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