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Bishops examine challenges faced by church, society

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 - Updated: 12:27 pm

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — During their Nov. 11-13 meeting in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops elected new officers and discussed challenges in the church and the nation. They spoke of their renewed efforts to help immigrants, youth and young adults, pregnant women and the poor as well their steps to combat gun violence and racism.

Unlike recent previous meetings, their response to the clergy abuse crisis was mentioned but was not the primary focus.

On the second day of the meeting, Nov. 12, the bishops elected Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles to a three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit as conference vice president.

Archbishop Gomez, the first Latino to be elected to this role, was chosen with 176 votes from a slate of 10 nominees. He has been USCCB vice president for the past three years and his new role begins at the end of the Baltimore gathering.

At the start of the meeting, the bishops voted overwhelmingly on a revised set of strategic priorities to take them into the next decade. The next day, they approved adding new materials to complement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their long-standing guide to help Catholics form their consciences in public life, including voting. The addition included the statement that called abortion the preeminent social issue of our time.

Bishops also heard a wide-ranging report on immigration Nov. 12, which included updates on policy, how programs to resettle refugees, including those run by the Catholic Church, have closed or reduced activity because the administration has moved to close the country’s doors to those seeking refuge, and efforts on the border to help asylum cases.

After the report, Major-Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia said that no community, more than Catholics in the U.S., know what it’s like to be an immigrant in this country.

The bishops’ second day of meetings also included a presentation of the pope’s document “Christus Vivit,” which was issued following the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who had been a delegate at the synod, urged bishops to do more to support Catholic teens and young adults and to use the pope’s apostolic exhortation as their guide.

The previous day, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles told the bishops the church is losing young people in greater numbers and must face the challenges of how to get the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” particularly young people, back.

He presented a three-minute video on the issue and spoke of his concerns and ideas for bringing young people back to church which involved: not dumbing down the faith and involving young people in the social justice aspects of the church. Discussion about this from the floor lasted for more than an hour with bishops from across the country agreeing that the issue is of great concern and sharing other ideas to bring young people back which primarily involved catechism but also an increased devotion to Mary.

Bishop Barron, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, who is known for his website, “Word on Fire,” and for hosting the documentary series “Catholicism,” initially brought up this topic during the bishops’ spring meeting. He said at the time, and reiterated Nov. 11, that this topic needs to be a priority for the church today.

The bishops also heard that a new “pastoral framework for marriage and family life” should be ready for a vote by the U.S. bishops by next November at the latest, according to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He stressed that it is not a “plan,” since it is intended to be applied within parishes and dioceses.

At the start of their meeting Nov. 11, the bishops raised pressing issues that included the priesthood shortage, gun violence and the need to provide support services for pregnant women.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, mentioned some of these challenges in his opening remarks, along with the need to welcome migrants and fight racism. He also urged the bishops not just to focus on the challenges before them but to consider how they could further develop collegiality and collaboration with one another.

Commenting on the archbishop’s presentation, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said, “I thought the nuncio’s call to unity was brilliant, as he reminded us of how we, as the Church of Pittsburgh, are called to reflect the mind and heart of Pope Francis.”

In his final address as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston told his fellow bishops that it has been “an honor to serve you, even in the difficult times.”

The 70-year-old prelate — a former Pittsburgh priest — thanked the bishops, whom he called brothers, for the past three years and was thanked by them in return when the group gave him a standing ovation at the end of his nine-minute presentation.

“Let’s begin anew,” he said, at the close of his address, veering away from prepared remarks, and quoting St. Augustine.

The cardinal, who suffered a mild stroke earlier this year, did not elaborate on specifics of the abuse crisis in the church, particularly highlighted this past year, but spoke of the bishops’ continued work of transparency related to dealing with the crisis. He said the abuse measures adopted by U.S. bishops at their meeting last June are “only a beginning. More needs to be done.”

In her report on Catholic Charities USA Nov. 13, Dominican Sister Donna Markham, CEO and president, told the bishops the agency’s healthy housing initiative is collaborating with diocesan Catholic Charities programs, parishes, local funders and Catholic health care systems on a program to address chronic homelessness and guiding people into permanent housing, while saving millions of dollars in health care costs.

Bishop Zubik, as the USCCB liaison to Catholic Charities USA, introduced Sister Markham, saying, “Catholic Charities currently operates approximately 35,000 units of affordable housing in addition to emergency shelters and temporary housing. More units are underway as I speak.

“While many organizations are focused on the development of affordable housing, very few want to take on the task of the ‘hard-to-house’ chronically homeless people who are living on our streets. For us as Gospel-driven leaders in the church, these are exactly the people we are called to serve,” Bishop Zubik said.

In a presentation on gun violence, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, said Catholic clergy and lay leaders can play a role in bringing together people along the rural-urban divide to build understanding of the need for sensible policies that can end the scourge of gun violence.

The bishop, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, outlined the USCCB’s long-held stance of the need for “common sense” legislation that governs the availability of guns. But he also said it was time for people to come together so that there is greater understanding of how gun violence affects urban communities in particular.

He told Catholic News Service that the USCCB’s work on the legislative front was important, but that a pastoral response to gun violence was needed.

“It’s time for a different approach,” he said.

“Bishop Dewane’s presentation on gun control was also excellent,” Bishop Zubik said. “I’m passionate about continuing to look for ways to keep our people safe on all fronts.”

Contributing to this report was Rhina Guidos, Mark Pattison and Dennis Sadowski.


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