Notes from the November 2019 bishops’ meeting

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

Please note these are my personal notes and not an official summary of the meeting of the United States Conference of Bishops (USCCB) recently held in Baltimore.

November 2019 USCCB Meeting

1. We sent greetings to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, assuring him of our prayers and asking for his continued spiritual support of our episcopal ministry.

2. Our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, addressed the bishops. He greeted us in the name of Pope Francis and expressed our Holy Father’s gratitude to the United States bishops. He reflected on our sense of mission and acknowledged the challenging times in the world and the United States. At the same time, he spoke about the many dedicated Catholics who live their faith and give witness. Several national Catholic meetings underscore this reality. The nuncio gave thanks for the “ad limina” reports from each diocese and affirmed the work of evangelization and pastoral planning. In his talk, he reminded us that the Church must give witness in this secular culture. This takes prayer, planning and leadership; we should include the laity and use their gifts in our ministry of evangelization. We were reminded to continue to strengthen our unity with the pope, other bishops and our priests. He acknowledged the polarization in our world and Church. Also, we must continue to build a “Culture of Vocations” in our dioceses. Though there are challenges, much good is taking place in fulfilling the mission of Christ today in the United States.

3. Our USCCB president, Cardinal DiNardo, addressed us. He recalled visiting the border detention centers and called us to care for immigrants and refugees. Also, we must continue to protect the life of the unborn. As bishops, we must reach out to abuse victims/survivors and continue to provide safe environments in all dioceses. The president reminded us that “clericalism,” which separates us from the people, is damaging. We are grateful to our youth and young adults for the life they bring to the Church. In acknowledging the negativity in our world, we must be a light and a voice of hope.

4. The National Advisory Council, made up of clergy, religious and laity, reviews our agenda and offers insights for our discussion. (Ret.) Col. Anita Raines represented the Council. Their insights and suggestion are always helpful in our discussion and voting.

5. The bishops approved the USCCB Revised Strategies Priorities for 2021-24 and the 2020 USCCB Budget.

6. The chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development gave a report on gun violence. There are 40,000 gun-related deaths in the United States, two-thirds suicide and one-third homicides. Gun policies supported by USCCB are as follows:

Ban on assault weapons, universal background checks, criminalize gun trafficking, better access to mental health, limitations on handguns, gun locks and safe storage, assessment of violence in media and limiting large-capacity magazines. These policies reflect our belief in the sacredness of human life. God alone is the Lord of life.

7. Bishop Robert Barron has done research with many others on how to reach out to the religiously unaffiliated. Also, he addressed how we can get young people back to the Catholic Church. We must persevere with hope. There is a 20-minute video by Bishop Barron that explores these questions. The “nones” – how do we get them back to Christ and the Church?

      a. Get young people involved in the works of justice. Enable them to know our teaching on social justice. While other teachings of the Church may distance them, the work of justice can make the Church more credible and invite them back.

      b. Use the “way of beauty.” Examine the beauty within our Catholic heritage (our churches, websites of churches, movies). We have engaged the finest artists and musicians who lead us to              God’s beauty.

      c. Stop dumbing down the faith. Young people have many unanswered questions. Accompany young people and let them voice their confusion and difficulty in believing. They are asking                  about the existence of God, problem of evil and sexuality. They ask     – is our religion the right religion?

      d. Turn every parish into a missionary society. Active Catholics need to be disciples whose mission is to go out to others. We need to be patient, on fire and willing to walk with others. Parishes need to reach out.

      e. Creatively use the new media. Media needs to be used for evangelization. Media can invite others to know Christ, draw people into the mysteries of faith. Invest time and money to creatively use the media to bring Jesus to others and walk with them in their questions and disbelief.

Three young adults addressed the bishops. Some youth have no real understanding of the Mass, thus finding it boring and meaningless. Good music and good homilies draw some back to church. We can never underestimate the personal invitation. Disciples make disciples. Youth ministries should involve catechesis.

8. A report on Pro-Life activities was given by the Bishop Chair of the Committee. He reminded us that we must continue to reach out to women in difficult and unwanted pregnancies. Many poor women and those emotionally distraught are more likely to choose abortion. Project Rachel is an important retreat for those who have had abortions and are seeking God’s mercy and peace. We have Project Rachel in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

March 25, 2020, is the 25th anniversary of “The Gospel of Life” by St. Pope John Paul II.  The theme for March 25, 2020-March 25, 2021: “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.”

9. The bishops approved the following:

      a.  “The Program of Priestly Formation” – 6th edition for use in the U.S. (Vatican approval will be requested.)

      b. The translation for the “Order of Christian Initiation of Adults” – for use in the U.S. (Vatican approval will be requested.)

      c. The translation of the “Hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours” – for use in the U.S.

      d. A short letter to supplement the 2015 statement for “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and video scripts for five short videos to supplement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

      e. To authorize the Committee on Cultural Diversity (Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs) to lead the process of developing a formal statement and vision for Hispanic ministry in response
to the V Encuentro process.

      f. Support the request to ask the Holy Father to name St. Irenaeus a Doctor of the Church.

10. There were presentations and discussions on:

      a. USCCB statement on racism

      b. V Encuentro and its implementation

      c. Marriage and Family Life ministry and advocacy (A document is being proposed.)

      d. “Christus Vivit” (Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment). Two young adults addressed the bishops.

      e. Immigration update and issues

      f. Catholic Relief Services

      g. Catholic Charities USA

      h. 100th anniversary of National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW)

These discussions give evidence to the pastoral care and serious concern the bishops give to issues of racism, social justice, family, youth, Hispanic ministry and immigration. It is not possible to summarize the discussions here, but I found them informative and inspiring.


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