Now that the bishops' meeting has begun (see Michael Sean Winters' post below, and keep looking for his continuing coverage for America) Cardinal George has revealed what has been whispered about in Catholic circles for the past few weeks: the USCCB will discuss setting up committees that will determine whether those in three separate groups--the media, colleges and universities, and other organizations (lay groups, etc.)--are legitimately Catholic. Here's David Gibson on that point, who is covering the meeting for Politics Daily:
The leader of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States on Monday launched a new effort to rein in Catholic debates and dissidents and to remind the flock that the bishops will be the arbiters of what it means to be a Catholic.
In remarks at the opening of the hierarchy's annual meeting in Baltimore, Chicago Cardinal Francis George made it clear that after years of repeated questions about the bishops' credibility, it was time for the bishops to clarify just who can and cannot speak for the church. He also confirmed that he had set up three committees of bishops to develop guidelines for determining what will be considered legitimate Catholic entities.
Church insiders said the divisions and open dissents, and the criticisms that often bombarded the bishops from right and left, increasingly frustrated George and others in the church leadership, and led George to quietly form several committees that will try to find a way to certify which universities, media, and other organizations can claim to be Catholic.
But several bishops and church officials I spoke with doubted whether George's desire to implement the certifying committees would gain any traction among the bishops. For one thing, beneath the surface of civility, the bishops are as divided on many of these issues as the rest of the American church.
In addition, George played it so close to the vest in setting up the committees--he launched the initiative over the summer--that up until the first day of these meetings many bishops didn't know who was on the committees or how many there were. There are, it turns out, three such committees: on Catholic universities, Catholic media, and other Catholic organizations, reportedly those involved in lobbying.
San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer, chairman of the committee on Catholic media, told reporters after Monday's opening session that in recent years the political and media landscape has sprouted so many organizations and websites and lobbies using the Catholic label--and advocating competing agendas--that churchgoers are confused.
"Catholics will approach us, and approach their pastors in their church, and ask us, 'Well, I hear this outfit is called Catholic and it says this and another says this and another one something else. Can they all be Catholic and disagree so vehemently with each other?' That does challenge us to makes sense of it and to speak as bishops," said Niederauer, who is widely regarded as a media-savvy prelate with a moderate temperament.
Read the rest of Gibson's story here.
Where this will lead is anyone's guess.
James Martin, SJ