Bishops meeting to discuss new leadership, U.S. politics and sex abuse crisis

Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Ill., speaks from the floor during last year's the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Ill., speaks from the floor during last year's the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Catholic bishops will gather in Baltimore from Nov. 11 through Nov. 13 for their annual fall meeting, where they will elect new leaders, consider new language about how Catholics should approach U.S. politics and hear an update about procedures adopted earlier this year meant to hold themselves accountable for how they handle allegations of sexual misconduct.

Supplements to voting guide
At their meeting, the bishops are expected to vote on scripts for a series of videos that will supplement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a voter guide that explains church teaching on a number of issues. When bishops gathered for their spring meeting in June, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the 2020 version of the voting guide would not undergo major changes. Instead, he said, it would be released with a new introductory letter and a series of four 90-second videos.

Advertisement

The usefulness of the voting guide, which runs more than 40 pages, has been questioned by some bishops and other Catholic leaders during the past few years. Some critics say the document, which was initially created in 2007, does not address current political and social challenges.

The U.S.C.C.B. adopted the lastest revision of “Faithful Citizenship” in November 2015 with minor changes. At the time, at least three bishops described the document as inadequate. Bishop Robert McElroy called the guide “gravely hollow,” while Bishop John Stowe, of Lexington, Ky., said it did not reflect the pastoral priorities or tone of Pope Francis.

The usefulness of the voting guide, which runs more than 40 pages, has been questioned by some bishops and other Catholic leaders during the past few years.

With the 2020 presidential campaign well underway, there are already signs that church leaders may find themselves dragged into the political arena. Earlier this month, a Catholic priest in South Carolina revealed that he denied Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden, a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

[Don’t miss more stories like this one. Sign up for our newsletter.]

The episode harks back to 2004, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a memo to U.S. bishops that said politicians who support access to abortion should be denied Communion. A handful of U.S. bishops subsequently announced that Mr. Kerry would not be permitted to receive the Eucharist in their dioceses.

U.S.C.C.B. elections—and Pope Francis
Bishops will engage in some voting of their own in November, as they elect new officers and committee chairs. If tradition holds and the conference’s vice president is elected president, Archbishop Gomez will become the first Mexican-American to hold that post.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

The president and vice president are chosen from a list of 10 candidates. The names put forward this year are:

  • Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services
  • Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn.
  • Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City
  • Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco
  • Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Tex.
  • Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles
  • Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee
  • Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, Ill.
  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.
  • Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit

The election of new officers and committee chairs could send a signal as to the upcoming pastoral priorities of the U.S.C.C.B, which some commentators have suggested has been slow to adapt to the Francis papacy. Writing at Commonweal, the theologian Massimo Faggioli suggests that U.S. bishops as a body has not taken up the current pope’s priorities. He pointed out that the bishops’ fall meeting comes as the head of every U.S. diocese prepares to meet with the pope in the coming months to discuss the states of their dioceses, meetings he said could serve as a reset between U.S. bishops and the pope. The U.S. bishops’ visits ad limina apostolorum—to the threshold of the apostles—begin Nov. 4 with a group from New England.

Throughout November, December, January and February, another 14 groups of U.S. bishops will travel to Rome; the visits should conclude Feb. 22 with the bishops of the Eastern Catholic churches in the United States.

Church leaders still face questions about how capable they are of policing themselves when it comes to allegations of mismanagement of sexual misconduct.

Mr. Faggiloli, who teaches at Villanova University, writes, “A significant number of American bishops continue to ignore or actively reject key aspects of Francis’s pastoral priorities—from ‘Who am I to judge?’ to ‘Amoris laetitia’ to ‘Laudato si’’—it’s hard to know whether a meaningful rapprochement will be achieved anytime soon.”

But Russell Shaw, a former staffer at the U.S.C.C.B., said in an interview with the National Catholic Register that he does not see a gap between Rome and the U.S. bishops.

“The American hierarchy is intensely loyal to the papacy, and always has been,” Mr. Shaw said.

Update on handling sexual abuse
According to a press release from the U.S.C.C.B., bishops are “expected to hear an update on progress toward establishing a nationwide, third-party reporting system for abuse or misconduct by bishops.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis decreed that every diocese must implement a number of safeguarding policies by June 2020.

In response, the U.S.C.C.B. voted in June to create a third-party reporting hotline; to adopt a procedure for receiving those complaints and include laypeople to investigate them; and to compile into one place existing measures that restrict the public ministry of retired bishops who leave office “for grave reason.” Bishops also approved a code of conduct that they say binds them to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The measures suggest that laypeople be involved in the new procedures, but they stop just short of requiring lay involvement, which led to some criticism from Catholic advocacy groups.

Church leaders still face questions about how capable they are of policing themselves when it comes to allegations of mismanagement of sexual misconduct. Discussion at the U.S.C.C.B. meeting on these matters will take place against the backdrop of an investigation into Bishop Richard Malone, who is under fire for his handling of sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Buffalo.

Earlier this month, the Vatican announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn would lead an investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo. But the inquiry is an “apostolic visitation” and not covered by the pope’s decree. Some reform advocates have said this shows that bishops are not capable of accountability. On Oct. 31, the Diocese of Brooklyn Bishop DiMarzio announced that he had concluded his investigation and submitted a report to the Vatican.

New vision for Hispanic ministry
A subcommittee charged with ministry to Hispanic Catholics in the United States, which by some estimates will be the majority of the U.S. church in the coming years, will seek approval to develop a “comprehensive vision for Hispanic/Latino ministry.” A Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month indicated that the share of U.S. Hispanics who identify as Catholic has dipped 10 points over the past decade, with just 47 percent of U.S. Hispanics now calling themselves Catholic.

Bishops will also vote to adopt a new strategic plan that runs through 2024 and adopt a proposed budget.

Material from the Catholic News Service was used in this report.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
JR Cosgrove
2 weeks 1 day ago

The Church should stay out of politics. The Church's expertise is morality not politics. Every political and economic policy will be wrong in some way so the Church should not get involved when they will certainly be wrong. One exception, if the political system prevents the Church from celebrating its ministry and teaching its doctrine to its members and other interested, then it should protest such a system.

Craig B. Mckee
2 weeks 1 day ago

WHICH is it?
"the theologian Massimo Faggioli"
"Mr. Faggiloli, who teaches at Villanova University,"

JOHN GRONDELSKI
2 weeks 1 day ago

The structure of this article is, in my opinion, shocking.
Sexual abuse remains the 900 pound elephant in the room, yet substantive mention of that issue shows up only at paragraph 12 (after the apparently far more compelling story of whom might be elected the new USCCB President). That is incredible, given that almost eighteen months after the McCarrick scandal broke, we still don't know who knew what when or when the Vatican's "investigation" is/will end/be revealed. Meanwhile, in the last year, we have been treated to the Bransfield scandal in West Virginia AND the Malone mess in Buffalo, but this article leaves the impression that the main question will be (a) how is the 1-800-BISHOPS number to report buggery working and (b) how can we pretend there will be lay involvement without actually requiring lay involvement. In other words, we are treating the objectively perverse situation in the Church, which cries out to heaven for vengeance and the secular media for investigation, as a new "normal."

Molly Roach
2 weeks ago

I'm right there with you John! These men still have to clean their house up. They are remarkably sluggish about it all. And they are the last people I would go to for any guidance in voting!!!!

Michael Barberi
2 weeks 1 day ago

Massimo Fagglioli, the theologian from Villanova, got it right when he said, in paraphrase, that most U.S. Bishops continue to ignore or disregard the teachings of Amoris Laetitia (e.g., Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried under certain conditions and the discernment guidelines of the Argentina Bishops that was approved by Pope Frances). Equally important is the fact that the USCCB has done essentially nothing in terms of the allegations in the PA Grand Jury Report, the entire McCarrick scandal especially how and why Pope JP II promoted him to Cardinal when his Apostolic Nuncio and other Bishops knew about his years of sexual abuse.
We continue to hear about other sexual abuse scandals in West Virginia and Buffalo but we hear nothing from the USCCB. We have a toothless Tiger here, a do nothing USCCB, and a complete disregard to the implementation of Amoris Laetitia, save for a few U.S. bishops who are doing so. Most Catholics have lost any trust in the Bishops to remedy the sexual abuse crisis, bring bishops and priests to justice, and implement Amoris Laetitia and guidelines for Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried.

Mary O'Neill
2 weeks 1 day ago

The bishops should not spend their time on creating a political guide. . I am a Catholic, former politician, teacher of theology and firm believer that our moral compass is important. If the bishops meddle in the choice process they are meddling beyond their mandate.

John Barbieri
2 weeks 1 day ago

The USCCB is very good at appearing to be working without really doing much of anything. By and large, the bishops have discredited themselves.
The laity will continue to kiss their rings to be polite but not be bothered with them otherwise. Cafeteria catholicism is the only thing holding the church together at this time.

John Goll
2 weeks 1 day ago

Forming Consciences actually is amazing for what it does have in it, a pretty good outline of Catholic Social Teaching -- taking care of migrants, the poor, no death penalty, reduce violence, reduced or at most reasonable/last resort use of military force, a proper economy that respects the poor, health care, rights for workers, etc. Topics you rarely here from the ambo. Although written in 2007, we still have most of the same issues. Yes, it could be updated, but people should read it; you may be surprised by what the bishops say. Upfront they say they are NOT telling us how to vote; that is up to us. It is a guide on forming our conscience and how we should live our daily lives.

Vincent Gaglione
1 week 6 days ago

Sadly most Catholics probably do not have the time nor interest to pursue reading a multi-page document that, by most accounts, they probably regard as just another extended version of a diatribe about abortion politics. I would rather that clergy would be directed to discuss the topics from our pulpits. It might take the place of some of the humdrum pap that do not succeed as homilies. Relating scriptural teachings to ordinary lives probably would go a long way to giving some life to a booklet that should have relevance in people's daily lives, not just at election time.

Michael Bindner
1 week 6 days ago

The best way to handle abortion is to detach from supporting GOP candidates whose Justices are pro-Roe anyway and propose a $1000 monthly child tax credit distributed with wages. Check agenda with Cardinal Sean & his likely replacement among the 8, Cardinal Blaise.

Advertisement

The latest from america

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738), Blue crew, returns to homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., following a strategic deterrence patrol. Maryland is one of five ballistic-missile submarines stationed at the base and is capable of carrying up to 20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ashley Berumen/Released)
The obvious religious motivation of the Plowshares activists did not insulate them from criminal prosecution. The First Amendment prohibits the government from applying different rules to religious believers, but the Plowshares defendants were treated the same as any other intruder on government
Ellen K. BoegelNovember 20, 2019
Alexandra DeSanctis: We are called to defend the least among us, and there is no more weak and defenseless population than unborn human beings.
Alexandra DeSanctisNovember 20, 2019
In death, what we thought was lost is, wondrously, restored to us. What we feared could never be accomplished is achieved.
Terrance KleinNovember 20, 2019
Before my illness I frequently thought of life from the perspective of what I had accomplished. Throughout my illness, God has reminded me that what is most important is what we do for other people and that he is really in charge.
Shawn SextonNovember 20, 2019