Reaching out to people who have left the Church or are struggling in their faith right now should continue to be a priority for the Church, said St. Louis Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso.
Bishop Rivituso, who last week attended the U.S. bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore with Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, said he was inspired by a discussion among bishops about young people in particular. The discussion was prompted by a presentation from Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, who urged the bishops to promote social media in their dioceses as one way to link young people with the Church. The Church, Bishop Barron said, 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 to the Catholic Church.
“We’re always concerned about those who are leaving the Church, who are unchurched, who are struggling in their faith right now,” Bishop Rivituso said in a phone interview from the bishops’ meeting Nov. 13. Acknowledging hurdles faced by the Church, such as the clergy sex abuse scandal, Bishop Rivituso noted that young people see value in being associated with the corporal works of mercy as a way of being engaged with the Church.
“These are places where they’re at, and places where we (the Church) need to be with them and find the greater beauty of our faith,” he said.
Bishop Rivituso cited the important work of Catholic schools, Parish Schools of Religion (PSRs), and youth and young adult ministry programs in engaging young people. He said he would like to see more efforts among parishes to offer ways for families to become more involved in the Church. “We want it to be more than just coming to Mass on Sundays,” he said. “If we do this, we’re instilling family life.”
The bishops also discussed at their meeting 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 materials include an introductory letter and several videos, which address concerns such as the common good, immigration, abortion, poverty, care for creation and the need for civil dialogue. The bishops voted to approve the additions, including a statement that calls abortion the pre-eminent social issue of our time.
Bishop Rivituso noted that the complementary materials are a way to make “things user-friendly for people to know the issues. They’re giving wisdom and a vision of Pope Francis and his insights on being engaged in the public arena. The video series will be a way in which we can reach more people. And for those who are wanting more, there are footnotes in the letter that reference other documents.”
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, invited his fellow bishops to devote a year of service to pregnant women starting in March. Archbishop Naumann, a St. Louis native who once led the archdiocese’s Pro-Life Committee, said he sees the day that Catholic parishes can be one of the first places a woman facing an unexpected or challenging pregnancy can turn to for assistance rather than think of seeking an abortion.
Bishop Rivituso said the presentation was a good reminder of the work being done in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and among other pro-life organizations in the St. Louis area to help women choose life. “We need to help them know that the Church is there for them and will walk with them,” he said. In talking to several observers at the bishops’ meeting, he encouraged them to get the word out in their own dioceses about efforts to support pregnant mothers.
“Jesus is always with the vulnerable, and that’s where the Church needs to be,” Bishop Rivituso said.
Other issues discussed at the bishops’ meeting included:
• A “pastoral framework” for marriage and family life, which should be ready for a vote by the bishops by next November at the latest, according to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia. Bishop Rivituso noted the Church should remain focused on strengthening marriages and to serve as a model for family life. In turn, what families share with us will enrich the Church, he said.
• Bishop Rivituso, who serves on the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, said the bishops were to discuss on Nov. 13 progress of a third-party reporting system for abuse or misconduct by bishops. He noted that the committee is also looking at other ways to help dioceses with compliance with “Charter for the Protection of Child and Young People.” The committee also recently voted to renew its contract with StoneBridge Business Partners, which audits dioceses for compliance with the charter.
Catholic News Service contributed some information for this article.