WASHINGTON — The two days of the virtual assembly of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Nov. 16-17 initially included discussion of the Vatican report on former cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. But the bulk of the bishops’ conversation focused on the ongoing pandemic and the Church’s response to racism.
The meeting concluded with reaction to the presidential election, as Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced formation of a working group to address various issues of top importance to the Church with the new administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The assembly, which usually takes place in Baltimore, was virtual this year due to COVID-19 restrictions and the public sessions were livestreamed. About 300 bishops logged on.
The main topic Nov. 16, added late to the bishops’ agenda, was discussion on the Vatican report on McCarrick, released less than a week before, on Nov. 10.
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, said the report which described McCarrick’s ascent to highest rungs of the Church, even amid rumors of abuse, read like a list of the seven deadly sins.
“It’s very clear that there’s still very much a tendency in the world and in the Church to turn a blind eye to many of these sins,” he added during the 45 minutes of discussion about the long-awaited 460-page report.
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said Pope Francis had taken historic action in issuing the document as well as other unprecedented measures.
He said the more “that we listen to victims and make it public that we’re meeting with victims, as the Holy Father does on a regular basis, the word will get out there that we are on the side of victims. And we have to continue to do that.”
In a practical response to the pandemic, the bishops approved a budget for the year 2021 that took into consideration the economic impact of the coronavirus. No assessment increase for dioceses is being proposed for 2022.
In another action related to the pandemic and to the ongoing discussion nationwide about racial inequality, the bishops approved addendums to their four-year strategic plan addressing the impact of these issues. The plan, adopted a year ago, will go into effect in January 2021.
Continuing their look at the sin of racism, the bishops approved the renewal of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism for three more years.
Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, and chair of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, reminded the bishops that when they approved their pastoral on racism two years ago, they had no idea how the nation would have such a reckoning with racial inequality as it has experienced this past summer.
He said the document, among other things, “unequivocally declares that racism is a life issue.”
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis said he has spent time meeting and listening with various groups and also took a tour of Ferguson and stopped and prayed where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by police in 2014.
He said changing hearts when it comes to racism “is one of the biggest challenges,” but it’s important as Catholics to “plant the seed and leave it to the Holy Spirit.”
Initially, the bishops did not address the presidential election, except when Archbishop Gomez, responding to a reporter’s question during the Nov. 16 news conference, said the USCCB’s congratulations to Biden was just an acknowledgment and that he and his fellow bishops “respect the election process.”
At the close of the two-day meeting, Archbishop Gomez said several bishops had come to him with concerns in the wake of the election.
“We are facing a unique moment in the history of our country,” he said, noting the election of a Catholic president “presents certain opportunities but also certain challenges.”
The archbishop said the president-elect “has given us reason to believe his faith commitments will lead to certain policies that we favor,” listing immigration, aid to refugees and the poor, racial justice, capital punishment and climate change among them.
He also said there is the expectation that Biden “will support policies that are against some fundamental values we hold dear as Catholics,” such as a possible repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds to be used for abortions, and the codifying in law of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion.
When politicians who profess the Catholic faith support these policies, the archbishop said, it “creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches.”
For that reason, he said, he was forming a working group led by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, USCCB vice president, which will address issues surrounding the election of a Catholic president and policies that may come about that would be in conflict with Catholic teaching and the bishops’ priorities.
The bishops had election results of their own in this meeting. Msgr. Jeffrey D. Burrill, a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, was elected the new general secretary of the USCCB, succeeding Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield.
In another vote, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York was elected chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty.
The bishops also voted on chairmen-elect for seven committees and seven seats on the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services.
The votes for chairmen-elect included: Committee on Priorities and Plans: Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Committee on Catholic Education, Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Washington; Committee on Communications, Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Reed of Boston; Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda of Detroit; Committee on Doctrine, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; Committee on National Collections, Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico; and the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.
CLEVELAND — The coronavirus pandemic may have led to debilitating isolation among Catholics, but it has not lessened people’s hunger for the Eucharist, bishops across the country said.
In a 45-minute online discussion Nov. 17, bishops described an unwavering thirst for the Eucharist, detailing some of the extraordinary measures people have taken to worship before the Blessed Sacrament.
They talked about the impact of the coronavirus on local church communities as part of the second day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general assembly, which this year was livestreamed due to the pandemic.
“The power of the Holy Spirit is living in the hearts of the faithful,” said Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis, Tennessee.
“People are expressing such a deep love and devotion to the Eucharist,” added Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
And in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, Bishop Daniel E. Flores described how he has arrived at parishes to see people kneeling outside, praying for the chance to receive holy Communion and the return of normal worship experiences.
Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, California, described the same scene of people kneeling in the rain early one morning waiting for Christ Cathedral to open.
Hispanic communities have been particularly hard-hit by the inability to attend Mass, he said, explaining how he will travel to visit small groups of people on Sundays.
Several bishops said such yearning for the Eucharist presents an opportunity for the Church to begin a new effort of evangelization and catechesis as the public celebration of Mass gradually expands and Church leaders determine how best to encourage people to reengage in parish life.
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, opened the discussion by explaining how he has seen the Holy Spirit working among lay leaders, clergy, women religious and parish organizations to continue various ministries.
He described a “new awareness that we need to be a more evangelizing Church.”
Another prelate, Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, suggested that a national campaign be developed to encourage people to bring someone else with them when they can return to regular Mass attendance.
Across the country, the pandemic has led diocesan leadership to assist parishes adopting new technologies for the livestreaming of Mass, keeping in touch with parishioners, particularly the elderly, and learning how to help people access food and other basic necessities.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of San Jose, California, explained how one pastor conducted “home visits” with parishioners via Zoom.