The well-publicized Nov. 10-13 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops seems to have left a lot of people yawning. Maybe it was just the impression conveyed by media desperate for something spicy to cover. When it comes to the annual fall assembly of bishops, media sometimes forget they are covering a business meeting not a show. But maybe it was an agenda that left them cold.
One blessing of the Catholic Church is that it is “catholic,” and encompasses so much and so many. Its issues touch both public policy and daily living. Yet this time there seemed to be an I-can-handle-only-one-thing-at-a-time approach, which runs counter to "catholic."
It appeared that at the meeting not much was said on issues from immigration to poverty, for example, though President Obama needs all the help he can get to advance the immigration issue, especially from bishops who have the ear of the Republican leadership.
Meanwhile the world Synod of Bishops has caught the public imagination. Do the U.S. bishops need a plan worthy of Pope Francis's call for involvement and transparency? Should this not be an issue? There is a sense that Pope Francis is open to what all Catholics, not just the hierarchy, have to say on the synod topic of families. Will there be an opportunity to reach out to U.S. Catholics to hear their concerns? Issues cry out. A major concern of Catholics, both church-going and not, is how to prepare young people for healthy marriages, how to sustain them, how to keep them church-going. We used to count on fallen away young Catholics to return when their children were introduced to Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation. That doesn't happen as much anymore. Can this be looked at? Surely this is a synod-worthy concern.
The Catholic Church is too important to reduce it to the issues of a political agenda that thrills public policy wonks but ignores many other issues. There exist many issues that touch a vast number of people where they live—at home, in church, in their souls. We are talking about vibrant family life, meaningful prayer and parish community, and help in encountering the transcendent God. We are talking to about how we speak to and of one another.
If the bishops address these issues and widen areas of concern, problems in public policy areas might wane. Right now, the issues of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops seem narrow and with an impact on fewer and fewer of their people.
Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., is a member of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and U.S. Church Correspondent for America.