In the ensuing discussions after Picarello’s presentation, some bishops expressed concern that the hotline could be hit with a deluge of irrelevant requests.

Once the number for the national hotline is advertised, could people share “all sorts of concerns” such as priests not genuflecting for the consecration at Mass, Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet in Illinois asked, at the insistence of his metropolitan, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, O.F.M. Conv., of Savannah asked if the reporting mechanism could be advertised too much.

Picarello replied that a process will be in place promptly to filter out irrelevant claims and ensure that allegations pertain to bishops and to those acts of misconduct listed in Vos estis.

“We just want to make sure this system is reserved for this very specific, very high-priority purpose,” Picarello said. The conference, he said, will provide advertisement resources for regional provinces but will ultimately leave the implementation to dioceses and provinces.

Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City asked how allegations made against religious superiors would be handled on the hotline. Picarello said the conference is waiting on a canonical determination for that question, as the matter is “complex.”

As SCOTUS hears DACA arguments, bishop calls for congressional action

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 11:44

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2019 / 09:44 am (CNA).- The USCCB’s migration committee chairman hopes that Congress can come to a solution regarding the situation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy recipients, as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case seeking approval to eliminate the program altogether.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin told CNA Nov.12 that while he and his brother bishops have been advocating for a congressional solution to DACA, their main concern now was the situation of the approximately 700,000 DACA recipients.

“Those people need also to have someone advocate for them. So the bishops need to speak up and say very clearly that these people, we don't want separation of families," said Vasquez. About 256,000 children have at least one parent with DACA status.

There are fears that if DACA were to be repealed, these people would then be deported, splitting up the family. This is “a big concern for the Church,” said Vasquez.

“The Church is always going to advocate on the side of the family, because the family is very important," he added.

DACA recipients, he said “already are...part of the fabric of this country” and contribute to the economy and to their communities.

“They’re leaders already in many of our parishes and churches,” said the bishop.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases – Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California; McAleenan, Secretary of Homeland Security v. Vidal; Trump, President of U.S. v. NAACP – which concern whether the Trump administration may end DACA outright.

President Barack Obama introduced DACA via executive memorandum in June 2012. It permits people who were brought to the United States illegally as children to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits. The program was set to expire in 2017, but this has been delayed after Congress was given a chance to codify parts of DACA into law.

Congress failed to pass DACA into law, and the partisan-based debate over immigration and border security has continued.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision about whether President Donald Trump would be permitted to end DACA in the spring or early summer of 2020.

As for Vasquez, he will continue to hope that Congress can come to a solution.

"My hope and prayer is that they would be able to do something, they'd be able to reconcile and come together and take care of these people,” he said. “I think deporting them is the wrong answer. It's not the way to address this issue.”

Amid NY officials' legal threats, Christian adoption agency gets chance for appeal

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 00:01

New York City, N.Y., Nov 12, 2019 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- New Hope Family Services, a Christian non-profit, is defending its long-standing child placement program from New York state officials who say it must shut down if it does not place children with same-sex and unmarried couples.

It is appealing a U.S. district court’s dismissal of its lawsuit, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has temporarily halted action against the agency until its appeal can be heard.

“Every child deserves a permanent home with loving parents,” Roger Brooks, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, said Nov. 5. “New Hope’s faith-based services do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers, but banishing it means fewer kids will find permanent homes, fewer adoptive parents will ever welcome their new child, and fewer birth parents will enjoy the exceptional support that New Hope has offered for decades.”

“We hope the court will permanently uphold New Hope’s ability to serve children and families according to the very beliefs that motivate its valuable services,” said Brooks, whose legal group is representing the agency.

New Hope Family Services said it has placed over 1,000 children in New York. It operates a pregnancy resource center and a foster placement agency. In accord with its beliefs, the agency only places children with married men and women.

Its lawsuit charged that New York state officials ordered the agency to change its child placement policy or submit a close-out plan.

State officials are “actively demanding that such ministries, including New Hope, violate their religious convictions and say things that they believe to be false — or shut their doors,” its lawsuit said. It objects that New York state has never changed adoption laws to require the placement of children with couples other than an adult husband and wife, Courthouse News Service reported in May.

According to the lawsuit, officials with the New York Office of Children and Family Services who made a site visit to the agency initially praised it for showing “a number of strengths in providing adoption services within the community.”

State officials later reviewed New Hope’s policy and procedures manual and allegedly singled out its policy on child placements. The officials described the policy as “discriminatory and impermissible.”

The attorneys said the agency refers couples it cannot serve to other providers and has received no formal complaints.

In May, U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino dismissed the agency’s lawsuit. She said Christian agencies are free to believe that unmarried or same-sex couples are unfit parents but cannot prohibit such couples from adopting without running afoul of laws barring discrimination, Courthouse News Service reported.

“While religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemptions from neutral, generally applied legal requirements,” she said.

While the agency argued that it faced discrimination based on its religious beliefs, the judge said the law was not discriminatory because it applied to any adoption service and did not single out the agency or Christian agencies.

“The fact that New Hope’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that OCFS’s decision to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs,” she said.

She said the agency is not being forced to state that it approves of non-married or same-sex couples. The state agency “is not prohibiting New Hope’s ongoing ministry in any way or compelling it to change the message it wishes to convey.”

In the judge’s view, the New York adoption statute was not drafted to interfere with any agency’s religious expression.

However, New York state rules have already forced the adoption and foster services of Catholic Charities of Buffalo to close because the rules do not allow the agency to maintain its practice of only placing children in homes with a married mother and father. The agency had been providing such services almost since it began more than 90 years ago.

“Because Catholic Charities cannot simultaneously comply with state regulations and conform to the teaching of the Catholic Church on the nature of marriage, Catholic Charities will discontinue foster care and adoption services,” the agency said in August 2018.

Long-standing Catholic and other Christian child placement agencies have been forced to close due to new laws or policies that considered their practices discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. March 2006 marked the end of adoption services for Catholic Charities of Boston and the end of adoption services of Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois came in November 2011.

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia stopped placing adoptive children with Catholic Social Services, only days after calling for 300 new families to adopt foster children. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to review the case in mid-November.

On Nov. 1 the Trump Administration announced a change to federal rules to preserve federal funding of faith-based adoption agencies, regardless of their views on same-sex marriage.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it would revise a 2016 rule that required federally-funded child welfare agencies to place children with same-sex couples.

Analysis: US bishops at odds over abortion and 'the Francis test'

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 21:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- During the second day of the USCCB Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, divisions among the bishops bubbled briefly to the surface, with bishops exchanging sharp interventions on the “preeminence’ of abortion as a social concern.

 
The exchanges highlighted simmering tensions among the bishops, which have less to do with the centrality of abortion to the Church’s political engagement, and more to do with bishops contending to appear closer to the pope than their colleagues.

Cracks in the conference appeared as the bishops discussed amendments to a letter meant to accompany a series of videos aimed at helping Catholics engage with the American political process when Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked for a separate consideration of one of the amendments.
 
The cardinal suggested the insertion of a long paragraph into the text which would contextualize the Church’s position on life issues, and especially the teaching of Pope Francis.
 
The committee considering the amendments, led by the USCCB president-elect Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, agreed to include an abbreviated version of Cupich’s paragraph, including language insisting that the “firm and passionate” defense of the unborn should be matched with support for the “equally sacred” lives of the poor, inform, elderly, and marginalized.
 
Cupich argued that his proposed wording was necessary, even if it was longer, in order properly to represent the full concerns of the pope.
 
Speaking in support of Cupich, Bishop Robert McElroy told the assembly that he was specifically opposed to the letter’s retention of language calling abortion the “preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”
 
McElroy told the conference this language was “discordant with the pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent,” and implied that a failure to accept Cupich’s proposed language was tantamount to a breach with the Holy Father’s magisterium.
 
“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not.”
 
McElroy’s intervention triggered murmurs on the conference floor, with several bishops visibly distressed.
 
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia responded to McElroy, saying that calling abortion the “preeminent priority” was not just correct but necessary, pointing out that in the current American political context it was the most pressing concern. Chaput went on firmly to reject McElroy’s implication that recognizing this reality was in any way a breach with the pope, or a failure to present or value his own magisterium.
 
“I’m certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s full statement [as Cupich proposed],” Chaput said, “I think it’s a beautiful statement and I believe it.”
 
“But I am against anyone saying that our stating that [abortion] is preeminent is contrary to the teaching of the pope, because that isn’t true. It sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true.”
 
“I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used, because it isn’t true.”
 
In a rare break with etiquette, the bishops in the hall broke into applause in support of Chaput.

Pope Francis himself has repeatedly spoken out against abortion in the strongest possible terms, likening abortionists to “hitmen,” and comparing the practice to genocide “with white gloves.”
 
McElroy’s pointed suggestion that the U.S. bishops are out of step, even resistant, to the pope’s own teaching comes one week after the publication of a book which accused the American bishops of resisting the pope’s leadership in their efforts to pass stricter measures for bishops’ accountability last year. That book, Wounded Shepherd, drew a strong response from the USCCB, which last week said it “perpetuates an unfortunate and inaccurate myth that the Holy Father finds resistance among the leadership and staff of the U.S. bishops’ conference.”
 
As the bishops of the United States have been at pains to emphasize their closeness to the pope, many in Rome have noted the rise of a narrative in which Americans are cast as totems of opposition to Francis.
 
During a September trip to Africa, the pope casually remarked that “it is an honor that Americans are attacking me,” in response to a book which suggested that so-called conservative opposition to his teaching was organized by U.S. Catholics.
 
In his address at the opening of the USCCB assembly on Monday, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. emphasized the importance of the pope’s priorities being reflected in American dioceses, and many U.S. bishops, including the USCCB leadership, are deeply sensitive to the impression that they are anything less than supportive of the pope and reject any suggestion of disloyalty. Many also saw McElroy’s intervention as harmful to the conference and even disingenuous.
 
“He wants us to think that to disagree with him – or [Cardinal] Cupich – is to disagree with the pope. It’s not true, but it works to undermine the conference leadership,” another bishop told CNA immediately following the vote. “It doesn’t serve communion among us, or with the pope. It’s about personalities and power.”
 
The final vote on the amendment declined to include Cupich’s longer text, with applause again breaking out when the result was announced, but several bishops approached CNA after the session concluded to express their concerns that the actual substance of the amendment had been obscured by McElroy’s pointed intervention.
 
“I had no problem with either [Cupich’s] longer version or [Gomez’s] preferred formulation,” one bishop told CNA. “But Bishop McElroy suggesting that by calling abortion what it is in our society we are against the pope is absurd.”
 
The bishop suggested to CNA that McElroy’s intervention “needlessly weaponized” the debate about the language of the letter.
 
During a press conference after the morning session, several bishops sought to smooth over the exchange between McElroy and Chaput, insisting that there was no contradiction between the bishops holding abortion to be the “preeminent” concern for the conscience of Catholics and the teachings of Pope Francis.
 
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, said that “The short answer is that yes, abortion is the preeminent [concern] and the vote makes that obvious.”
 
Asked about McElroy’s characterization of his view, and that of the conference, that calling abortion the preeminent concern was either opposed to or discordant with the pope’s teaching, the cardinal suggested the McElroy was perhaps trying to make a different point.
 
“I think Bishop McElroy was warning against exclusive choices – either/or – or highlighting something to the point that other issues disappear. And I think, if I have understood his intention correctly, he was right.”
 
It is likely that McElroy’s intervention will be raised behind closed doors, when the bishops will gavel themselves into executive session. Behind closed doors, efforts to insist that the conference speaks and thinks with one mind are unlikely to continue long.
 
The increasingly serious challenge facing the large majority of U.S. bishops is how to deal with a small minority of their number who seem to be attempting to position themselves between the conference leadership and Rome, and appearing to drive a wedge between them and the pope at the same time.

US bishops approve updated seminary program, Hispanic ministry efforts

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 18:32

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference on Tuesday passed several action items, including an update of seminary formation and an effort to catalyze the evangelization of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S.

Approval of the measures came as the bishops met for the second day of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, held from November 11-14.

The bishops approved a new edition of the Program of Priestly Formation, as well as a new translation of the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults and a new translation of Latin hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Program of Priestly Formation is the blueprint for the formation of seminarians in the U.S.; the sixth edition, which was approved on Tuesday, incorporated the Vatican’s 2016 document “The Gift of Priestly Vocation.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said in a presentation on Monday that the updated program provides flexibility for dioceses, provinces and regions to adapt to individual circumstances of seminarians.

It focuses on benchmarks of priestly identity rather than “chronological time” in the advancement of a diocesan seminarian toward the priesthood, he said, by drawing from the concept of a “propaedeutic stage” of priestly formation that was called for in the 2016 Vatican document. This is a beginning stage with an emphasis on the study of philosophy, prayer, and discipleship.

Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, in floor discussions preceding the vote, said that in the last two years both he and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, had been working as part of a larger group on a “deepening” of understanding of priestly celibacy in seminary formation.

This understanding of clerical celibacy, he said, is “based on an effective maturity” that is “both spousal and paternal.” Estevez said that he and Bishop Cozzens would be working to publish a book on this called “Spiritual Husbands, Spiritual Fathers.”

The bishops approved the new edition of the priestly formation program by a vote of 226-4 with three bishops abstaining.

Also on the agenda was a new, reportedly more user-friendly, translation of the Latin edition of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), under a more accurate title of “Order of Christian Initiation of Adults” (OCIA).

The bishops first voted to approve a translation of the Latin edition of the rite, followed by a second vote on the book in its final form, to be sent to Rome for approval.

A text for RCIA had been in use in the U.S. since 1988. The new translation was approved on Tuesday, by a vote of 217-3, with three abstaining.

The bishops also voted on a new translation of Latin hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours.

To provide a sample of the new hymns, a choir with members from The Catholic University of America and the Fellow of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) performed two of the new hymns for bishops at the fall meeting.

The bishops voted to approve the translation 205-5, with two abstaining.

The votes were followed by a discussion of the V Encuentro meeting of 2018, a national gathering of more than 3,000 Hispanic Catholic leaders in the U.S. The bishops discussed some of the results of the Encuentro as providing a blueprint for the future of the Church in the U.S., and how the conference needs to incorporate those results at the parish level.

More than a year after the close of the V Encuentro, the bishops voted on Tuesday to start the process of incorporating the meeting’s conclusions and findings into its strategic plan for 2021-2024.

Recently, a Pew Research report on religious identity in the U.S. found that Catholics no longer make up a majority among Hispanics. The percentage of Catholics among Hispanics fell by 10% over the last decade.

Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, Ohio, said a statement from the conference in response to the V Encuentro should emphasize leadership development among Hispanic Catholics, as well as vocations to the priesthood or religious life, successful models of ministry, and a vision of the Church as a defender of social justice and human dignity.

Regarding the upcoming statement of the conference, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, expressed his hope that the vision outlined in it would be “very practical” and not full of “platitudes and too generic.”

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont said that bishops should produce a pastoral plan of evangelization rather than a statement that would simply be a “large document that just disappears on a shelf.”

Catholic education was a key topic for much of the discussion, as the cost of education was cited as a significant obstacle to the Church’s efforts to provide a nurturing environment for Hispanic Catholics at the parish level.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston emphasized a push for tax credits and school vouchers for Catholic schools, as well as more youth centers, after-school programs and weekend programs for Hispanic Catholic children to involve families in local parish life.

US bishops approve hymn translations for Liturgy of the Hours

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 17:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The Latin rite bishops of the US voted overwhelmingly Tuesday morning to approve the International Commission on English in the Liturgy gray book translation of the hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Nov. 12 vote was 204 in favor, and five against.

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville tweeted that "the translation of the Latin hymnody in the editio typica of the Liturgy of the Hours is a tremendous contribution to the liturgical heritage. The theological insight and aesthetic of the Latin hymns will have an English voice into the future; a work of theological transmission."

Before the vote, the Fall General Assembly was treated to a concert performance in which the hymn translations were sung for the bishops.

The choir, which was directed by Adam Bartlett of Denver, consisted of Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionaries who live in the Baltimore area, as well as music students from the Catholic University of America. The choir sang the opening verse of the hymns, and were then joined by the bishops.

Bartlett told CNA that the choir had only just met up and rehearsed Tuesday morning before performing before the bishops. He knew some of the singers through his work with FOCUS, and he has directed the choir that performed at the organization’s national conference for the past four years.

Before ICEL did this translation, the vast majority the hymns that were printed in the English edition of the Liturgy of the Hours were translations of those found in the editio typica.

"What's unique about this translation is that the hymns of the Latin typical edition are actually being translated, which didn't happen the first time around,” said Bartlett.

“So we have hymns from St. Ambrose, Gregory the Great, you know, all of the great hymn writers … that are being translated and also paired with chant tunes that come from our rich tradition. In addition, of course, to modern melodies that they can be sung with,” he added. He said these translations created “great utility” as they could be sung with different tunes.

Bartlett said he found the updated hymns to be “absolutely gorgeous” and “so rich with theological imagery.” He thinks that these hymns are going to “make a really remarkable contribution to the musical life of the Church.”

“These are our hymns as Catholics,” he said. “These are the ones that come from the liturgy itself, and are put in the place where they ought to be sung, which is the Liturgy of the Hours. But I think that's probably going to have an impact on the hymns that we sing at Mass as well."

Valeria Lamarra, a chorister who sang on Tuesday, got involved with the ICEL hymn project through her school’s campus ministry. She had never met anyone she performed with before Tuesday morning.

“We had half an hour to practice, before getting up in front of 200 bishops,” said Lamarra. “It feels like a huge victory that the changes passed.”

Bishop Barron on how to reach out to the 'nones'

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 16:38

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 02:38 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the US bishop' committee on evangelization on Monday outlining five paths Church leaders should take to re-energize the religiously unaffiliated.

Barron’s Nov. 11 presentation was on the opening day of the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly, held in Baltimore. His presentation opened with a trailer for a new video that fully expands on how better to reach the religiously unaffiliated.

To better engage people who are not affiliated with any religion or who may be fallen-away Catholics, Barron said that the transcendentals – truth, goodness, and beauty – must be communicated to young people in order to pique their interest in religion. Barron presented five strategies and techniques that can be deployed in order to communicate these concepts to young people and the religiously unaffiliated.

These strategies highlight the Church’s teachings on justice, her beauty, her intellectualism, her missionary mission, as well as encouraging “creative use of the new media.”

Young people, said Barron, do not respond well to some of Catholicism’s teachings – particularly those on sex. What they do seem to appreciate, however, is the Church’s teachings on social justice. Barron suggested that it could be effective to lead with the Church’s teachings on social justice, referring to this as the “path of justice.”

“We have a very powerful tradition around doing the works of justice. And young people like that. They get it,” said Barron. He cited figures such as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and St. Teresa of Calcutta as figures who have lived out Church teachings of social justice who should be held up as examples to the young people of today.

“We know this tradition. We should propagate it,” he said.

Barron said it was important to flex the beauty of the Church to young people, in what he called “Via Pulchritudinis,” or “The Way of Beauty.”

This beauty, said Barron, extends to more than just physical church buildings. There must also be beauty present in liturgies, as well as in things such as websites – where young people may first encounter their local parish. Barron stressed the importance of having a parish having a solid online presence, as well as engaging Catholic artists and writers and promoting their work.

“Beauty,” said Barron “is a great path to follow.”

Shifting gears to what he called the “intellectual path,” Barron was critical in how he believes the faith was currently being pitched to young people.

“We have to stop dumbing down the faith,” he said. He said there has been two generations of a “pastoral disaster” of bad formation, where key tenets of the faith were not effectively taught to young people.

This failure, said Barron, has led to people being unable to properly answer the tough questions that may be asked. When these questions go unanswered, said Barron, people may abandon faith altogether.

Despite what Barron called a “smart tradition” of Catholicism, he said it has not been properly articulated to young people through catechesis. He stressed the need for Catholic schools to better prepare their students so they are fully equipped to enter the next stage of life being able to properly defend the faith and answer those tough questions.

Next, Barron detailed his belief that it would be beneficial to “turn every parish into a missionary society,” to seek to better evangelize with young people and the religiously unaffiliated.

Barron said there must be “a dialogue with our priests and our people” regarding evangelization. He called for a change in mindset, and said that all parishes should be reaching out to the community with evangelization and mission work in mind. Parishes should “knock down the walls,” said Barron, and interact with the surrounding area.

“The young people aren’t going to come to us,” said Barron. “We have to go out to them.”

To properly execute these various techniques and strategies, Barron said priests, bishops, and parishes must embrace a “creative use of new media,” namely, social media platforms such as Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Social media is the “prime tool” to reach the young people, said Barron. He noted that young people are easily reached through social media, which are platforms that did not exist even a decade ago. The Church needs to embrace social media, which are platforms that can easily and simply reach large amounts of people, in order to reach into the world of young people, said Barron.

“It’s a tool that we can and should use to reach out to this world,” said Barron. He said that social media has a “sticky” quality about it that can draw in a user to continue to consume content. He cited an example of someone who came to embrace Catholicism after finding Barron’s videos regarding Bob Dylan and religion, which led to the person watching more and more videos on the Church.

The Church, said Barron, must invest in this, as well as hire “really good people” to work on social media.

After all, said the bishop, “young people live” online, and they must be reached where they can be found.

“Now we want to get them to parishes,” he said, “but as a first step, I think that’s one way to do it.”

In USCCB debate, Chaput defends prioritizing fight against abortion

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 15:20

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Catholic bishops approved a letter to supplement their voting document on Tuesday—but not without controversy during debate on the “preeminent priority” of abortion.

During discussion at the bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore on a letter to accompany the bishops’ document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops considered whether to include an entire paragraph from Pope Francis’ 2018 apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said that paragraph should be included to make clear that Pope Francis prioritizes other issues at the same level as abortion.

The U.S. bishops’ inclusion of the word “preeminent” before mention of abortion in another part of the letter, he said, “is a statement that I believe is at least discordant with the Pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent,” and one that “will be used to, in fact, undermine the point Pope Francis is making.”

“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face in the world of Catholic social teaching. It is not,” McElroy said, adding that to teach otherwise would provide “a grave disservice” to the faithful.

After McElroy spoke, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas said, “I absolutely think ‘preeminent’ needs to stay.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia rose to say that he did not oppose the inclusion of the full statement of Pope Francis, but added that teaching that abortion is a “preeminent” issue is not contrary to the magisterium of Pope Francis.

“I am certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s full statement, I think it’s a beautiful statement, I believe it,” he said.

“But I am against anyone stating that our stating it [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. That isn’t true. That sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father, which isn’t true,” Chaput said.

“I think it’s been a very clearly articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the pre-eminent issue. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity,” he said.

Many bishops in the audience applauded after Chaput finished his statement.

The U.S. bishops on Tuesday met for the second day of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, held from November 11-14. The meeting agenda included the elections of a new conference president and vice president and six committee chairs.

On Tuesday morning, the bishops elected standing vice president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as the conference’s first Hispanic president. Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit was elected as the vice president on the third ballot.

Later on Tuesday, the bishops voted to approve both a script for a short video on their voting document “Faithful Citizenship,” as well as a short letter to accompany the document, amendments to which were considered by the U.S. bishops’ Working Group on “Forming Consciences on Faithful Citizenship.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich had proposed an amendment to add the whole paragraph 101 from “Gaudete et Exsultate” into the letter.

The amendment had been accepted by the working committee with the changes that some, but not all, of the language of the paragraph would be included.

The reason the entire paragraph was not included was the need for brevity in the letter, Archbishop Gomez—the incoming president of the conference—later said, in the discussions on the language.

A footnote to the exhortation was included to draw attention to the Holy Father’s message, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco later said.

While the original discussion centered upon the inclusion of Cupich’s amendment, it triggered a debate over the inclusion of the word “preeminent” in mentioning abortion among other issues. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, had successfully included an amendment inserting the word “preeminent” before the mention of the abortion in the letter, to recognize its special gravity when considered with other issues voters are considering.

Cupich said that Pope Francis, in his exhortation on holiness, “makes sure that we do not make one issue that a political party or a group puts forward to the point where we’re going to ignore all the rest.”

The pope’s warning against the coexistence of consumerism with poverty, for instance, was not included in the voting letter, Cupich said, and the entire paragraph should be included for that reason.

Bishop Frank Dewane, who led the working group on “Faithful Citizenship,” proposed a compromise to include more language recognizing those issues Pope Francis mentioned in his exhortation, but Cupich said that he wanted the entire paragraph included.

“This is the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis put in a very succinct way, and I think we can all benefit from it as we speak to our people about the issues,” Cupich said.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego then made his intervention, with Strickland and Chaput responding.

The bishops then voted to keep the letter as is—without Cupich’s amendment to insert the entire paragraph into the text—with 143 members of the conference in support. Sixty-nine members voted in favor of Cupich’s motion, with four abstentions.

After that vote, the bishops voted on the final text of the letter, with 207 conference members voting in favor, 24 voting against, and five abstaining.

US bishops elect new committee leadership 

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 11:50

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 09:50 am (CNA).- Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected six new chairmen on Nov. 12 at their Fall General Assembly in Baltimore. The Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services was also elected.

Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Ohio was elected chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty after a tied vote against Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. Per USCCB bylaws, in the event of a tie, the position goes to the older bishop. At nearly 71, Murry is nearly two years older than Wenski, who recently turned 69. Murry was thus declared the victor.

Unlike the other five chairs, Murry will immediately take the helm of the committee, as Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville had resigned from the position in July due to illness.

On Nov. 11, the first day of the assembly, Kurtz underwent surgery for bladder cancer. The following day, immediately before the elections, outgoing USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo informed the bishops that he had spoken to Kurtz and that he was out of surgery.

Prior to the election for the chairman of the religious liberty committee, the bishops agreed by a voice vote to limit the term of the incoming chairman to just one year, to finish Kurtz’s original term. This was done to avoid an imbalance of committee elections.

Murry is eligible to be elected to a full three-year term at next year’s Fall General Assembly.

Five other committees elected a new leader, who will assume the role of chairman at next year’s Fall General Assembly. Until then, they will be known as the chairman-elect of the committee.

Bishop James Johnston, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young people, with a vote of 167 to 77. He defeated Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Canonical Affairs, defeating Bishop Mark Bartchak of Altoona-Johnstown by a vote of 144 to 97.

Next, Bishop David Talley of Memphis was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Ecumenism, besting Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter by a vote of 123 to 114.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. He defeated Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane by a vote of 151 to 88.

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Ill., was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, garnering 140 votes to Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento’s 101.

Following the election of USCCB committee leadership, three members of the Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) were elected from a slate of seven candidates. Bishop Gregory Mansour, a Maronite bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn and outgoing chairman of the CRS, told the bishops that the board of directors should be diverse in both makeup and episcopal location of clergy.

Bishops who serve on the CRS board are requested to be open to traveling to countries served by CRS programs, said Mansour, and to develop relationships with clergy overseas.

Bishops Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, and Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock received the most votes and were elected to the board of directors.

 

Archbishops Gomez and Vigneron elected USCCB president and vice president

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 11:13

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 09:13 am (CNA).- The bishops of the US have elected a new president and vice president to lead the USCCB for the next three years. On Tuesday morning, the second day of their fall general session, the bishops elected Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as president and Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit as vice president of the conference.
 
As the votes were cast Nov. 12, Archbishop Gomez was serving as the USCCB vice president, and the bishops customarily elected the vice president to the presidency. From a slate of 10 candidates, Gomez was elected with 176 votes, more than double the number of the second-place candidate.
 
If Gomez’s election was a formality, the election of the vice president was more evenly contested. The bishops needed three rounds of voting to winnow down the nine remaining candidates.
 
Archbishop Vigneron led after the first ballot, with 77 votes but falling short of a majority. On the second round, that number rose to 106, with Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services the next placed candidate with 52 votes. The two archbishops were then put forward in a run-off third ballot, with Vigneron being elected with 151 out of 241 votes cast.
 
Gomez, 67, born in Monterrey, Mexico, and ordained a priest of Opus Dei in Spain, is the first Latino to lead the bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant at the conference helm.
 
Vigneron, a Michigan native, has led the Detroit archdiocese since 2009. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1975 and made an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996. In 2003 he was named co-adjutor and later ordinary of the Diocese of Oakland.
 
Vigneron is widely considered to have provided steady leadership in Detroit during the recent sexual abuse crisis, even as the dioceses of the state face an ongoing Attorney General investigation. In April, he gave a speech in which he explained the importance of lay collaboration in the ministry of bishops as they govern their dioceses.
 
“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’--others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” he said during a speech at the Catholic University of America.
 
"All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there's going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.
“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we're engaged in those challenges."
Seen as a moderate conservative, earlier this year he announced that archdiocesan sporting events and leagues would no longer play on Sundays to help encourage families to observe the day of rest.
 
Vigneron had been serving as the bishops’ conference secretary, and was elected to the vice presidency from a crowded field of candidates. Despite the long list of names on the ballot, the election was marked by the absence of any notably theologically progressive candidates.
 
One of the more thorny issues facing the newly elected leadership team will be how to deal with bishops, both active and retired, who face accusations of either negligence or abuse of office.
 
In June, the conference adopted a set of protocols on how diocesan bishops could limit the ministry of their retired or removed predecessors in the event that allegations came to light. Among those provisions was the option to “disinvite” emeritus bishops from attending future USCCB meetings.
 
Shortly before the November meeting, Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston wrote to the outgoing conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, asking him to disinvite former Wheeling Bishop Michael Bransfield, who faces numerous allegations of misconduct, both financial and sexual.
 
During a Nov. 11 press conference, CNA asked Cardinal DiNardo if similar requests to bar retired bishops from attending conference meetings would be made public.
 
“Bishop Bransfield was the first [such case] that we had, and I did a consultation with the administrative board,” DiNardo told CNA. “Not a vote taking, but a good consultation, but [the president] is the one who makes the decision.”
 
With investigations open in several dioceses, including into serving diocesan bishops in the dioceses of Crookston and Buffalo, Archbishop Gomez is likely to face several similarly sensitive decisions in the coming year.
 
Gomez and Vigneron also take the helm of the conference ahead of the release of the Vatican’s widely anticipated report on former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. On Monday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston updated the conference on the Vatican Secretariat of State’s progress on the investigation into McCarrick’s career rise through ecclesiastical ranks despite decades of alleged abuse.
 
O’Malley told the U.S. bishops that the Vatican process had uncovered “a much larger corpus of information than had been expected,” and that this had delayed the publication of a report.
 
A draft was now complete, O’Malley said, and was in the process of being translated and would be presented to Pope Francis in the near future. “The intention is to publish the Holy See’s response soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the New Year,” O’Malley said.
 
How that report is presented to and received by the faithful in the United States will likely be the most important part of the first year of the Gomez-Vigneron leadership.

‘I just wanted to be a priest’: Archbishop Gomez elected president of USCCB

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 09:25

Washington D.C., Nov 12, 2019 / 07:25 am (CNA).- When he became a priest four decades ago, Archbishop Jose Gomez did not expect that he would one day lead the largest archdiocese in the U.S., or the country’s bishops’ conference.

“I just wanted to be a priest,” Gomez told CNA with a laugh, speaking about his election.

“Somehow God wanted me to do what I am doing, and I’m just counting on the grace of God to be able to be faithful to what God is asking me to do.”

“And also on intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he added, explaining that he has entrusted all of his ministry as a bishop to the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Gomez, 67, was elected Nov. 12 as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The archbishop, born in Monterey, Mexico, and ordained a priest in Spain, is the first Latino to lead the bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant to head the conference.

His election is historic, but it was no surprise. Gomez became vice president of the conference, a central organizing body of almost 200 Catholic bishops with more than 300 employees, in 2016. The vice president is traditionally elected to the top job, so Gomez knew his election was likely.

But, he told CNA, the real surprise was becoming vice president three years ago.

“I was not expecting to be the president. Some people put my name forward for election as vice president [in 2016].”

“To my surprise I was elected vice president, then once you are the vice president, it is more likely that they elect you president. The whole process was a surprise to me, but I see that God is asking me to do it, and I just pray that with the grace of God I can do a good job.”

Gomez laughed, noting that he had never expected to become a Denver auxiliary bishop in in 2001, the Archbishop of San Antonio in 2004, or in 2010 head of the Los Angeles archdiocese, the largest local Church in the country.

The archbishop told CNA that his goal is to “try to live what I preach, and then, also, my ministry to the people — that’s the most important thing.”

His ministry, he said, includes serving “my brother bishops, priests, deacons, and also the lay faithful. Because really my vocation started with ministry to lay faithful.”

Gomez acknowledged that he spends a great deal of time on administrative responsibilities, and will have more of them as his term as president begins. But he said that even amid those responsibilities, and even while exercising them, he has time to build the pastoral relationships he finds so fulfilling.

“The fact that I am the Archbishop of Los Angeles gives me a beautiful opportunity to be with the people, because there are so many people active in the Church in Los Angeles. And also in the conference of bishops, really what’s its all about it serving the people, so I hope that I can have the opportunity to be with people, in events where people are, and that I can continue to be a pastor which is, I believe, my vocation.”

Gomez is the first bishop elected to lead the conference to be associated with Opus Dei, a Church group, founded in Spain and supported by Pope St. John Paul, that focuses on finding holiness in everyday life, and on the call to holiness of lay Catholics. The archbishop became affiliated with Opus Dei as a college student, and was a priest in the organization, formally called a personal prelature.

The archbishop’s vision of the Church, focused on collaboration and friendship between laity and clerics, and on the idea that everyone should be a saint, is informed by his experience in Opus Dei.

“The spirituality of Opus Dei,” he told CNA, “basically is to strive for holiness— personal sanctification — and ministry. Sharing our faith with everybody else.”

“Most of the members of Opus Dei are lay faithful living their lives and working and trying to share the faith and to be holy.”

“Everybody, starting with the pope and going through every single bishop, and priest, and deacon, we all are called to strive for holiness, with the universal call to holiness, provided to us by the Second Vatican Council, and also, as Pope Francis is insisting that we should be missionary disciples, so that means sharing our faith with everybody else,” he added.

Gomez told CNA that groups like Opus Dei, along with other Church movements like the NeoCatechumenal Way and Communion and Liberation that have gained popularity in recent decades, emphasize “the universal call to holiness making a reality in the life of the Church.”

“All of those different institutions that are promoting the vocation of the lay faithful are a blessing for the Church.”

“By the work of the Holy Spirit there have been in the universal Church many groups of people working as a movement just to bring the beauty of the Chirstian life to the presence of the lay faithful all over the world,” Gomez added, comparing Church movements to the diversity of ministries and apostolates in parishes, which he called “the center of Christian life in the United States.”

The archbishop said that in his own ministry as a bishop, he looks to the example of Pope St. John Paul II, and, that among American bishops, he has been influenced and inspired by a number of bishops.

“Obviously in the United States I had the blessing of working together with Archbishop Chaput because I was his auxiliary bishop, so he has been a wonderful example to me. But I have been influenced by many other bishops: Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Patrick Flores, and then Cardinal William Leveda, who just passed away, he was a good friend.”

Levada, Gomez told CNA, “asked me, when I was a young auxiliary bishop, to be a member of the doctrine committee of the USCCB. So that helped me to get to know the workings of the USCCB.”

Gomez takes the helm of the bishops’ conference in a difficult time.

The sexual scandals that emerged in June 2018, with revelations of abuse on the part of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, have preoccupied bishops and lay Catholics.

The ecclesiastical landscape has shifted too; the pontificate of Pope Francis is different in emphasis, tone, and style from those of his predecessors. Some U.S. bishops have been accused of resistance to Francis, and bishops have responded to his leadership in different ways.

“The reality of the bishops in the United States is that we all are faithful to Pope Francis,” Gomez told CNA.

“I think we all are united. There is some perception that we are not. But the reality— what I see— is that we are united in our ministry and in our Church.”

“Every pope brings some different aspects in the life of the Church that he, by the grace of God, believes are important. And we, the bishops of the United States, are trying to be more aware of what those things are, and try to make it happen in our ministry.”

Gomez acknowledged that Pope Francis’ leadership is not similar to that of his predecessors.

“I think it takes time for people to really understand the spirituality of Pope Francis.”

“I think there are many, many aspects that are different. They are cultural and spiritual; it’s the first time in the history of the Church that there is a pope from Latin America. And some of us, who have that experience, know that it is different from the culture in Europe, or in the United States, or in Asia,” Gomez said. 

“It’s also the first time there is a Jesuit who is the pope. So every religious community, and the diocesan priesthood, have different spiritualities.”

“So I think we the bishops of the United States, and I personally, are learning how to appreciate the different aspects of the spirituality and the culture of Pope Francis.”

Gomez added that “every bishop has his own spirituality, and his own ministry in the diocese, according to the needs of the people in the diocese,” he said, noting the difference in his experiences while serving in Denver, San Antonio, and Los Angeles.

“San Antonio was basically a community of two cultures: Hispanic culture and the Anglo-Saxon culture. Now in Los Angeles we have people from all over the world. So my ministry is different.”

“One thing Pope Francis insists a lot is to respect the cultures of people, different ways of worshipping. People in Peru, or in Mexico, or people from Vietnam have different ways of worshipping and living. So the Church in the United States is learning how to address the needs of people from around the world,” Gomez added.

As he begins his term as president, Gomez told CNA he hopes to help the Church “to really understand the cultural realities of the people in the United States. I think it’s important for all of us to be more open to that.”

“With immigrants, what I talk about is not assimilation, but integration: that they be integrated into the life of the United States and the life of the Church.”

As Gomez discussed the importance of understanding the diversity of cultures in the Church, he also emphasized the source of the Church’s unity.

“Obviously I have the same truths as we all have, the teachings of Jesus Christ, in the Catholic Church.”

Ukrainian archbishop: No amount of world progress can replace friendship

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 04:48

South Bend, Ind., Nov 12, 2019 / 02:48 am (CNA).- Are the times these days good or bad?

That depends, in part, on how one reads the times.

On the one hand, technological advances have brought illiteracy levels throughout the world from 90% to only 10%. Advances in science and medicine are allowing people to live longer and healthier lives.

“These are some of the good things that are happening. I think a lot of it is done out of friendship, out of good intention,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparch of Philadelphia, and the Metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S., said November 7. Gudziak was one of the keynote speakers for the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture 21st annual fall conference, which this year had the theme: “I have called you friends.”

“I don't canonize our times and I don't canonize longevity, but we do appreciate these things,” he said.

“And yet the times are not so good,” Gudziak added.

“In fact, they're similar to...what it was in 1914 when the Western world was convinced that progress would lead us to great happiness. Then the massacres began. World wars. The genocides,” Gudziak said.

He noted that for all of our technological and social progress, Americans are lonelier, more depressed and more stressed than ever. In Pennsylvania, one of the states where he serves, the opioid crisis has left people sick, dying, lonely and without hope.

“It's important to focus on friendship because no amount of material, educational, technological, industrial welfare can compensate for the relationships that we are called to,” he said.

Gudziak said some of the most profound friendships he’s seen are those he witnessed in Soviet Russia before it fell, and those he continues to witness in countries controlled by communism, although these friendships are not easy or without cost.

“In all of these countries that were or continue to be communist, where millions of people were killed, where the system killed systematically, people over generations developed a reflex to put on a mask, put up a facade, build a wall because the outside world is dangerous,” Gudziak said.

Families are encouraged to inform authorities against each other in communist countries, “so people in the family don't say things, because you can't trust. It becomes like a radiation.”

“You can't taste it, has no smell, no color, but it mutates the genes. There's an extra fear chromosome. It's a reflex. You can't control it. Two billion people have an added obstacle to cultivate profound friendship.”

And yet it was in these oppressive conditions in Soviet Russia that the Ukrainian Catholic Church, while it lost many members, grew deep roots and bonds of friendship among those that remained.

“(T)he Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which had about 4 million members in 1939, with 3,000 priests, was totally - on a visible level - liquidated,” Gudziak said.

“In 1945-46 all the bishops were arrested, hundreds of priests with their families were deported to Siberia. The church was rendered illegal and it remained the biggest illegal church in the world for 43 years until 1989. And it was very reduced. By 1989 there were only 300 priests left,” he said.

“But what a community it was! Forged in that fire of persecution,” he added.

When he met the underground Church, Gudziak said everything was stripped to the bare minimum - bishops had jobs as ambulance drivers or coal workers, there were no schools or churches or official institutions of any kind. The bishops didn’t even know one another’s names, because it was too dangerous to tell someone your name in underground seminary.

“And yet they were profoundly friends of Christ, and it was an incredible, intense relationship of those in the underground,” Gudziak said.

“The friendship was not just kind of a nice thing, it cost profoundly to be a friend of Christ in an atheist totalitarian system,” he said. “It cost to pass down the faith to your children. But the fruits are amazing.”

The Ukranian Catholic Church now again has 3,000 priests, 5 million members and 800 seminarians.

The story of the Ukranian Catholic Church is important because “it's the story of the cross,” Gudziak told CNA in an interview.

“I think the story of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its persecution, its underground life, its survival...it's not a philosophy, it's a story of human faithfulness to God...the faithfulness of concrete people to God and to each other.”

From the beginning of humanity, God has been teaching human beings about true friendship, Gudziak noted in his talk.

“From the scriptures we know from our faith, we experience that the Lord so yearns to make us his friends. Moses had a special privilege to see face-to-face. Abraham was called a friend. The value of friendship was modeled by David and Jonathan,” he said.

“Then, Jesus came to us. Our faith, our church, our theology, our civilization is based on this incredible gesture that God comes to be close, to convey his divinity. He sits next to us,” he said.

“What a God, what a Lord, and what is He conveying? He's conveying the divine life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Friendship...motivates the Father to send his Son into (the world’s) grime, into our anxiety, our sin, the pitch blackness that we can create, into our hell, into our death, to create relationship, to create trust, intimacy, to establish an alliance.”

“Friendship,” he said, “is the school of the spiritual life which reflects the gift of relationship that we have, by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God. God is triune. He's personal and there's relationship. We as persons are called to relationship. We're called to friendship.”

Besides his appointments in the U.S., Gudziak also serves as the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. In striving to teach their students about true friendship, the university invites academics as well as students with disabilities into its classes and campus, he said.

“Not because they need us, because they need our social handout, but because the children of God with special needs have special gifts. They don't care where you got your Ph.D. or how many publications you have. They don't notice how rich or poor you are or, which title you carry,” he said.

“They have one basic question: Can you love?...There's no more important pedagogical question.”

In a world increasingly divided along political, religious and other ideological lines, Gudziak told CNA it is all the more important that Christians reflect on God’s friendship to us, and in turn our friendship with him and with others.

“I think ever since The Enlightenment, when we've really been focusing a lot on ideas, there's a tendency for ideas to become ideologies. And our consciousness in the Western world is very intellectualized, and our relationships can become abstract. They can be categorized according to different positions, world views, and they're in our head,” he said.

“If we look carefully at the Gospels and listen to Jesus, he doesn't speak about grand ideas. He talks about the Father, the Holy Spirit. He talks about relationships,” he added. “He talks about persons and interaction among persons, and he uses very personal, very concrete examples and stories to teach about life. He doesn't start from ideas and systems and ideologies and systems.”

In his talk at the conference, Gudziak noted that Jesus became friends with “very concrete people, Peter and John and Nathaniel. It's not an ideology, it's not a system. There weren't too many buildings there in Jesus's time, nor in Paul's or for 300 years.”

“So maybe if we lose the buildings and the endowments and the properties, maybe that's not the end of things, if we can recover or develop more profoundly our friendship.”

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