By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Outlined below is a summary of the November 2018 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This is not an official summary but from my personal notes. At the end of the summary is the statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo summarizing our two-day deliberations.
1. Papal Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre acknowledged the present challenges facing the church today. He went on to say the church is always in need of renewal, and the bishops must regain trust among the people of God. He said we must suffer for the church, this is a time of reform rooted in Christ, and the bishops must lead the way in a spirit of faith and transparency, united to Pope Francis. He supported the efforts of the Protection of Children and Young People. Our safe environment programs have made a significant difference in caring for our children. There is more to do, but we cannot overlook what has been accomplished. The media often does not recognize progress that has been made since 2002. We must see our failures and set a path for renewal.
Pope Francis said that the traits of bishops must be a man of prayer, a man of proclamation of the Gospel message and a man of communion and unity. The bishop must never get tired of listening. Many priests are hurting, and we must reach out to them. For them, we must be a brother and father. He said a spirit of clericalism can erode the church. Even in dark times, we must have hope and ask Jesus to lead us.
2. The USCCB president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, asked forgiveness from the victim-survivors and promised continued prayers for their healing. He informed us that Vatican officials asked us not to vote on the proposals before us but to discuss them in order to give input at the February 2019 meeting of the presidents of the various national conferences of bishops. In all we do, we must continue our efforts to protect children and young people. He affirmed the works of the safe environment programs in each diocese – and this must continue. As bishops, we must rise to a new integrity.
3. The National Advisory Council, composed of laity, clergy and religious, presented a report to the bishops. They reviewed our agenda and offered suggestions for discussion and vote. This year, their focus was primarily on the issue of sexual abuse. The council called for us to reconnect our efforts to the healing of victims and to the church as a safe environment. They asked the bishops for transparency and integrity regarding this crisis. This issue is of the highest priority. They supported the standards of accountability for bishops. They, along with the bishops, request a full investigation of Archbishop McCarrick. They are committed to working with the bishops in restoring trust.
4. Dr. Francesco C. Cesareo, chair of the National Review Board, gave a report as the board oversees the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. He encouraged the bishops to be more accountable and transparent. We were encouraged to publish a list of clergy who have abused minors, which we have already done here in New Orleans. The board suggests we revise the charter in light of current events and for the diocesan audits to be more thorough.
5. The bishops discussed proposals on:
a. A third-party reporting system.
b. Standards of accountability for bishops.
c. Lay commission for review of complaints against bishops regarding the standards of accountability.
d. Protocol regarding restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of violation to the standard of accountability.
Though we did not vote on the various proposals, they were discussed thoroughly, and we came to a consensus on next steps. Please see the memo below from Cardinal DiNardo. This discussion is ongoing and needs further development by the USCCB and dialogue with Vatican officials.
6. Dr. Heather Banis, a diocesan victims’ assistance coordinator, shared what victim-survivors experience emotionally and ways we can give pastoral care.
7. At our Day of Prayer, two victim-survivors shared their painful stories and gave insight to the bishops. They called us to responsibility and transparency in order to have safe environments and to reach out in genuine care to victim-survivors. It is important to bring them out of silence and to seek healing, they said.
8. Msgr. Todd J. Lajiness, rector of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, gave a summary of the Vatican visitation report on seminaries from several years ago and an update on seminaries today. His report was positive and tells of the great care given to seminarians in priestly formation. Their formation is thorough and addresses the challenges facing the church today.
9. The bishops voted in favor of the statement on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts; The Enduring Call to
Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism.” It is a powerful statement and calls us to respect and unity.
10. The bishops supported the advance on the local level the cause for canonization of Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A.
11. A report was given on two recent events:
a. V Encuentro
b. Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment”
12. We recognized the 40th anniversary of the “Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities.”