U.S. Bishops to Vote on Adult Catechism, New Conference President
When the U.S. Catholic bishops meet in mid-November, they will be asked to approve a first-ever U.S. national catechism for adults and elect a new president to lead them for the next three years. They will also be asked to vote on joining a new national ecumenical association, Christian Churches Together in the USA.
One of the most controversial public issues the bishops have faced over the past year will come up on the floor in the form of a report by their task force on how bishops should deal with Catholic public officials whose policy positions contradict Catholic teachings on fundamental issues such as abortion. This became a major issue in the 2004 presidential election because the Democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, is a Catholic who is pro-choice and supports embryonic stem-cell research. By the time the bishops meet on Nov. 15-18, however, Election Day will be past.
Same-sex marriage has been another controversial issue this year, with more than a dozen states debating state constitutional amendments to protect the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. These debates came after the court-ordered legalization of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. The bishops, who have called for protection of marriage’s traditional definition by amending federal and state constitutions, will be asked to approve the writing of a pastoral letter on marriage, making it the centerpiece for a multiyear National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage.
The crisis of sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy, which emerged in 2002, will also have a place on the November agenda. The bishops will be asked to approve the inclusion in the annual audits of diocesan compliance of yearly data on new reports of alleged abuse in their dioceses, how many cases were resolved during the year and associated costs. They will also be asked to adopt a contingency plan to assure a compliance audit of dioceses in 2005, in case the review and revision of the bishops’ child protection charter, which calls for such audits, is not completed by June 2005 as planned.
The bishops have received proposed revisions to the charter, but voting on a revised charter is not on the November agenda. Instead, they are being asked to hold structured consultations on the proposed revisions in diocesan and regional meetings around the country and to mail in the results of those consultations by mid-January, so that a final revised draft can be presented for debate and a vote when the bishops meet in June 2005.
The Committee on Liturgy will ask the bishops to approve three Spanish texts for liturgical use in the United States. They are a revised rite for the baptism of children, a revised rite of matrimony and a blessing for girls on their 15th birthday, which is to be included in future editions of the Spanish-language book of blessings.
As another step to increase U.S. Catholic collaboration with and assistance to the church in Africa, they will be asked to form an Ad Hoc Committee to Aid the Church in Africa. One of its functions will be to collect and distribute voluntary contributions for the church in Africa, which is young and rapidly growing but financially poor.
The proposed U.S. Catholic catechism for adults is a 456-page document, now in draft form, that was sent to the bishops before the meeting. It follows the four-part general structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church issued by Pope John Paul II in 1992: creed, sacraments, moral life, prayer. But it is adapted in many ways to address specific issues, concerns and questions arising from the context in which U.S. Catholics must understand and practice their faith.
Each of the 36 chapters opens with a story or lesson of faith. These often draw on examples from U.S. Catholic events or the lives of American Catholics whose names and contributions should be part of the common cultural awareness in the U.S. church. Each chapter ends with a meditation and prayer.
In between are a narrative exposition and application of the teaching of that chapter, sidebars, questions for discussion and a series of brief doctrinal statements on the topic. Many of the doctrinal statements are drawn from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but there are also citations from Scripture, church councils and other sources.
If the proposal to participate in Christian Churches Together is approved, it will mark the first time the U.S. Catholic Church has become a member of such a national ecumenical association of churches. C.C.T.’s purpose is to enable churches and national Christian organizations to grow closer together in Christ, in order to strengthen their Christian witness in the world.
Catholic churches belong to national church councils in 70 countries around the world. The U.S. church has collaborated with but never been part of the National Council of the Churches of Christ U.S.A. When the possibility of Catholic membership was explored in the 1970’s, one of the chief obstacles was the fact that as the N.C.C. is structured, the Catholic Church would dominate if it became a member.
The N.C.C.’s member churches, chiefly of the Orthodox and historic Protestant families, represent only about one-third of all U.S. Christians. The N.C.C. has promoted formation of the C.C.T. as a means to promote greater ecumenical understanding and witness among those outside the N.C.C., especially the Catholic Church and churches of the Evangelical and Pentecostal families.
At the end of the November meeting, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., completes his three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., ends his term as vice president. Their successors will be elected during the meeting. Traditionally, the vice president has been elected president.
Bishop Gregory, elected in November 2001, guided the U.S. church through the greatest crisis it has faced in its history, the clergy sexual abuse crisis that erupted in Boston in January 2002 and rapidly spread nationwide. He also is the first black bishop to be elected conference president.
By U.S.C.C.B. rules, other conference officers and the chairmen of standing committees are elected a year in advance of taking office.
This year the bishops are to elect a treasurer-elect of the conference and the chairmen-elect of 14 U.S.C.C.B committees for African-American Catholics, canonical affairs, catechesis, ecumenical and interreligious affairs, education, evangelization, Hispanic affairs, laity, liturgy, marriage and family, priestly formation, relationship between Eastern and Latin Catholic churches, science and human values, and international policy.
They will also elect delegates and alternates to represent the U.S.C.C.B. in Rome at the world Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in October 2005. By Vatican rule those elected are not to be named publicly until they have been approved by the pope.
They will be asked to approve a consolidated U.S.C.C.B. budget of $129.4 million for 2005, about $2.3 million more than the 2004 budget but $2 million less than the 2003 budget.
In Catholic Italy, Abortion Is Not an Issue
When more than 1,000 of Italy’s most politically active Catholics met in early October, Pope John Paul II sent them a message urging greater church influence on such issues as the family, the media, economic justice and globalization.
Reflecting the political priorities of the church in Italy, the pope did not mention abortion. In fact, during the four days of nonstop speeches and roundtables at the 44th annual Social Week in Bologna, church leaders never seriously confronted abortion, which has been legal in Italy since 1978.
This is symptomatic, Carlo Casini, president of Italy’s Pro-Life Movement, said in an interview on Oct. 12. A fairly high percentage of Italian Catholics are not willing to push strongly on abortion because they consider it secondary. It’s an issue that divides Catholics politically, so the feeling is that it’s better not to talk about it, he said.
The pope, whose own Diocese of Rome has the highest abortion rate in the country, has strongly and consistently preached a pro-life message to Italians, but that has not been translated into political activism among leading Catholics. Abortion was not an issue in the last major political elections in 2003.
The idea of making abortion a litmus test issue for political candidates rarely, if ever, enters the minds of Italian voters. Abortion here in Italy is not seen as the only issue or the decisive issue. Catholics end up voting for political parties that are very much in favor of abortion, because they share the parties’ positions on other things, said Casini.
Casini, whose movement often struggles to get local support for the annual pro-life celebration, said the Italian church hierarchy also has been hesitant to push the abortion question in the political arena. The fight against abortion has largely been left to pro-life groups, he said.
One event that has strongly conditioned the pro-life movement in Italy is the 1981 referendum on the abortion law. The referendum, heavily promoted by the church, failed, with only 32 percent of Italians voting to repeal the law. Church leaders were stung by the results, and the anti-abortion effort in Italy has been regrouping ever since.
Casini said Italy’s Catholic history is not making things easier on the abortion front. He said Italians often view abortion as simply the latest chapter in a longstanding church-state battle in the sphere of politics. In the United States, the abortion debate is free of these historical antagonisms and cuts more across denominational lines.
In recent weeks, Italians have been hearing and reading more about abortion, not as an issue in Italy, but in coverage of the U.S. election campaign. In particular, Italian media have focused on the statement by a few U.S. bishops that it would be sinful to vote for Senator John Kerry because of his support for legal abortion. They have treated this as an interesting and somewhat curious political approach by the church. No one is suggesting that it be imported into Italy.
Vatican Did Not Respond on Excommunication
An official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said a California canon lawyer seeking a formal decree of heresy against Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Democratic presidential nominee, has misrepresented his contact with the Vatican office. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has had no contact with Mr. [Marc] Balestrieri, said Augustine DiNoia, O.P., undersecretary of the congregation. His claim that the private letter he received from Father Basil Cole [O.P.] is a Vatican response is completely without merit, Father DiNoia told Catholic News Service on Oct. 19, declining to discuss the matter further.
Mr. Balestrieri is the head of De Fide, described on its Web site as an organization created to deal with the burgeoning scandal of Catholic politicians supporting the right to choose’ murder. In an interview on Oct. 15 on the Eternal Word Television Network and in a statement of Oct. 18 posted on his Web site, Balestrieri said he had received a written response prompted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirming that Catholic politicians who persist in supporting the right to abortion are automatically excommunicated.’
National Review Board Gets New Chair, Members
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has appointed a new chairman and five new members to the National Review Board for the protection of children. The U.S.C.C.B president, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., announced the appointments in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 15. He named Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean of the law school of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a charter member of the two-year-old board, as chairman. He will serve through the conclusion of his term on the board in June 2005.
The new members, all appointed to three-year terms that will end on Oct. 31, 2007, are: Patricia O’Donnell Ewers, an educational consultant who was president of Pace University in New York from 1990 to 2000; Angelo P. Giardino, M.D., vice president for clinical affairs at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia; Ralph I. Lancaster Jr., an attorney at the Pierce Atwood law firm in Portland, Me.; Judge Michael R. Merz, a federal magistrate of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio, in Dayton, Ohio; and Joseph P. Russoniello, dean of the San Francisco Law School and senior counsel and resident in the San Francisco office of the law firm Cooley Godward LLP.
Jewish, Christian and Muslim authorities must protest publicly when any religious person, symbol or sacred place is the object of disrespect, said representatives of the Vatican and of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. We call on them to educate their communities to behave with respect and dignity toward people and toward their attachment to their faith, said a statement issued at the end of the meeting on Oct. 17-19 of the dialogue committee sponsored by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
A survey of U.S. dioceses by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life and figures provided by Catholic Engaged Encounter indicated that at least 81 percent of the couples married in the Catholic Church in 2003 took part in marriage preparation programs that year.
Governments must do more to fight the abuse and exploitation of children within their borders and beyond, Pope John Paul II said. No one can be silent or remain indifferent when innocent children suffer or are marginalized and wounded in their dignity as human persons, the pope said on Oct. 18.