Catholic bishops will meet in Baltimore next week for their annual fall meeting, where the agenda includes an address from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, updates from working groups on racism and immigration as well as elections for heads of various subcommittees.
According to a press release from the U.S.C.C.B., much of the business appears to be routine, though the bishops as a body have been vocal in recent months about a range of political and social issues, as well as internal church politics, that are sure to come up during the meeting.
For example, just yesterday three bishops who head subcommittees issued a blistering letter calling the G.O.P.-backed tax overhaul “unacceptable” because, they say, it raises taxes on the poor to reduce taxes on the wealthy. The problem of gun violence may also come up. After the church shooting on Nov. 5 in Texas, bishops said America’s problem with gun violence must be addressed with “a real debate about needed measures to save lives and make our communities safer.”
Internally, divisions inside the Catholic Church became more public earlier this month when a theological adviser to the U.S. bishops resigned after making public a scathing letter he wrote to Pope Francis critical of his papacy.
A range of political and social issues, as well as internal church politics, are sure to come up during the fall bishops' meeting.
In response, Cardinal DiNardo took the unusual step of releasing a letter professing loyalty to the pope. Some Catholics opposed to the direction they believe the pope is leading the church have rallied around the theologian, Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., accusing the bishops of silencing him. Cardinal DiNardo will address the full body of bishops as the first year of his three-year presidency comes to an end, and some Catholics want him to address Father Weinandy’s letter.
“The fact that someone whom [the bishops] trusted in the important area of doctrine could malign their brother bishops and come out with the grave suggestion that the pope might be committing a sin against the Holy Spirit—the only sin that scripture says ‘cannot be forgiven’—seems curiously not to have disturbed them much,” Rita Ferrone wrote at Commonweal.
In terms of elections for officers, the most notable race is for the leadership of the bishops’ committee on pro-life activities, currently headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Some church observers see in the race an indication about how the bishops view what it means to be pro-life.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., will square off, and while they both oppose abortion, their leadership in the pro-life area has played out in different ways.
When it comes to life issues, Cardinal Cupich frequently invokes his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who advocated for a consistent ethic of life that includes abortion and the death penalty, but also issues of poverty, gun violence and war. Cardinal Cupich has written that these issues, along with abortion and euthanasia, contribute to society’s “disregard for the value of human life.”
Archbishop Naumann, a member of the pro-life committee, is seen as the more traditional voice on abortion. He cut ties with the Girl Scouts of America after critics accused the organization of promoting abortion rights, and he has said public figures who support abortion rights should not take Communion.
“In many ways, the election is a referendum on the bishops’ approach to ‘pro-life activities,’” J.D. Flynn wrote at Catholic News Agency, saying it comes down to whether bishops want to resurrect Cardinal Bernardin’s approach or stick with the status quo.
Other committee chair positions that will be filled include the committee on religious liberty, which was made a permanent fixture in the conference earlier this year following contentious debate, as well as committees on communications, doctrine and cultural diversity.
The U.S.C.C.B. will gather for Mass on Sunday, Nov. 12, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the organization. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope’s secretary of state, is expected to attend.