BRIEF REPORT ON THE USCCB SPRING MEETING
Maribeth Stewart Blogoslawski
It is the privilege of the NCCW President to be invited as an observer to the Fall and Spring General Meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The Fall meetings are held in Baltimore and the Spring meetings are held in different locations each year. The 2018 Spring meeting of the USCCB was held from June 12-15 in Fort Lauderdale at the same hotel where we enjoyed our 2013 NCCW Convention so those who were present will recall that it is a lovely property right on the ocean.
Mass was held each morning at 7:30am with the official Opening Liturgy being held on Wednesday at 5:00pm at St. Pius X Catholic Church. This Opening Mass, however, was after a full day of meetings so let us begin on Wednesday morning.
We entered the meeting space and found a great display of coffee, water, and all kinds of pastries prior to entering the meeting space. This was repeated every morning and for breaks and provided a good opportunity for speaking informally with the bishops. I was pleased to be able to speak about our NCCW, our connection to the bishops, and our work with several bishops there. They were most impressed by our anti Human Trafficking project, our pen pal project with the Holy Land, and our work against Domestic Violence. This opportunity to speak about our work was repeated for every break, breakfast, and lunch session. There is a rule that once in the meeting space, observers and press are not allowed to approach the bishops. You will be happy to know, however, that many did come over to me with bishops to whom I had spoken informally and wanted to know more about our work. Of course, I was happy to oblige – Yay, NCCW! The Observers sit in a row on one side of the room facing the side of the bishops so several bishops sitting near the ends of their rows did say hello and came over to speak, as well. This was a great chance for our us to tell them about our organization and so many said that they love their CCW’s! What lovely words to hear!
The Wednesday morning session began promptly at 8:45am with Morning Prayer. When we had entered and taken our seats we found a statement at our places from Cardinal DiNardo, President of the USCCB, concerning the need to ensure that the right to asylum is protected, especially for vulnerable women who face extreme danger in their home country. The statement went on to condemn the use of family separation at the border, stating that it is immoral to separate babies from their mothers. The statement was approved by the bishops through acclamation and was released to the press at that point. Following this, new bishops since the last meeting in the Fall were introduced, the senior (retired) bishops were greeted, and we prayed for the deceased bishops. We then heard a message being sent to the Holy Father from the Conference and it was approved by acclamation. Next, the Observers were introduced and welcomed. The Episcopal Liaison to the Catholic Climate Covenant spoke briefly urging the USCCB to sign the US Catholic Climate Declaration. Many had already signed individually and for their dioceses. The agenda was then approved as were the minutes from the fall meeting.
We then heard remarks from the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who urged the bishops to practice listening respectfully and compassionately because in doing so it allows one to awaken fully to God’s love and brings to fruition His wish for our lives. He then said that it was important for the bishops to listen to the voices of the youth and to create a welcoming community to accompany them in a way so that they can encounter their faith. They want a personal encounter with Christ; not rules. They need companions on the journey. 1) Encourage and live works of justice and mercy. 2) Engage reality with truly stable accompaniment. The present culture is one that fosters loneliness leading to addictions, suicide, and not feeling valued. Need to make our parishes welcoming and supportive so that the young feel that the Church is where they belong. 3)They need authority to guide them along. Why is there such a gap between what we offer and what they hear? Because not all they want is what they need. Example is needed to guide them as they will test and verify each truth of the Catholic faith. Bishops need to use their authority wisely. Listen and accompany them seriously. 4) Faith must be attractive. Invite the youth to follow. 5)The approaching Synod on Youth is a way for the youth to contribute to the Church. Ask the laity to be the leaven. Make Christ present where the young live. 40% of Hispanic and Latino youth ID as Catholic but there are very few religious and seminarian vocations from this group. Have to ask why. Listen to the Holy Father, especially in his last three writings. Be joyful witnesses as we strive for holiness. The US loves the Mission and message. Don’t fear holiness as it will make you what God created you to be and you will be faithful to the deepest part of yourself. His talk was met with a standing ovation.
We next heard reports from the National Advisory Council which has 50 members that are diverse in age, occupation and ethnicity. This Council gives reactions to each action item placed before the bishops prior to the meetings.
Dr. Francesco Cesaro, Chair of the National Review Board then gave the report of that group which is concerned with the audits on the progress of the Church regarding the abuse of minors. The bishops were urged to support revisions to the charter proposed for this year. The number of cases has decreased but there were a small number of dioceses where background checks were not done in a timely manner and he urged that there be total compliance with the charter protecting minors.
Next followed the preliminary presentation of items upon which the bishops would be taking action throughout the meeting:
#1 Bishop Timothy Doherty presented the proposed Revisions to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. There were edits already approved but he Committee, the National Review Board, the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, the Committee on Canonical Affairs, and the Church Governance and General Counsel. One of the main changes proposed was to review the Charter every 2 years rather than every 7 years.
#2 Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church presented by Archbishop Solis: There is a formal statement to be approved called Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters. The first statement was issued in 2001. Harmony is a very strong value in all the diverse cultures of Asia and the Pacific Islands. The Asia-Pacific community is the fastest growing segment of US Catholics. They have very strong faith and cultural family values and traditions. They want full pastoral support from the US Church. They have the largest number of vocations relative to the size of their population. Rather than a one size fits all pastoral plan, the committee is urging adoption of a response that will be a framework for pastoral plans specific to the needs of the local community.
#3 and #4 We next heard from Archbishop Wilton Gregory for the Committee on Divine Worship. There are changes proposed in the ICEL Gray Book translation of the 2014-2016 Roman Missal. They concern elevation and/or addition of Missal prayers for Mary Magdalene, Saint John XIII, and Saint John Paul II in the Roman Missal. There was discussion on changing the Vatican translation of “Do Not Be Afraid” to the more commonly used “Be Not Afraid” in the US. Discussion also called for the need for a breviary that is more easily used by parish priests as it was stated that the current one was set up for monks. The response was that they must use the translations and order listed from Rome but after the US bishops approve a request for change, that can be sent to Rome as approved changes.
#5 Archbishop Vigneron spoke for the Committee on Doctrine concerning proposed revised changes to the text of Part 6 of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. This is mostly concerned with the moves since 2013 of Catholic health care systems to be absorbed by or to be part of non-Catholic Health Care systems. A moral evaluation must be completed for these new partnerships. Also, it was noted that transgender surgeries need to be part of the discussion.
After the proposed action items that would be voted upon the next day, we heard from Archbishop Coakley who gave the report on the Committee on Communications. He gave a brief update on the digital offerings from the Catholic News Service and discussed some budget issues.
We next heard from Archbishop Jose Gomez and Bishop Joe Vasquez for the report of the Bishop’s Working Group on Immigration Issues. The degradation of asylum rights, the need to protect the family, the issue of the Dreamers, and the need to enact humane immigration laws were discussed. For refugees, Catholics have resettled over 1 million (more than 33% of all refugees) working through Catholic Charities, CRS, and local Catholic parish groups. The current legal framework is the 1980 Refugee Act. Under the current administration, the ceiling for admitting refugees has been drastically reduced from 110,000 to 50,000. In reality, though 50,000 are allowed, it is likely that only 21,000 will be admitted due to the same vetting procedures that have always been used being dragged out. At the time of this meeting, only 10,545 had been admitted which is less than half of the 50,000. The Executive Travel Ban has been challenged twice now in the Supreme Court and each time it was ordered that the Executive Order violates the Constitution. The temporary protected status ITPS) of immigrants from Haiti, Salvador, Nepal, the Sudan, and Nicaragua have been removed and they are subject to deportation. There are 192,000 US citizen children of Salvadoran TPS holders. Do they migrate back with their parents to a land where they don’t speak the language, know the culture, and are subject to extreme violence or do the parents make the agonizing choice to leave the children here in the US? The USCCB is urging the government to return TPS. The USCCB and others are now seeking Congressional oversight. The USCCB is working with the consulates and embassies. They are in support of the Catholic League of Immigration Clearing with legal screenings and Know Your Rights clinics.
DACA and Family Separation: Sept, 5, 2017, DACA ended, June 9, 2018 -CA federal judge issued a nation-wide pause to the end of DACA. In February, the Senate debated the issue with no bills advanced. The USCCB has ongoing support for the DREAM Act. A hastily organized call-in on DACA elicited 50,000 calls. The work continues. As Catholics, we need to prioritize the dignity and safety of the most vulnerable. From May 3-18, more than 640 families were separated at the border with Mexico with 55-65 children per day separated from their families. It costs $585/night to detain a mother and two children separately. What happens is the parent is arrested and the children are then declared unaccompanied and go under the care of HHS. There are agonizing scenes at the border of anguished parents and terrified children. It has been proven that this separation of families is not an effective deterrent and it is clearly against our Catholic teaching. Children are not instruments of deterrence. There has been no decrease in the numbers of persons crossing the border. Cardinal Tobin said that this is an indicator of cardiosclerosis of the American ideal and people: A hardening of our hearts. The bishops need to go and inspect where these children are being held.
Discussion included a story told by one bishop in his diocese of a little boy being saved from drowning by an undocumented person who was then arrested and deported though he had been living here more than 20 years, working and paying taxes, and trying to save the money for a lawyer to become a citizen.
Another bishop told of a family in his diocese where the father was not a citizen but was arrested for speeding rushing his wife to the maternity hospital in Washington State and he has now been deported.
We were asked to pray and offer support to those in our communities who are suffering.
Another bishop said that the time is now for canonical penalties for those who participate in this separation and deportation work as canonical penalties are for healing, to save their souls. Pastoral care should be offered for those working border control and who are struggling with their conscience doing this.
We then broke for lunch where we could sit and speak with the bishops which was very productive.
We resumed the meeting at 2PM beginning with Mid-afternoon Prayer.
We next heard from the three young people who were sent to Rome for the pre-Synod by the USCCB. We had all received the Pre-Synod Summary Document. They each mentioned what a privilege it was to be part of the pre-Synod group. They said that the youth want mentors who express their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.
One of the speakers come from an Hispanic-Latino family and he spoke of how Latinos are nominally a large part of the Church but that for many, it is more a cultural traditional thing than an understanding of their faith. Families want the sacraments for their children but this is an example of it being a cultural thing. These families might attend an Evangelical church but want their children baptized in the Catholic Church not because of an understanding of the sacrament but because Grandma insists.
Cardinal Wuerl then said that the youth today are saying: Help us be part of a spiritual community that means something to us. Help us experience God. Service projects are a good entry point for contact with the youth.
We next head from Cardinal Tobin and Archbishop Chaput, the first for the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and the latter for the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. We had an update on the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Youth and they finished by reminding the bishops that World Youth Day will be January 20-29, 2019 in Panama and asked that the US bishops consider attending.
Bishop Nelson Perez then presented the report on the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. He provided an update on V Encuentro that will be held from September 20-23, 2018 in Grapevine, Texas. They expect about 2800 delegates.
We then ended the day with a prayer.
The next day, Thursday, we started the day with Morning Prayer at 8:45am. Mass had already been held for anyone who wished to attend at 7:30am where I had the privilege of reading the First Reading.
After prayer, Cardinal DiNardo explained how to vote. They use an electronic system. Each bishop has a handheld voting set that resembles a TV remote. They have 45 seconds to vote and the vote is displayed immediately on the screens.
We then moved into the Debate and Vote on the Action Items noted the previous day.
Action Items and Voting:
#1: Approve the revised Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. 185 voted yes which was more than a 2/3 vote needed. Passed.
#2: Approve the formal statement: Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters. Vote: 187 yes which was more than 2/3 of those voting. Passed.
#3 Latin Church members approve the ICEL Gray Book translation of the 2014-2016 Roman Missal and Liturgy of the Hours Supplement for use in the dioceses of the United States. 177 was more than the 2/3 needed yes. Passed.
#4 Latin Church members approve the ICEL Gray Book translation of the Liturgy of the Hours: Proper of Time form use in the dioceses of the United States. 175 voted yes so more than the 2/3 needed. Passed.
#5 Approve the revised text of Part Six of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. Vote: 183 yes Majority vote. Passed.
#6 Authorize the production of two new and additional elements to the Faithful Citizenship document: a short letter to inspire prayer and action regarding public life and a short video and other secondary resources -to complement rather than revise or replace the existing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship document.
This action item engendered a great deal of discussion. Bishops thought:
-the present document too long and of value only to Catholic Conferences
-the present document contains little of Pope Francis’ magisterium and certainly none of the recent documents
-the present document does not provide guidance on the most recent topics: withdrawal from the Iran and Paris agreements; gun control; rollback of environmental controls; climate change; health care issues; immigration and refugees.
The present document is silent on these critical issues. So they felt the present document needs to be re-done as we are now living in a different context from the 2015 edition which is the latest. They want a more succinct comprehensive document relevant to today’s issues for voters. Cardinal Tobin said there is a need for new content in the document. The single greatest challenge as a church is the chasm between faith and the reality of life. The Pope in GE shows how the choices we make in faith and grace allow us to make correct decisions in life. In addition, he added that the current process for producing a document from the Conference is too lengthy.
Another bishop asked whether the voters really read the document as the numbers he heard were not good. Only 16% of Catholic voters surveyed said they had read the document. Maybe they should not produce a document but resources on the different issues. Another bishop said that they were all aware of the Francis shift. They have a long document now that few read. A video would be more effective and reflect the latest teaching and issues. It is a more effective means to communicate in today’s world. Still a different bishop pointed out that people don’t watch videos longer than 3 minutes or so. Another bishop said to remember who the audience is and it is not the people in the pews with the current document. Revising the document in a tall challenge to have it ready for the next presidential election. He things the development of shorter consumer-friendly resources would accomplish the goal. Another bishop said the current document misses the mark. Need to offer substance and the style of the Holy Father to combat the divisions in our nation and have people really know the issues, not the political party line. Dialogue vs. diatribe and Accompaniment vs alienation. So, create a short, user-friendly letter. A different bishop said that on the flight to Florida, no one was reading; all were on some kind of a screen. Another said that a video would accomplish the task but do a series of videos, not one. Another bishop said in doing this, think of how Pope Francis’ teachings inform pastoral practice. An archbishop said the bishops need to respond more quickly to issues in our country. He is concerned about revising the old document. Just revising does not show we are listening to the laity, young, immigrants, etc. A second archbishop said that a written statement indicates the voice of the Conference but with a video, how would members of the Conference have input or approval? How would a video be a statement of the Conference?
Time is a problem. People’s consciences are formed by the media today. The USCCB needs to be there. How can they get this message out? Can they pay networks to carry their statement?
A bishop said immigrants can’t vote but we need to support/ accompany them. Hispanics listen to the radio but won’t read a long document. A bishop said he supports the suggestion of the working group; a brief letter and videos will be good and then there can be pastoral letters at each diocese. A cardinal wanted to know if the videos and other materials will be approved by the Conference with a 2/3 vote? The committee could submit a script and all the other new documents. They are a statement of this Conference so they need approval.
Monsignor Bransfield, General Secretary of the USCCB, said that there are 4 types of statements from the USCCB that need a 2/3 vote: Doctrinal statement, Pastoral letter, Formal statement, and Special message.
A bishop said that he supports the Social media option. Use podcasts, video and use our collaborations with other organizations. An archbishop said that they need to use all the channels of communication available to them. It is important for the USCCB to recognize the moment. Another archbishop said that the November meeting could be used well to engage the bishops for this. A bishop said to reimagine the reality of who the bishops are. Spending a lot of money on communications each year but is it working? Many people don’t even read the pope’s encyclicals because they say they are too long.
Cardinal DiNardo asked if they want a pastoral letter but this would need to be an amendment to the action item motion. The body rejected this. Motion to table the action item. Vote did not pass. A bishop said that teaching documents of the Conference require a 2/3 vote of the Conference. But not voting on a document. A cardinal worried that they were juxtaposing media and content. Opposing the action item does not mean they oppose the use of media. They are calling for a different source document that the media resources will be based upon. A revised motion now read: the members authorize the production of two new additional elements –1) a short letter to inspire prayer and action regarding public life, and 2) a short video and other secondary resources—to complement rather than replace the existing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship document and to apply the teachings of Pope Francis to our day. Vote: 144 yes, 41 no, 2 abstain. Needed majority of members present to pass. Passed.
After the discussion and voting on the action items, we had a speaker, Mr. Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Director of Equal Justice Initiative, who spoke to the assembly about racism. He spoke of the disenfranchised. 1/3 of black male babies born now will go to jail. 1/6 Latino baby boys will go to jail. Racism was not a hot topic in the 20th Century. We can do better to create a more just nation. To do so, we need 4 things: 1. Get proximate. You can’t deal with racism if you stay distant from the marginalized. White lawyers came into his community and opened the schools to blacks so he was the first in his family to get to go to High School. He went on to law school. 2. We need to change the narrative. 10,000 children under the age of 17 are in jail as adults in the USA. The justifying narrative is that some children are not children. He told the story of a 9-year old boy in jail who was a very good student, a good boy. His mother’s boyfriend beat her. One day he came home from school to this and then the man fell asleep. He went into the room and saw the man’s gun. In a moment of rage, he took the gun and shot the man. He was totally bewildered at court and shaken. He was jailed as an adult because the man he shot, his mother’s abuser, was a deputy sheriff. This was so very wrong and when he was assigned to this boy as his lawyer, the boy did not speak to him except to ask when he could go home to his mother. When he began to speak to him, the boy revealed the abuse he was suffering in jail from the older men. Heartbreaking. The narrative was the same for Native Americans when they were killed because the narrative was that they were “savages.” Slavery had the same narrative: Blacks were not the same as whites. Six million blacks fled the south for the north and west. There was nothing short of terrorism for blacks with lynching, etc. The 1950’s and 60’s saw the Civil Rights Movement. But it didn’t fully change things. In Germany, the former homes of Jewish persons deported during the Holocaust are now marked with a plaque. The German government wants those looking at the plaque to know they are not Nazis now. In our country, we simply don’t speak of slavery or slave times. 3. Stay hopeful. Believe that racial equality can and will happen. We can eliminate bias and discrimination with courage. 4. Do things that are inconvenient and uncomfortable. Position oneself in uncomfortable conditions and give witness. Beat the drum for justice. There is a better existence and place that America can and will be. Standing ovation.
We next heard from Bishop Fabre who presented the report of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. He applauded the previous speaker and said that the committee is writing a pastoral letter for November 2018. It will be concerned with the rise in recent racist events and will address how racism is present in institutions and public policy. It will be a document to assist families and parishes to confront racism and will focus on fraternal charity. It will address contemporary marginalized to include Native Americans and African Americans. It will highlight Catholic teaching on all humans as persons of God. Do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with God. Discussion indicated that it should address federal legislation, called for ecumenical dialogue, and the good that could come from listening sessions at the diocesan level and in Junior High and High Schools. It was suggested that a brochure be made with pastoral points for families.
Next, Archbishop Kurtz gave a report for the Committee for Religious Liberty. The group was organized in November. We need a commitment to religious freedom, inspire the culture, contribute to the common good, and advocate for human dignity. Pope Francis said to preserve our freedom from everything that would compromise it. June 22-29 will be Religious Freedom Week and there are 8 videos for this. In a public opinion poll, it was found that persons 60 and older appreciate that our religious freedoms are threatened; younger people do not! Faith based organizations are called upon more and more to serve but our freedoms are steadily taken away. We need to choose our language carefully to be inspiring and precise. There are 400,000 kids in foster homes and growing due to the opioid crisis. Check out #KeepKidsFirst. Protect consumer rights. Tell stories and explain why laws are needed. Present positive contributions of people of faith. Tell the positive stories. Serve others in God’s love. Remember to promote Religious Liberty Week June 22-29.
The above covers most of the meetings that I attended. The liturgies and prayers throughout the day were beautiful and set the tone for the serious matters discussed. The opportunity to speak with bishops from throughout our country about the good work our NCCW is doing was priceless. I hope that the above gives you a little taste of what it was like to attend the Spring 2018 meeting of our USCCCB.