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U.S. bishops take on immigration, racism at fall assembly

BALTIMORE — At the start of their annual fall assembly in Baltimore Nov. 13, U.S. Catholic bishops faced some big issues — immigration and racism — straight on and zeroed in on how to raise the national level of discussion on these topics starting in the church pews.

They acknowledged the current polarization in the country and divides within the Catholic Church and stressed their responsibility as Church leaders to promote immigration reform, educate parishioners on justice issues and listen to those affected by "sins of racism."

On immigration, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the Committee on Migration of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said there needs to be a "path to legalization and citizenship for the millions of our unauthorized brothers and sisters who are law-abiding, tax-paying and contributing to our society."

The bishops responded with applause and an agreement by voice vote to issue a statement calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

The bishops were keenly aware that their defense of immigrants isn't necessarily the view of the U.S. Church at large. For example, Chicago Bishop Blase J. Cupich spoke of dangers of Catholics falling prey to and believing "poisoning rhetoric" about immigrants that demonizes them.

"There's something wrong in our churches, where the Gospel is proclaimed, and yet people leave our worship services, our Masses on weekends, with that rhetoric still echoing in their hearts," he said.

Several bishops also brought up the notion of prudential judgment — referring to the view Catholics could take on immigration that differs from the bishops — since it isn't a specific matter of Church teaching.

The bishops who spoke on the floor didn't buy that argument and said Catholics shouldn't use it to push aside the need to care for immigrants. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco took this a step further saying prudential judgment can't be "taken lightly" on a "justice issue like immigration."

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami said the bishops' defense of immigrants, as brothers and sisters, not problems, isn't only right for immigrants but "for our society as a whole."

Acting against racism

On racism, Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, head of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, said the Church must recognize "and frankly acknowledge" its failings. He said the issue has found a "troubling resurgence" in recent years, referring particularly to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., this year where he said racial hatred was "on full display."

"Racism isn't going to be conquered by speech but by actions," said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, adding that this was a watershed moment where the Church could play a leadership role.

He spoke about discussions happening at diocesan and parish levels, and several bishops commented as well noting that these discussions aren't easy, but so necessary to bring about healing.

Other issues

Other key issues of the day included health care, taxes and abortion, mentioned by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in his first address as USCCB president. He took office at the close of last year's fall assembly.

"We are facing a time that seems more divided than ever," Cardinal DiNardo said. "Divisions over health care, conscience protections, immigration and refugees, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, gender ideologies, the meaning of marriage and all the other headlines continue to be hotly debated. But our role continues to be witnessing the Gospel."

The bishops also heard from the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, at a Mass Nov. 12 in which he was the main celebrant and the homilist, and at a dinner celebrating the USCCB's 100th anniversary.

The cardinal told the U.S. bishops that the Church needs them today to "bring not only material assistance but also the spiritual balm of healing, comfort and hope to new waves of migrants and refugees who come knocking on America's door."

He also urged them to follow the pope's call to accompany the modern Church.

The second public day of meetings didn't tackle major societal issues but examined ways the bishops can continue to uphold the Catholic faith from specific wording in the baptismal rite, a review of catechetical materials and a pastoral plan for marriage and family life that will give Catholic couples and families resources to enable them to live out their vocation.

The bishops highlighted past events such as the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, this summer and previewed upcoming events such as the U.S. Catholic Church's Fifth National Encuentro, or "V Encuentro," next September in Grapevine, Texas, and World Youth Day Jan. 22-27, 2019, in Panama City, Panama. 

Abp. Vigneron elected secretary, Abp. Naumann elected chair of pro-life activities

BALTIMORE — Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit was elected to be the next secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, taking office next November. Bishops voted 96-88 to elect Archbishop Vigneron.

At the fall general assembly, the U.S. bishops voted for a new secretary-elect, a chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty and chairmen-elect of five other committees. Those elected will serve for one year before beginning three-year terms at the conclusion of the bishops' 2018 fall general assembly, with the exception of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who will assume his duties as chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty at the conclusion of the 2017 assembly.

Those elected include:

• Committee on Religious Liberty: Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., over Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, 113-86.

• Committee on Pro-Life Activities: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., over Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, 96-82.

• Committee on Communications: Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va., over Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, N.Y., 116-70.

• Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church: Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland over Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., 102-77.

• Committee on Doctrine: Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., over Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo, Ohio, 110-95.

• Committee on National Collections: Bishop Joseph R. Cistone of Saginaw, Mich., over Archbishop Michael O. Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, 124-65.

— Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service 

 Bishops to put together pastoral plan for marriage, family life ministry

BALTIMORE — U.S. Catholic bishops acknowledged that Catholic families and married couples need more support from the Church at large and hope to offer it by giving parishes plenty of resources through a pastoral plan for marriage and family life.

A proposal for such a plan was introduced to the bishops on the second day of their annual fall assembly in Baltimore Nov. 14 and was approved by paper ballot with 232 votes in favor.

The pastoral plan was described by Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., a member of the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, as a response to Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love").

Bishop Malone, who introduced the idea to the bishops, was filling in for Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the committee's chairman, who was in Rome for a preparatory meeting for the Synod of Bishops in 2018.

The bishop said he hoped the pastoral plan would encourage long-term implementation of the pope's exhortation and also encourage a broader reading of it. Several bishops who spoke from the floor echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the document was more than just one chapter — referring to Chapter 8's focus on the possibility of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion which gained a lot of media attention.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, said a pastoral plan focused on the exhortation lets the Catholic Church "seize control" of its message after the "blogosphere was forcing us to read it in another way."

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., similarly noted that the exhortation's Chapter 8 "got all the headlines" and he hoped a new plan based on the text would get more people to read the entire document and "read it slowly."

A new pastoral plan for marriage and families would not be "the pastoral plan," as in the be all end all addressing every detail, but it should provide a framework to help parishes work in this area, Bishop Malone said.

Discussion from the floor about this plan was overwhelmingly positive.

— Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service 

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