U.S. bishops may discuss GOP tax plan, guns & what it means to be ‘pro-life’ at annual meeting

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, N.J., listens to a speaker during last year's fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, N.J., listens to a speaker during last year's fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

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.

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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.

Baron Corvo
1 week 5 days ago

You know who "...shouldn't be taking Communion..." ?

Callista Gingrich and her adultery companion, Newt.

Get serious with the hocus-pocus nonsense and address a REAL ISSUE for Catholics today, the appointment of this woman and the slap in the face to our Church by Adolf Drumpf because of his great hate for our Pontiff.

Eileen Malloy
1 week 3 days ago

I think the Pontiff hates Trump, more than vice-versa. But let's all remember, that the Little Sisters of the Poor had to sue the Obama Admn. all the way to the US Supreme Court. Trump is more favorable to Catholics, by far.

Lisa Weber
1 week 5 days ago

I am glad the bishops are going to have a discussion about what it means to be pro-life. Merely being anti-abortion is insufficient qualification for the description "pro-life." It would be so helpful to have women included in these discussions because most of the "pro-life" issues affect women so much.

Eileen Malloy
1 week 3 days ago

They might try, but ultimately it will diminish the authority of their voices and unfortunately that of the Church. A ten year old can tell the difference in degree between the barbaric procedure of abortion and something such as “minimum wage rates”. It’s silly, actually, and nobody is being fooled by Leftist seamless garment politics. It’s not of God to conflate like that, it’s of worldly machinations and politics. So, even if seamless garment-type stuff gets implemented everyone will know why, and roll their eyes and shrug shoulders. Chalk it up to Leftist socialists.

Lisa Weber
1 week 3 days ago

Are you saying that including women in these discussions would diminish the authority of both women and the bishops? That is how I am reading your comment. I find it hard to believe that anyone could think that women have no authority of knowledge related to reproductive issues.

Johnny Salcedo
1 week 3 days ago

Ms. Webber, I think that the definition of pro-life relates to anything concerning human dignity. I am too heartened by the bishops seeking to discuss this issue. Like you, I find that the focus on abortion alone is unsatisfactory when the Gospel teaches us solidarity towards the poor and the voiceless. While I agree that abortion is a hurtful practice, I think that we as a society cannot ignore the effects that exploitation of workers. These people work so hard for so little and cannot be present for their families. If we are serious about our commitment to the family, we need to stand in solidarity and act with compassion.

As a Catholic, we must embrace nuance and the word of God. Not just Republicans or Democrats. A fixation with either is idolatry and an outright denial of the true message of the Gospel. We cannot ignore our Lord's call to perform the acts of corporeal mercy. We're called to rise above the politics, we are called to love our neighbor.

Eileen Malloy
1 week 2 days ago

Roll eyes time. Everyone knows that abortion is degrees more important than "solidarity towards the poor and the voiceless". This is just Leftist and socialist window dressing for tacit support of abortion and everyone knows it. Look, helping the poor is Catholic 101. Who doesn't know this? To conflate it with pro-life activities protecting the unborn is confusing two different issues. We should not obscure pro-life activities with helping the poor or discussing the liturgy etc. Each of these 3 is Catholic 101, they should be separate and distinct. The "seamless garment" is a smokescreen for pro-abortion leftists and everyone knows it. Admit it.

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1 week 4 days ago

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Christopher Lochner
1 week 4 days ago

Agreed. I've complained on this issue to no avail.

Michael Barberi
1 week 4 days ago

The thousand pound gorilla in the room is the definition of abortion (e.g., direct and indirect) that the Bishops often ignore.

Most Catholics are against abortion on demand but do believe that it is not immoral to terminate a pregnancy if it threatens the life of the mother with certainty after everything is done to save both the mother and the fetus. For many Catholics, allowing the fetus and mother to die when one life can be saved "is the immoral decision".

There are many examples of the controversy over direct and indirect abortion. Take the infamous Phoenix case. The bishop excommunicated the nun who headed the ethics committee of St. Joseph Hospital because she permitted the doctors to terminate the pregnancy and save the life of a young married mother with several children. The mother and fetus would died with certainty but the mother could be save if the pregnancy was terminated. The nun gave the go-ahead based on circumstances.

In an attempt to change the bishop's decision, the hospital and Catholic Healthcare West asked a moral theologian from Marquette University to conduct a moral evaluation of the case. Her report concluded that the termination of the pregnancy in this case was 'indirect abortion' not 'direct abortion'. Her report was comprehensive and it also highlighted the Church's famous apologist, moral theologian Germain Grisez, that such decisions can and should be permitted in specific circumstances. Yet the Bishop remained steadfast regardless of reasons or circumstances while Rome remained silent.

What confuses Catholics is the many cases where the Church is both inconsistent and contradictory in its enforcement of ethical guidelines. Take the example of rape. The many Bishops permit taking the morning after pill in cases of rape simply based on a pregnancy test AND NOT an ovulation test which is the USCCB guideline. Reason: Catholic hospitals that require an ovulation test and not a pregnancy test for administering the morning after pill would lose Federal money. Try googling the infamous Connecticut case where the Archbishop went against USCCB guidelines of requiring an ovulation test and permitted the administration of the morning after pill based on a "negative pregnancy test". The contradiction is the fact that a pregnancy test will "always be negative" within a week after a rape. On the other hand, a positive ovulation test administered within a week of the rape would only validate that the woman was already pregnant before the rape occurred. It would not determine if fertilization occurred due to the rape. {Note: I agree that in cases of rape a morning after pill should be permitted because this is an example of an unwanted and unavoidable criminal act).

These kinds of inconsistencies and contradictions cause widespread skepticism whether the Church's teaching on many sexual ethical issues are too rigid and do not consider the circumstances of existential reality and the controversy over the interpretation of Scripture and Tradition.

Christopher Lochner
1 week 4 days ago

This will become an involved discussion for them as there are no easy solutions. Is homelessness, for example, in opposition to a pro-life stance and if it is how can the problem actually be rectified? And, of course cheap platitudes are not allowed. And by this I mean that we all know Scripture and the Admonishments of Christ but putting them in practice is astoundingly difficult. The same concern involves firearms. I live in the Baltimore area where the murder rate is skyrocketing. One link is that the perpetrators of such violence almost always have long lists of previous arrests and thus the problems also includes a disheartening lack of oversight on a violent and criminal group. Is this group born this way or made this way? A little of both I imagine, if you believe in free will; you get the point. Again, a request for an absence of cheap platitudes, please.

Eileen Malloy
1 week 3 days ago

Is it true that Cardinal Cupich tried to equate the destruction of a human life (abortion) with unemployment using the seamless garment? Incredible.

Lisa Weber
1 week 3 days ago

You could try reading what Cardinal Cupich has said on the issue. I think you are misinformed even suggesting what you have said in this post.

Vincent Gaglione
1 week 3 days ago

As reported in another article on this site:
“Francis told the conference that priests must inform Catholic consciences “but not replace them.” And he stressed the distinction between one’s conscience—where God reveals himself—and one’s ego that thinks it can do as it pleases.”

As it pertains to the “pro-life” / “pro-choice” legal and cultural battles, the Catholic “pro-life” movement would have us focus solely on the issue of abortion to the detriment and ignorance of all the other examples of how human lives are negatively affected by policies, attitudes, and practices in our society. It is another example of the USA Church’s immense failure to instruct and educate its members in moral obligations in their daily lives.

So many Catholics have abandoned the pews and the faith due to the autocratic methods and rhetoric by which instruction was afforded to them either in schools or from pulpits. The USA Church didn’t inform consciences; they attempted and continue to attempt to coerce us into a narrow mold of their own devise.

Abortion is no easy moral issue in a pluralistic society. But it is NOT the only life issue with which the nation needs to contend. To criminalize any life issue is once again to fail to inform but rather to conform consciences, never a successful means of moral instruction. Witness the sexism, racism, and jingoism that plague the nation despite laws to the contrary.

Michael Barberi
1 week 2 days ago

Vincent,

You are right to bring up the question: What does it mean to be pro-life? In my view it is anything that demeans, destroys, minimizes or disenfranchises human dignity. It is more than abortion. However, the US Bishops will never address the other issues related to 'being pro-life" such as treating LGBT brothers and sisters with respect, compassion and sensitivity ". How about when a married woman is told that another pregnancy will be life-threatening? According to the Church she cannot take the pill to avoid another pregnancy but must practice NFP which no one would do because it would be highly irresponsible as NFP fails for any number of reasons. Thus, the only choice a woman has in this case is to practice lifetime sexual abstinence and suffer while the woman's marriage will most likely be destroyed.

I don't have a problem with the US Bishops discussing what it means to be pro-life, or the condemnation of any form of violence, murder or terrorism. However, I hope they will more fully reflect on an effective solution that will work as well as the message that some teachings send to all of us.

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