Signs of the Times

McCarrick to Washington

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., was appointed archbishop of Washington to succeed Cardinal James A. Hickey. McCarrick is known as an excellent fund-raiser and spokesman for the bishops on domestic and international justice and peace issues. He is fluent in Spanish, having been president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico from 1965 to 1969. While frequently rumored for promotion, McCarrick at 70 was thought by many to be too old to be assigned to Washington, since bishops must submit their resignations when they turn 75. Some say the pope is rewarding old friends, while others say he is appointing older men so that his successor will have a free hand in appointing their replacements.

Bishops’ Meeting at a Glance

When the U.S. bishops met in Washington on Nov. 13-16 for the fall general meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and U.S. Catholic Conference, they:


Approved with little discussion a heavily amended set of guidelines for building or renovating churches, called Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture and Worship.

Passed without debate a resolution calling on Congress and the new president to revise the nation’s immigration laws and policies in ways that uphold immigrants’ dignity and human rights.

Made their first explicit expression of support for an independent Palestinian state in a special message on the Middle East crisis, which also called for respect for Israel’s right to exist and flourish within secure borders.

Urged reform of the broken U.S. criminal justice system and criticized its increasing reliance on more prisons, stiffer sentences and capital punishment.

Addressed the contemporary challenges of welcoming immigrants into the life of the church in a pastoral statement, approved unanimously, called Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity.

Accused the Sudanese government of slavery, torture, executions, religious persecution [and] discriminatory laws against its citizens.

Recommitted themselves and the church to protecting human life, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court decision on partial-birth abortion had brought the legal system to the brink of endorsing infanticide.

Debated but did not vote on procedural guidelines on how they would grant, withhold or withdraw a theologian’s mandatum to teach.

Discussed proposed revisions in their Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which will come up at the bishops’ June meeting.

Approved a $49.3 million budget for 2001 and an increase in the diocesan assessment by 2.9 percent for 2002.

Agreed to give special emphasis in conference activities to the multicultural dimension of the church.

Added to diocesan financial reporting requirements in the wake of financial irregularities discovered in U.S. dioceses over the past decade.

O.K.’d, subject to Vatican approval, setting the age of confirmation between 7 and 16 years of age. The Vatican objected to the current 7-to-18 age range as too broad.

Approved national legislation requiring that a Catholic who regularly expounds Christian doctrine on radio or television must be specially qualified by his or her knowledge of the subject and the teaching of the magisterium and must have the permission of either his or her proper diocesan bishop or the diocesan bishop of the place where the radio or television program is originally broadcast.

Adopted the Mexican Lectionary for Mass for use in U.S. Spanish-language liturgies.

Approved the concept and time line for revising the Lectionary for Masses With Children.

More than 100 people from a Christian gay rights group called Soulforce protested church teaching against homosexual activity in front of the National Shrine, where the bishops concelebrated Mass.

Bishops Review Directives for Catholic Health Care

The U.S. Catholic bishops discussed proposed revisions of their Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services document, with an eye to the possibility that the Vatican will want further revisions. The directives are being revised in the wake of the quickening pace of consolidations and other collaboration between Catholic and secular health care systems. Participation in such arrangements could lead the Catholic partner to violate Catholic moral principles.

The directives guide Catholic health care facilities in addressing a wide range of ethical questions, such as abortion, euthanasia, care for the poor, medical research, treatment of rape victims, surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization, prenatal testing, nutrition and hydration for the terminally ill and organ donation.

The current directives were issued in 1995. When the bishops approved that text in 1994, it was the first revision since 1975. New situations have arisen, in the already complex world of health care, to which earlier expressions of traditional moral principles seem no longer wholly adequate, Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati said in stating the case for revisions.

Those situations largely involve cooperation between Catholic and secular health services, which have grown more common in recent years as health care economics have dictated new efficiencies. Such collaborations have become an issue because many secular hospitals provide abortion and sterilization services, which places them at odds with the moral and religious principles of their Catholic partners.

It is sterilization that has become the controversial topic with Vatican officials who are pressing the bishops to list it as an intrinsic evil along with abortion. The revisions sent to the bishops before their November meeting stated: The principles governing cooperation cannot justify Catholic health care institutions engaging in immediate material cooperation in intrinsically evil actions such as abortion, direct sterilization, and euthanasia. By the time the bishops were ready to discuss the revisions on Nov. 15, this was changed to Catholic health care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in wrongdoing. Catholic hospital officials feel that they can convince their merger partners to respect Catholic teaching on abortion, but banning sterilization would be unacceptable to their partners.

The proposed revisions presented to the bishops on Nov. 15 state that if a Catholic hospital is considering entering into an arrangement with another organization that may be involved in activities judged morally wrong by the church, participation in such activities must be limited to what is in accord with the moral principles governing cooperation.

Also under the draft, an appendix concerning cooperation that appeared in the 1995 edition would be deleted. It is difficult to find an articulation of the principles governing cooperation that enjoys a consensus among theologians, the new draft says. Even though the appendix was carefully crafted, experience has shown that it was open to unforeseen misinterpretations and misapplications. In its place is a new directive: Catholic health care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in wrongdoing.

In response to a query about the possibility of scandal resulting from different dioceses making different judgments in what appear to be similar circumstances, Archbishop Pilarczyk said, Prudential judgment by definition cannot be standardized. Circumstances vary, he said, because no two Catholic-secular health care alliances are the same. We cannot guarantee that all of the prudential judgments will be as prudential as possible. We cannot guarantee that every prudential judgment will be perfect, he said.

Bishops Discuss Mandatum

The U.S. bishops debated on Nov. 15 how they should relate to theology professors as they took a first concrete look at how bishops would grant, withhold or withdraw a theologian’s mandatum to teach. Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, head of the committee formed to draw up procedural guidelines to give, refuse or take away the mandatum, led the discussion. Church law calls for all Catholic theology teachers in Catholic higher education to have a mandatuma Latin term translated roughly as mandatefrom a bishop in order to teach as a Catholic theologian.

In presenting the seven-page guidelines draft, which includes sample letters for requesting and granting the mandatum, Archbishop Pilarczyk emphasized that the guidelines will not have the force of law, but will simply set out concrete procedures for bishops to all more or less do this the same way.

To various questions about enforcement, Archbishop Pilarczyk responded, We do not in law or in fact have the mechanism to enforce the requirement that a teacher have a mandatum. At a press conference later, he emphasized that the presence or absence of the mandatum from a bishop has no effect on a university’s hiring or firing decisionsa position that makes it difficult for a bishop to enforce the requirement but also protects the university from infringement on its institutional autonomy.

Bishops Adopt New Art and Architecture Guidelines

The U.S. Catholic bishops on Nov. 16 overwhelmingly approved new national guidelines on art and architecture for places of worship. The 108-page document, titled Built of Living Stones, replaces the guidelines called Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, which were put out in 1978 by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. It lists five main principles:

The church building is designed in harmony with church laws and serves the needs of the liturgy.

The church building fosters participation in the liturgy.

The design of the church building reflects the various roles of the participants.

The church building respects the culture of every time and place.

The church building should be beautiful.

Between the document’s first draft, discussed by the bishops last November, and the new draft presented to them this year, the Vatican issued a new General Instruction of the Roman Missal. It resolved one of the most contentious issues the bishops debated last yearthe placement of the tabernacle for reservation of the Eucharist. Previously the Vatican rule for the whole church was a strong preference for placing the tabernacle in a separate chapel. The new general instruction gives equal weight to placing the tabernacle either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration...or even in another chapel suitable for adoration and the private prayer of the faithful.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Protracted and opaque processes only reinforce the fear that the church is still more invested in protecting itself than in protecting those who suffer from abuse, the editors write.
The EditorsMarch 21, 2019
Untold hours of dialogue, by both the underground and the registered church have left the church in a better position to navigate the challenges to come.
John A. WorthleyMarch 21, 2019
In the fourth and final episode of our mini-series with survivors, we are sharing the story of Michael Mack. Michael is the author of the one-man play: “Conversations with My Molester: A Journey of Faith.”
Deliver UsMarch 21, 2019
Gerry’s out this week, so instead of following our usual podcast format, we’re breaking out of the weekly news cycle to bring you an interview about a slow change that’s beginning for some really important people in the Vatican: Women.
Colleen DulleMarch 21, 2019