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Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle, center, and other prelates prayed at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 12.
Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle, center, and other prelates prayed at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 12.
Photo Credit: Bob Roller | Catholic News Service

At assembly, U.S. bishops discuss bishop reporting system, examine challenges faced by Church, society

At USCCB assembly, discussion focused on various topics

BALTIMORE — On the agenda for the U.S. bishops’ Nov. 11-13 meeting in Baltimore were elections and discussions of key challenges in the Church and the nation. Unlike recent previous meetings, their response to the clergy abuse crisis was mentioned but was not the primary focus.

On the second day of the meeting, Nov. 12, the bishops elected Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles to a three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit as conference vice president.

Archbishop Gomez, the first Latino to be elected to this role, was chosen with 176 votes from a slate of 10 nominees. He has been USCCB vice president for the past three years and his new role begins at the end of the Baltimore gathering.

A third-party reporting system to field sexual misconduct allegations against bishops could be in place by the end of February, an official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told the bishops on the final day of the meeting.

The company awarded the contract for the system is working quickly to implement it so that it is in place well before the May 31, 2020, deadline set by Pope Francis, said Anthony Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary.

The precise date a toll-free hotline will be activated and links on diocesan and eparchial websites and the USCCB website will go live is going to depend on how quickly each diocese or eparchy can implement the program, Picarello said.

The USCCB official explained that the exact date the system will be ready will be communicated with each province, diocese and eparchy.

On the first day of the meeting Nov. 11, the bishops raised pressing issues that included the priesthood shortage, gun violence, young people leaving the Church and the need to provide support services for pregnant women.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, mentioned some of these challenges in his opening remarks, along with the need to welcome migrants and fight racism. He also urged the bishops not just to focus on the challenges before them but to consider how they could further develop collegiality and collaboration with one another.

In his final address as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston told his fellow bishops that it has been “an honor to serve you, even in the difficult times.”

In another vote, the bishops overwhelmingly chose to revise a set of strategic priorities to take them into the next decade. They also discussed upcoming votes during their gathering, such as news materials to complement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their long-standing guide to help Catholics form their consciences in public life, including voting.

The bishops voted to approve the additions, including the statement which referred to abortion as the preeminent social issue of our time.

Retired Army Col. Anita Raines, who chairs the National Advisory Council, said in a report to the bishops that the group supported the prelates’ effort to promulgate its “Faithful Citizenship” document and supplemental materials.

To help ensure the document’s wide distribution to parishes and individuals, the council recommended the USCCB implement “a strong communications strategy fully leveraging social media.”

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles urged the bishops to promote social media in their dioceses as one way to link young people with the Church. He said the Church 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.

The bishop presented a three-minute video on the issue and spoke of his concerns and ideas for bringing young people back to Church which involved: not dumbing down the faith and involving young people in the social justice aspects of the Church.

A new “pastoral framework for marriage and family life” should be ready for a vote by the U.S. bishops by next November at the latest, according to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Archbishop Chaput made it clear the forthcoming document is not a “plan,” since it is intended to be applied within parishes and dioceses. “It was never meant to be a single comprehensive national plan but a resource toward the development of pastoral plans at the diocesan/eparchial levels,” he said.

The framework will have four “pillars”: prayer and relationship with Jesus, formation, accompaniment and advocacy, he added. “Each pillar addresses areas or situations of need faced by couples and families today. Following a short description of the situation are suggested ways that a local pastoral plan might educate and encourage the faithful in these circumstances. Finally, pastoral strategies are suggested to engage audiences effectively.”

The bishops also heard about societal issues such as gun violence and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, said Catholic clergy and lay leaders can play a role in bringing together people along the rural-urban divide to build understanding of the need for sensible policies that can end the scourge of gun violence.

On the final day, the bishops voted to write a new pastoral plan for Latino Catholics that would be produced between 2021 and 2024.

Bishops also heard a wide-ranging report on immigration Nov. 12 which included updates of policy, how programs to resettle refugees, including those run by the Catholic Church, have closed or reduced activity because the administration has moved to close the country’s doors to those seeking refuge, and efforts on the border to help asylum cases.

The bishops’ second day of meetings also included a presentation of the pope’s document “Christus Vivit,” which was issued following the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, collaborated on the presentation, which included two young adults.

Abp. Naumann invites Church to devote year of service to pregnant women

By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, spoke during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 11.
Photo Credits: Bob Roller | Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann 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.

To that end, the archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, invited his fellow bishops to devote a year of service to pregnant women starting in March.

In a presentation the first day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general assembly, the archbishop said Nov. 11 parishes could offer a variety of support services to women who may be thinking about whether to carry their child to term.

“Women facing challenging pregnancies should see the Church as a place where they can find help, especially with our myriad of social services and organizations dedicated to meeting the needs of people in crisis,” he said.

“The challenges can be immense for women in difficult pregnancies, especially women in poverty,” he said.

The archbishop cited statistics from abortion providers in 2014 that showed that 75% of women who chose abortion were poor, 60% were in their 20s and 86% were unmarried.

The year would begin March 25, 2020, the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”). He called the year “Walking With Moms in Need: A Year of Service.”

“The 25th anniversary year of ‘Evangelium Vitae’ gives us a wonderful opportunity to assess, expand, and communicate resources to pregnant moms and families in need,” Archbishop Naumann told the assembly.

The outreach would focus on women “at the peripheries, both outside our parishes, as well as inside our parishes,” the archbishop explained.

Collaborative efforts are among the plans of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities in introducing its year of service, Archbishop Naumann said, adding, “We want to learn from what you are doing and share that with other dioceses.”

The pro-life activities committee is developing educational, pastoral, and action-oriented materials for parish use during the year of service. Specifically, he said parishes would have tools for documenting local resources for pregnant mothers in need; suggestions for improving parish response; and prayers and reflections on the teachings of papal encyclicals “Evangelium Vitae,” “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) and “Laudato Si’, on Care for our Common Home.”

Other resources will homily aids, parish bulletin inserts, pulpit announcements, ideas for parish-based activities and communications and outreach suggestions.

All materials will be posted in English and Spanish on the committee’s website: www.usccb.org/about/ pro-life-activities.

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