By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary
While at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting held in Baltimore earlier this month, Archbishop Aymond jotted down a few notes of matters discussed among the bishops.
1. The USCCB bishops sent greetings to Pope Francis, assuring him of our prayers and appreciation for the gatherings in Rome to discuss pastoral care of young people and the guidelines for dealing with the sexual abuse cases.
2. Msgr. Erbi represented Archbishop Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio, who is in Rome for a meeting of all who serve as Nuncio throughout the world. Msgr. Erbi conveyed the greetings of the Nuncio and his appreciation for our ministry. He read a letter from Archbishop Pierre, which discussed the documents regarding sexual abuse. He thanked us for the delay in approving the November documents until after the meeting in Rome, which addressed this issue for the universal Church. He reminded us of the need for “synodality,” the universal Church working together for Christ and his people. He also reminded us of a continued need for prayer and reflection as we address the pastoral issues of the Church.
The Nuncio recalled that on retreat together in January, the Pope sent a letter of encouragement to deal effectively with sexual abuse. He noted that other countries could benefit from the work of the U.S. bishops. He encouraged us to continue the use of the laity in this important work.
3. The National Advisory Council, comprised of laity, religious and clergy (over 50 people), reviewed our agenda and gave suggestions to include in our deliberation. Col. Anita Rainer serves as Chair. The Council supports our discussion of a strategic plan for 2020-2024. They emphasized reaching out to those away from church. They gave strong support of a statement on the death penalty. The Council encourages transparency in dealing with sexual abuse of minors. They supported the proposed documents on the ministry of the bishop and specific ways to deal with sexual abuse; cover-up is never an option. The laity want to work with us and support our efforts. The Council applauded our plan to include laity in the process.
4. Dr. Francesco Cesares chairs the National Review Board, which oversees our work on the Protection of Children and Young People (The Charter). The Review Board supports the proposals to move forward regarding bishop’s accountability relative to sexual abuse, and made some recommendations for consideration. They also made some recommendations regarding the updating of the “Charter” and hope that all dioceses would work toward “uniform standards of compliance with the Charter” and to be more specific. A recommendation was made for the diocesan review boards to meet at least annually and whenever an allegation is received. Needless to say, laity are to be well represented on the diocesan review board. They must continue to review all alle-gations of abuse by all clergy.
5. The U.S. bishops approved the revised passage on the death penalty for the “U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults.” This must be approved by the Vatican. The revision states that the death penalty is unnecessary, and there are serious problems in applying the death penalty in a fair manner. We are called to respect all human life.
6. Bishop Robert Barron gave a report on the work of the Evangelization Committee regarding our reaching out to those who are religiously unaffiliated. Many consider themselves as “nones” – belonging to no religion. Surveys show many are leaving because they do not believe in our doctrine and in our moral teaching. Relativism is strong in our society. People believe they are to “make up their own mind” regarding what to believe. Most “nones” are not anti-religious. How can we relate to them and enable discussion? More discussion on this in November 2019.
7. The bishops’ working group on immigration reported to the body of bishops. The USCCB continues to reach out to those in need as immigrants and refugees. We continue to work with Congress and encourage immigration reform. DACA and TPS holders have reprieve from deportation due to litigation. The “American Dream and Promise Act” was passed by the House on June 4. We await the vote of the Senate. Pope Francis exhorts: welcome, solidarity and accompaniment.
8. “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” is a document from the USCCB to guide Catholics in voting. The document gives Catholics the values of Christ and the Church and helps them apply these to the platforms of candidates. We are to vote our conscience based on prayer and study. The Church does not support a candidate but enables people to form their conscience based on Catholic teaching. The document is being updated and will be accompanied by videos. This project should be completed by January 2020.
9. The bishops approved:
– Priorities and Plans for 2021-2024.
– Advancing the Cause for Canonization of the Servant of God, Irving (Francis) C. Houle.
– “The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons” for use in the United States.
– A new text on “The Ordination of a Bishop, of Priests and of Deacons.” This must be approved by the Vatican.
10. The bishops authorized the design of a third-party system for receiving confidential reports of possible violations regarding sexual abuse by bishops. (“Vos estis lux mundi” – “You are the light of the world.”)
11. The bishops approved the document “Protocol Regarding Available Non-penal Restrictions on Bishops.” This is a protocol that should be considered if a bishop resigns or the Holy Father removes him from office. The protocol lists how this can affect his presence or ministry in the diocese.
12. “Affirming our Episcopal Commitment” was approved by the bishops. It is a statement from the bishops that we will carry out our ministry with integrity, and to respond directly in cases of sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable persons. It is also a pledge not to “cover up”/mishandle cases.
13. The bishops voted in favor of “Implementation of the Provisions ‘Vos estis lux mundi’ Concerning Bishops and their Equivalents.” This deals with a process regarding accusations of sexual abuse or cover-up by bishops. Qualified lay people are to be part of the process.