Signs of the Times

Bishops Tackle Liturgy, Global Warming, Mideast, Mandatum

The U.S. Catholic bishops tackled issues ranging from global warming to the Middle East crisis, from liturgy to doctrine to moral teaching at their spring meeting on June 14-16 in Atlanta, Ga. The meeting was their final session under the names National Conference of Catholic Bishops and United States Catholic Conference. On July 1 the two conferences will become one, to be called the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. About 230 bishops attended.

In a statement on global warming, they called on Americans "to recognize the seriousness of the global warming threat and to develop policies that will diminish the possible consequences of global climate change." They said it is time for "a civil dialogue and prudent and constructive action to protect God's precious gift of the atmosphere." They urged that energy conservation and anti-pollution policies be developed within a framework of global solidarity and concern for the common good, with special attention to the needs of poorer people and nations.


The bishops also approved a resolution urging an end to the Palestinian-Israeli violence. The resolution called for a restoration of trust, resumption of the peace process and a firm commitment by both sides to the human rights of all, a state for the Palestinians and secure borders for Israel.

Amending their Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, the bishops clarified that Catholic hospitals involved in partnerships or mergers with other health care institutions "are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and direct sterilization." Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had already approved the changes before they were presented to the bishops. As a result, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, who chaired the drafting committee, discouraged any new amendments lest the text have to go back to the cardinal again for approval.

Archbishop Pilarczyk said that as a result of the changes no direct sterilizations can occur in Catholic hospitals. "The principle of cooperation does not apply to institutions," he said. So Catholic hospitals can no longer use the claim that they acted under duress in allowing sterilizations.

"The practical effect of the changes is the requirement of greater distance between the Catholic entity and the morally prohibited procedure," said the Rev. Michael D. Place, president and C.E.O. of the Catholic Health Association. "The revisions make clear that the Catholic organization must maintain appropriate distance or separation from prohibited procedures in the areas of governance, management and financial benefit."

Liturgical matters occupied a good portion of the meeting. In the opening session, the bishops were told that the Holy See has approved the second volume of the U.S. Lectionary for Mass, carrying readings for weekdays, feasts of saints and Masses for various occasions.

They also held an extended discussion of concerns raised by a recently published Vatican document on liturgical translation, Liturgiam Authenticam ("The Authentic Liturgy"). Some bishops questioned whether the document's detailed translation rules were appropriate. Others asked about its impact on a wide range of matters, from biblical and liturgical scholarship to liturgical music and the future of international translation commissions. Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, N.C.C.B. president, eventually cut off the discussion with a promise that it would be brought back onto the agenda later in the meeting. The topic was taken up again during the bishops' executive session, which was closed to the media.

On other liturgical matters, the bishops encouraged Catholics to receive Communion under both kinds when possible as "a fuller sign of the eucharistic banquet." The bishops also ruled that before the Communion, people are to kneel at "This is the Lamb of God," unless their diocesan bishop determines otherwise. They said that the preferred posture for receiving Communion is standing, although people are permitted to kneel. People "may kneel or sit following the reception of holy Communion," they said.

The bishops also voted to continue the current American practice of kneeling during the eucharistic prayer "except when prevented by reasons of health, lack of space, the number of people present, or some other good reason as specified by the diocesan bishop." Some bishops who wanted uniformity across the country were reluctant to give any discretion to the local bishop.

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston said that if some people were going to kneel and others stand, he would prefer to follow the universal law of the church, which is to stand. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles offered to cosponsor an amendment making standing the norm, but most bishops did not want a change. During a press conference, the chair of the bishops' liturgy committee, Bishop Oscar Lipscomb, said that bishops had heard so many complaints about liturgical changes that their guiding principle was "don't change things any more than you have to."

Ending years of conference work on the U.S. application of Vatican Catholic higher education norms, the bishops approved a recommended procedure for bishops to grant theologians a mandatum, or ecclesiastical mandate to teach. Theologians hired by May 3, 2001, are required to obtain the mandatum by June 1, 2002. Those hired after that date are to obtain it "within the academic year or within six months of being hired, whichever is longer."

The procedure provides for two ways in which a mandatum can be conferred:

The theologian may request it, with an attestation that he or she recognizes his or her role and responsibility as a Catholic theologian and is committed to "teach authentic Catholic doctrine" and not to present as Catholic teaching anything contrary to it. The bishop then acknowledges the attestation and confers the mandatum in light of it.

The bishop may offer the mandatum to a theologian, spelling out what its acceptance entails and enclosing a form by which the theologian can acknowledge that he or she understands and accepts the terms. The mandatum takes effect when the bishop receives the signed acknowledgment.

Archbishop Pilarczyk, head of the committee that drafted the procedure, warned against misuse of the mandatum as a tool to rate the orthodoxy or catholicity of theologians or Catholic educational institutions. "If a person does not want it, it does not mean he is heterodox," said the archbishop. There may be other reasons, although the archbishop does not find those put forward convincing. He suggested that if a bishop is asked who has the mandatum and who does not, "it would be prudent for the bishop to send the inquirer to the teachers in question and allow them to tell the inquirer as much as they want."

The archbishop acknowledged, "There is no mechanism to make anybody request or accept the mandatum." If a theologian refuses, "you enter into dialogue and try to persuade," he said. "You have a pastoral problem that you deal with in a pastoral way." It is an obligation without a sanction, like going to Mass on Sunday, he said. Nor is there a mechanism to prevent universities from hiring a theologian who does not have a mandatum .

At the Catholic Theological Society of America convention in Milwaukee a week before the bishops met, a number of theologians indicated that they would not request a mandatum. M. Theresa Moser, R.S.C J., of the University of San Francisco and a member of the C.T.S.A. ad hoc committee on the mandatum, argued that the canonical tradition of reception (and nonreception) of a law should be applied to the mandatum. The canonical doctrine of reception asserts that for a law to be an effective guide for the believing community, the community must accept it. After 30 years, a law that has not been received is considered a dead letter.

She noted that in 1962 Pope John XXIII promulgated the apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientiae requiring all seminarians be taught in Latin. The law became a dead letter because bishops, seminary rectors and teachers did not observe it. Since the canon that requires a mandatum was promulgated in November 1983, another 12 years of nonobservance will make it a dead letter.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism, reported that it might be advisable in the future for the bishops to develop their own catechetical series for children of secondary-school age. Of the 45 texts or series listed in the June issue of Catechism Update as carrying a declaration of conformity to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, only seven contain material for the secondary level, he said. When secondary-level material has been submitted for review and found deficient, publishers have generally ignored the suggested changes and gone ahead with publication without the declaration of conformity, he added. When publishers were asked to do revisions "it was never a question of heterodoxy," he said, "but an absence of material."

Some bishops expressed displeasure with Catholic News Service. While some bishops would prefer less coverage of controversial issues in the church, the immediate cause of the flare-up was a CNS interview with Al Gore prior to the November election, in which he portrayed himself as pro-life.

Cardinal Says Pope's Health Prevents Meeting

Cardinal Walter Kasper declined a request by Seymour Reich, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, for a special meeting between the committee and the pope to discuss the anti-Semitic diatribe by Syrian President Bashar Assad in the pope's presence. "I am afraid that it will not be concretely feasible, nor would it be very helpful," the cardinal wrote. "The pope's many obligations--as well as his health condition--would not allow for an in-depth discussion to take place," he added. This is the first time a Vatican official has acknowledged that the pope's health is affecting his ability to perform his duties.


From CNS, staff and other sources.

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