Signs of the Times

U.S. Bishops Hold Fall General Meeting in Baltimore

As the U.S. bishops were finishing their second day of business at their Nov. 13-16 fall general meeting in Baltimore, they allocated $335,000 for the next phases of a national study on the causes and context of sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy and endorsed the issuance of a statement calling for a substantive, civil and nonpartisan discussion leading to a responsible transition in Iraq. They also approved a new statement that outlines the preparation needed to receive Communion worthily and says that serious sin is a bar to receiving the Eucharist.

The bishops also approved a document calling married couples to understand and live church teaching on artificial contraception, gave their approval to the creation of a directory for music and liturgy for use in U.S. dioceses, passed their 2007 budget, and authorized a revision of the Lectionary for Mass for selected days in Advent by a 205-to-13 vote with two abstentions. They also passed a series of guidelines for the pastoral care of homosexual Catholics.


Sexual Abuse

On the sexual abuse study, Patricia O’Donnell Ewers, chairwoman of the National Review Board, which oversees the bishops’ compliance with their child protection charter, told the bishops Nov. 13, I can’t emphasize enough how important this study is for society as a whole, as well as for the church. The first study, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, was considered a landmark in its field, and the new study is expected to be similarly groundbreaking.


The contraception document, Married Love and the Gift of Life, passed 220 to 11 with one abstention Nov. 14. It strongly supports natural family planning, saying it enables couples to cooperate with the body as God designed it, adding that contraception introduces a false note that disturbs marital intimacy and contributes to a decline in society’s respect for marriage and for life.


The Communion statement, 'Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper’: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist, was approved 201 to 24 with two abstentions. The document calls on those in a state of serious sin to refrain from receiving Communion. The bishops emphasized they were addressing all Catholics, not just politicians or any other group. An effort to amend the document to specifically name politicians as among those who need to examine their consciences before receiving the Eucharist failed on a voice vote.


The statement on pastoral care of homosexually inclined persons reiterates church teaching that all homosexual acts are morally wrong but affirms the dignity of those with homosexual inclinations and says that experiencing such an inclination is not in itself sinful. The bishops approved the statement 194 to 37 with one abstention, after turning back a motion to send it back to their Committee on Doctrine for more consultation and revision. The draft document the bishops received before the meeting was amended heavily before it came to a final vote.


The hymn directory, approved 195 to 21 with five abstentions, is intended to ensure that hymns used at Mass are doctrinally correct and based on Scripture and liturgical texts. The document also includes norms saying that each diocesan bishop is responsible for approving liturgical songs in his diocese. The directory and norms now go to the Vatican for its assent.


The Iraq statement was issued in the name of Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "We hope our nation has moved beyond the divisive rhetoric of the recent campaign and the shrill and shallow debate that distorts reality and reduces the options to cut and run’ versus stay the course," it said. The four-page document was prepared by the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on International Policy in collaboration with the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services and the U.S.C.C.B. Administrative Committee, which approved its addition to the agenda of the bishops’ meeting Nov. 11. The [Bush] administration and the new Congress need to engage in a collaborative dialogue that honestly assesses the situation in Iraq, acknowledges past difficulties and miscalculations, recognizes and builds on positive advances (e.g., broad participation in elections) and reaches agreement on concrete steps to address the serious challenges that lie ahead, Bishop Skylstad said.

Interfaith Call to Care for People With Aids

International Catholic and Jewish leaders, meeting in South Africa, called for increased care and attention for people affected by AIDS. The International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee meeting also focused on the need to expand and intensify cooperation between our communities, said a joint statement issued at the end of the Nov. 4-7 meeting in Cape Town. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s top ecumenist, and Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Relations, led the meeting as co-presidents of the liaison committee. The statement said: While recognizing that our respective traditions may differ regarding possible preventative strategies with respect to HIV/AIDS and related afflictions, we unreservedly unite in calling for unrestricted palliative care and appropriate attention for all those suffering, threatened and victimized by this tragic pandemic.

Religious Leaders Urge School Choice

At a recent meeting in New York City, Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders urged policies promoting school choice and expressed concern about several developments in the Middle East. The Consultation of Delegates of the Rabbinical Council of America/Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met Oct. 25 at America House in Manhattan. In a joint statement the participants said that school choice’ is an issue of justice. The statement, released in November by the U.S.C.C.B.’s communications office in Washington, said, Western civilization has long recognized the fundamental right of parents, as well as their sacred responsibility, to guide the upbringing and education of their children. The participants said, We join together to call upon our elected and appointed officials to implement policies which will empower all parents to choose schools for their children which they believe best serve each child’s own individual educational needs.

Awards to Best Music and Videos

A celebration of music, camaraderie and faith was part of the seventh annual Unity Awards, held for the first time at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Steve Angrisano, a performer from Colorado, picked up three major awards at the event, organized by the United Catholic Music and Video Association to bolster Catholic artists. Song and songwriter of the year awards both went to Angrisano, a former youth minister, for Mighty King. Music is not the reason we get together at Mass, he said in accepting an award, but it helps bring us together. Angrisano also was named artist of the year.

African Churches Urge Payment for Carbon

A coalition of African Catholic and Protestant churches attending a U.N. conference on climate change urged industrialized nations to compensate poor nations for carbon emissions. Describing industrialized countries as environmental debtors to the poorer countries, the churches said that to restore balance urgent action is needed on the part of industrialized countries. The Nov. 6-17 U.N. conference was working to expand the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a binding international environmental pact to cut greenhouse gases. In a message to conference delegates, the churches said only a finite global budget for carbon emissions exists and that it must be distributed equitably among citizens and countries. The churches said industrialized countries must stabilize global carbon emissions by significantly reducing those emissions to bring the climate budget under control. Individual companies and governments must share in this responsibility, they added.

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11 years 10 months ago
The decision of the bishops to avoid mention of politicians specifically in their statement on Communion, “Signs of the Times” (11/17), tables for now a controversial issue. But the item is likely to come to the fore again come 2008, as questions arise about observance of church teaching.

The clear teaching of the church is that human life is sacred and beautiful, abortion is evil, the stopping of a human heart also is a violent act, and the legal right to privacy does not confer a moral right to the violence of abortion.

Nevertheless, we are left with human wisdom and no church teaching on the best way to curtail abortions. That Roe v. Wade should be overturned is not church teaching; and those who think its overturning is not wise, however mistaken they may be, are not opposing church teaching.

A strong case can be made, however, that ending Roe v. Wade and banning abortion by law in the states would cut down substantially on the incidence of abortions.

This approach is instantaneous and simple. But many would say that it is too simple and does not take into account the culture of the nation and problems of enforcement. Would blanket prohibition work without majority approval?

The experience of prohibition of alcohol can occasion pause. But abortion is different from alcohol. A partial ban at least could be accepted and enforced, and the danger of an underground industry and gangsterism seems less than during prohibition. Ready evidence of partial-birth abortion, late-term abortion and other circumstances would make many abortions hard to hide. Government support of mothers (economics plays a big role), even rewards, would tend to eliminate causes of abortion. Would such an approach get as good or better results under present conditions than a total ban?

Caution of the bishops in judging those in public life who wrestle with these issues can do much to avert the unseemly controversy that divided the Catholic community during the 2004 election campaign.


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