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Who's responsible for the USCCB's Twitter?

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 18:40

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Over the course of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring general assembly, questions arose online: what was going on with the suddenly-chatty USCCB Twitter account? Did they give an intern, or perhaps a particularly hip young priest or enthusiastic new convert the password? Had the account been hacked?

As it turns out, none of those were true. The account is run by Connie Poulos, a 31-year-old content and marketing coordinator at the USCCB. She’s not an intern – and has worked for the conference since 2017, originally as a digital media specialist – and she’s not a convert, and she’s definitely not a priest. She’s married, and she and her husband are in the process of adopting a son from China.

Poulos sat down with CNA in an emptying ballroom at the hotel hosting the general assembly to discuss what prompted the USCCB’s new online persona. Apparently, this strategy was part of a larger plan to attempt to present a more humanizing look at the bishops of the conference, and better to engage with the account’s 156,000 Twitter followers.

“When I first started in 2017, we didn’t engage on this level, but we did engage,” she explained. “Then, McCarrick happened.”

After the actions of the now-laicized former Archbishop of Washington came to light, Poulos said the conference decided to take a step back when it came to their online presence. About a year later, that mentality has shifted, even as a new crop of scandals begin to emerge.

"We just kind of decided, 'look, all bets are off. We're just gonna be us, we're going to use this account to engage,’” said Poulos. She said that she received instructions to “be bold” on the internet.  

"Then I took that and ran with it,” she added, beginning with her tweets at the spring general assembly.

As a way to expand upon what was being discussed at the general assembly, the USCCB tweeted a picture of Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles with the caption “If you are a young Catholic who is still Catholic, what has made you stay?” At the time of the tweet, Barron was speaking about how half of all young people who leave the Catholic Church become religiously unaffiliated.

The tweet received thousands of replies, including one from Dr. Taylor Patrick O’Neill, a professor of theology at Mount Mercy University. O’Neill tweeted, “Not sure if I am young anymore, but when I was young, the thing that made me stay (or rather return), was finding out that there was a rich intellectual and spiritual REASON (or Logos) behind the felt banners and superficial platitudes which initially pushed me away.”

Then, Poulos, on the USCCB account, responded to this tweet with “Beautifully said. I'm … not sure anyone likes the felt banners.”

Beautifully said.

I'm... not sure anyone likes the felt banners.

— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) June 11, 2019


This tweet “blew up,” so to speak, and was liked over 700 times. After that tweet, people began to take notice of Poulos’ new approach to the account and started to interact more with the USCCB’s Twitter presence.

For what it’s worth, Poulos insists she’s “ambivalent” on the topic of felt banners.

"If you look at the actual wording of the tweet, I was carefully non-committal,” she said. “I was like 'I'm not sure anybody likes them.' It wasn't a statement,” she said, laughing. She did, however, appreciate the jokes people made, such as one saying “anathema felt!” and others who said the USCCB has spoken out against felt banners.

As a self-described “true millennial” working for the USCCB, Poulos said she is aware of how the organization is viewed by others her age. By engaging on social media with other Twitter users, Poulos said she is trying to be “accessible” and “take away some of the mystery” of the conference of bishops. She said the reaction to her tweets have been “overwhelmingly positive,” even if some of her older coworkers were initially concerned someone unauthorized had accessed the account.

Poulos said her supervisors at the USCCB were entirely supportive of this new approach to engagement on social media, although some other USCCB workers were not so sure about it in the beginning.

"I think they were encouraged when they saw the positive reaction," said. She hopes that she will be able to keep up the engagement on the USCCB social media accounts after the general assembly concludes.  

For Poulos, this approach to online engagement is a fulfilment of the vision she first had when she started working at the USCCB in 2017.

“To put a human face on the bishops is important, I think, and to be a presence (online),” she said. “Just as they say ‘Christ has no hands, but yours,’ Christ has no Twitter account, but yours.”

"This is where people are, we need to meet them there."

Congressional Democrats back taxpayer-funded abortion – but dodge a fight

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 18:18

Washington D.C., Jun 13, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- Though a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer-funded abortion, leading Democrats in Congress have repeated their opposition to the Hyde Amendment while simultaneously keeping its strong limits on abortion funding in federal spending appropriation bills.

“I do not think it is good public policy, and I wish we never had a Hyde Amendment, but it is the law of the land right now,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told a fiscal summit hosted in New York by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

“I don't see that there is an opportunity to get rid of it with the current occupant of the White House and some in the United States Senate,” she said, according to National Public Radio.

Congressional Democratic leaders suppressed an effort by first-term U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., to strip the Hyde Amendment from the funding bill.

The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions. It was introduced in 1976 by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill. It is not a law, but rather has been passed as a rider to budget legislation every year.

At the time the Hyde Amendment was first signed into law in 1977, it had the support of nearly half of Congressional Democrats. It still enjoys some bipartisan support.

In its current form the amendment prohibits federal tax dollars from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or when it is deemed necessary to save the life of the mother.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has estimated that more than 2 million unborn lives have been saved as a result of the policy.

Leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have all voiced opposition to the Hyde Amendment, including former vice president Joe Biden. As recently as early June his campaign said he backed the amendment. He then reversed his view after heavy pressure from his party and from pro-abortion rights advocates, though this policy could hurt Biden in key Midwestern states in a general election.

In his June 10 column, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia strongly criticized Biden, a Catholic, for adhering to party politics rather than defending his beliefs.

“The unborn child means exactly zero in the calculus of power for Democratic Party leaders, and the right to an abortion, once described as a tragic necessity, is now a perverse kind of ‘sacrament most holy’,” Chaput said, citing a Catholic hymn. “It will have a candidate’s allegiance and full-throated reverence... or else.”

Biden’s reversal was lamented by Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America.

“With all the major candidates fighting to be the most extreme on abortion, there is a wide-open lane for a candidate to bring an alternative position to the discussion and to unify Democrats around common ground principles,” she told CNA in a recent interview.

Day said that Democrats should instead work for equal opportunity and equality, instead of paying for abortions for poorer women.

“Poor women don’t want money for abortions; they want the same opportunities to parent as their rich counterparts,” she said.

House Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told reporters she opposes the amendment and the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly pro-abortion rights. While most Congressional Democrats would favor eliminating the Hyde Amendment, she said, spending bills need support from both parties to avoid a government shutdown.

“People don’t want to throw that into an appropriations bill that has to go to a Republican Senate and be signed by a Republican president,” Jayapal said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said he thinks every presidential candidate who has served in Congress has voted for an appropriations bill with the Hyde Amendment.

U.S. Sen Kamala Harris, D-Calif., contended that a vote for such spending bills is not a vote for the amendment itself.

“The Hyde Amendment is the law. And so it has been attached to other funding bills, and until we repeal it, which is what I am in favor of, it will be attached to federal government funding bills. That’s the problem with the Hyde Amendment,” Harris told The NPR Politics Podcast.

A bill that included a provision to make the amendment permanent, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, failed to gain the 60 votes needed to win a procedural vote in the Senate in January 2019. In that vote 48 senators, including two Democrats, voted for cloture while 47 senators, including two Republicans, voted against it.

Nationally, more than half of Americans say they do not support federal funding of abortions.

While three out of four women who undergo abortions are living in poverty, the Hyde Amendment is actually far less popular among low-income voters. A September 2016 poll of likely voters conducted for Politico and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that only 24 percent of people making under $25,000 a year said they were in favor of the public funding of abortion services, compared to 45 percent of people making over $75,000.

Overall, 58 percent of likely voters opposed public funding for abortion, with only 36 percent voicing support, the 2016 poll said. A February 2019 Marist poll reported that 54 percent of all American adults opposed any taxpayer funding of abortion, while only 39 percent did not.

Presidential incumbent Donald Trump had voiced strong support for legal abortion in the years before he ran for president, but professed a change of view. He took on several prominent pro-life advisers and now has strong backing from many Republican and Republican-leaning pro-life advocates.

The Susan B. Anthony List, whose president Marjorie Dannenfelser headed his campaign’s pro-life advisory committee, claimed that Trump has delivered “pro-life wins,” such as his appointment of federal judges believed to be sceptical of pro-abortion rights jurisprudence and his approval of measures that help defund abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

Seminary faculty: Spiritual fatherhood central to priestly identity

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 17:09

Washington D.C., Jun 13, 2019 / 03:09 pm (CNA).- Faculty at US seminaries have emphasized that spiritual fatherhood is an essential component of priestly identity, amid calls in some corners for priests not to be referred to as “Father”.

“Priests [are] like the father of a family – the spiritual family of the Church. It [is] a reminder to priests that they [are] to be like a father to a family,” said Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, O.P., chair of the pastoral studies department at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif.

The priest “exercises authority in a paternal that is a loving way and does so in a way in which God the Father himself exercises his authority over creation, that is, out of love,” he told CNA.

Cardinal John Dew of Wellington has said he no longer wants to be called “Father”, but “John”, suggesting that dropping the title Father could combat clericalism: “All I am trying to do is get guys to look at what clericalism might look like and what attitudes might need to change.”

Cardinal Dew, who in an Oct. 4, 2005 intervention at the Synod on the Eucharist suggested that the divorced-and-remarried could be admitted to sacramental Communion, cited an article by a French priest written in La Croix International suggesting that not using “Father” could “transform” the Church amid the clerical abuse crisis.

The New Zealander cardinal also noted the increasingly egalitarian aspect of society.

By contrast, the Second Vatican Council's decree on the ministry and life of priests, Presbyterorum ordinis, while acknowledging priests' role as disciples of the Lord in common with all the faithful, emphasized that “priests of the New Testament … exercise the most outstanding and necessary office of father and teacher among and for the People of God.”

The Vatican II document added that the faithful “should realize their obligations to their priests, and with filial love they should follow them as their pastors and fathers.”

And the newest edition of the Congregation for the Clergy's ratio fundamentalis on priesthood – which was issued in 2016 and guides priestly formation around the world – noted that priests are called "to exercise a true spiritual fatherhood in the communities entrusted to them,” and that the priest should exercise "his pastoral responsibility with humility as an authoritative leader, teacher of the Word and minister of the sacraments, practising his spiritual fatherhood fruitfully."

“Consequently, future priests should be educated so that they do not become prey to 'clericalism', nor yield to the temptation of modelling their lives on the search for popular consensus. This would inevitably lead them to fall short in exercising their ministry and leaders of the community, leading them to think about the Church as a merely human institution,” the ratio continued.

Neither Presbyterorum ordinis nor the ratio called for or suggested that priests no longer to be called “Father”.

Father John Kartje, rector of Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago, told CNA that referring to a priest as “father” was first seen in the epistles of St. Paul, who identified himself as a father to the new believers of the Church in Corinth.

He said the use of the word 'father' is not meant to express tyrannical authority or abuse of power, but it is to be used as it was by St. Paul.

“The Church of Corinth was a Church that [Paul] founded. I think it was a Church of great endearment to his own heart and he refers to them as his beloved children. He writes in verse 15: ‘Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, you do not have any fathers, for I became your father.’”

“It’s a term of endearment and affection that [St. Paul] really cares for these people, but also that he does provide them with a servant leadership,” Fr. Kartje said.

He also said that in the early centuries of the Church bishops were referred to as “papa” and abbots of monasteries were referred to as “abba”, both of which are forms of “father”.

Fr. Pietrzyk said a priest is a spiritual leader of the community. He said authority is part of the Church and scripture, but it is not despotic ascendancy. As seen in Christ’s washing of the apostles' feet, he said it is exercised paternally and lovingly.

“Christ tells his disciples on more than one occasion that they are to exercise authority… but he reminds them that they are not to exercise that authority in a way that lords it over the people,” he said.

“The apostles exercise authority, but they do it in a way different from the world, different from civil authorities. They do it out of service to the people of God. I agree with the cardinal [that] that needs to be at the forefront of the bishop’s understanding, but you don’t do that by not calling yourself father. You do that by being a father.”

Fr. Pietrzyk noted that St. Patrick's Seminary renewed its curriculum recently. In doing so, the faculty compiled a list of characteristics to emphasize in priestly formation.

Spiritual fatherhood was at the top of the list.

“At St. Patrick’s Seminary, our primary goal in forming men to be priests is forming them to be spiritual fathers. It runs in everything that we do. That means they are fathers, that they exercise authority within a family, but they do so mindful always of the spiritual good.”

Illinois governor signs ‘radical’ abortion expansion, but pro-life leaders predict backlash

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 13:52

Chicago, Ill., Jun 13, 2019 / 11:52 am (CNA).- Illinois’ new abortion law is a “death penalty” for the unborn and will add to pro-life momentum across the U.S., critics said after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law on Wednesday.
“The bill Illinois lawmakers passed is so radical, they even went out of their way to repeal the state’s ban on barbaric partial-birth abortions,” charged Jill Stanek, an Illinois native and former nurse who is now the Susan B. Anthony List’s national campaign chair.
“Americans of every political persuasion are appalled by these attempts to expand abortion on demand through the moment of birth and even infanticide, and that in turn is driving pro-life momentum around the country. There is no pride or glory in being the most extreme pro-abortion state in the nation,” she said June 12.
The legislation, called the Reproductive Rights Act, passed the state’s Senate by a vote of 34-20. It had passed the House in a 64-50 vote.
“In a time when too many states across the nation are taking a step backward, Illinois is taking a giant step forward for women’s health,” said Pritzker, a Democrat. “Today, we proudly proclaim that in this state, we trust women. And in Illinois, we guarantee as a fundamental right, a woman’s right to choose.”

Besides ending a ban on partial-birth abortion, the bill would remove regulations for abortion clinics and end required waiting periods to obtain an abortion. In addition, it would lift criminal penalties for performing abortions and would prevent any further state regulation of abortion.

The legislation would require all private health insurance plans to cover elective abortions. It would eliminate abortion reporting requirements as well as regulations requiring the investigation of maternal deaths due to abortion.

“The governor and the Democratic supermajorities who fast-tracked this legislation have created a new ‘death penalty’ in Illinois, with no possibility of appeal, for viable unborn preemies,” said former Illinois State Rep. Peter Breen, who is now vice president and senior counsel for the Chicago-based Thomas More Society.
“This act is barbarous,” he said. “Its definition of ‘viability’ expressly excludes many babies who today live and thrive when born premature,” he added, noting that the law means that such unborn babies “now have zero legal rights or protections.”
In a May 26 statement, the six bishops of Illinois had denounced the rush to push the legislation through at the end of the session, without releasing the bill’s final text or vetting it through public hearings.
“The fundamental premise of the bill is flawed, and no amendment or tweak to the language will change the fact that it is designed to rob the vulnerable life in the womb of any trace of human dignity and value,” they said.
According to Pritzker, the law codifies what was already case law due to court decisions. The state’s partial-birth abortion ban, which became law in 1997, has since 2001 been under a permanent injunction from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Pro-abortion rights advocates fear new Supreme Court decisions on abortion could overturn or greatly modify precedents in decisions like the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. They have worked to ensure permissive abortion legislation in many states, including New York.
Some of the proposed laws, such as one in Virginia, led to controversy over whether such laws would permit abortion up to birth and would encourage authorities to turn a blind eye to the deaths of babies who survive abortion attempts.
Pro-life advocates, for their part, have sought to pass strong restrictions on abortion, hoping to expand legal protection for the unborn. Legislation barring abortion based on when an unborn child has a detectible heartbeat, about six to eight weeks after conception, has become national news with special focus on Alabama’s law.
“While a growing number of states are working to advance popular pro-life laws, Illinois is trying to outdo New York’s abortion extremism – and unborn children and their mothers will pay the price,” Stanek said June 12.
Breen characterized the Illinois law as “the most radical sweeping pro-abortion measure in America.” It would make Illinois an “abortion destination” for the country and is among “the most extremely permissive abortion laws of any state in the nation.”
The law’s creation of a “fundamental right” to have an abortion and to “make autonomous decisions about how to exercise that right,” in Breen’s view, mean the legislature and the governor have made abortion “the principal and primary right in Illinois, above all others.”
In the wake of its passage, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said the vote “marks a sad moment in our history as a State.”
The six Catholic bishops of the Catholic Conference of Illinois issued a joint statement against the legislation in February. The Catholic conference issued statements after it passed the state House of Representatives and the Senate.
Previous versions of the bill which were not passed into law included provisions that allowed non-physicians to perform abortions, removed conscience protections for health care personnel who object to abortion, and repealed parental notification requirements for minors receiving abortions.
On June 2 Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki said that Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan may not be admitted to Holy Communion within his diocese, because of their work to pass the state Reproductive Health Act.
“These persons may be readmitted to Holy Communion only after they have truly repented these grave sins and furthermore have made suitable reparation for damages and scandal, or at least have seriously promised to do so, as determined in my judgment or in the judgment of their diocesan bishop in consultation with me or my successor,” he said.
The bishop also directed the Catholic legislators who have voted for legislation promoting abortion should not present themselves to receive Holy Communion until they have first gone to confession.

Paprocki said that he issued the decree to encourage conversion.

Feminists, Catholics both find reasons to oppose NY paid surrogacy bill

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 12:43

Albany, N.Y., Jun 13, 2019 / 10:43 am (CNA).- In a seemingly unlikely alliance, Catholics and secular feminists in New York are opposing a bill that would legalize commercial surrogacy in the state.

The bill passed the state Senate and has the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who proposed the measure. But it is stalled in Assembly due to strong opposition, notably from female legislators, the New York Times reported. The state’s legislative session will conclude in just one week.

If passed, the law would allow New Yorkers to pay a woman to carry to term a child conceived through in-vitro fertilization, also known as gestational surrogacy. It would not allow a surrogate mother to use her own eggs, and therefore be related biologically to the child, which is known as traditional surrogacy.

While the bill was presented as “an unequivocal progressive ideal, a remedy to a ban that burdens gay and infertile couples and stigmatizes women who cannot have children on their own,” it has run up against strong opposition from unexpected people, including feminists, female legislators, and other supporters of women’s rights, the New York Times stated.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who is openly gay, is one of the legislators who expressed strong opposition to legalized commercial surrogacy, which she called “pregnancy for a fee.”

“I find that commodification of women troubling,” she told the New York Times.

Dennis Poust, the director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, told CNA in email comments that opposition to this bill is a situation in which secular feminists and Catholics agree.

“Like those groups, we stand up against the exploitation and dehumanization of women,” Poust said. “This bill treats women almost like livestock at the service of men.”

Poust said the bill was comparable to one that seeks to legalize prostitution, in that both measures, if passed, would lead to the exploitation of poor women, largely for the benefit of wealthy men.

“The one commodifies babies, the other sex, and always the victims are poor women,” he said.

“In commercial surrogacy, women’s human dignity is surrendered and they are reduced to objects desirable only for their body parts, whether that be the rental of their wombs or the mining of their eggs in risky, invasive medical procedures. The beneficiaries are nearly always wealthy and often male, while the exploited are always poor women,” he added.

Commercial surrogacy in New York has been banned since 1986, and surrogacy laws vary widely in other states. Besides New York, only three other states explicitly ban all surrogacy contracts - Nebraska, Michigan, and Arizona. Many other states have restrictions on surrogacy agreements, and treat the surrogacy process similarly to adoption, requiring court appearances, home studies, and a window for the birth mother to change her mind after the baby is born.

Abroad, the push to end legalized surrogacy has been strong in recent years, with many countries in western Europe banning the practice. India, once the capital of “fertility tourism,” passed a bill banning surrogacy last year, amid increasing concern and outcry over the exploitation of poor women who were being used for paid surrogacy, sometimes multiple times over, and usually by foreigners.

The New York bill also faces opposition from prominent feminist speaker, author, and activist Gloria Steinem, who expressed concern in an open letter about the state legislating a “profit-driven reproductive surrogacy industry.”

"Under this bill, women in economic need become commercialized vessels for rent, and the fetuses they carry become the property of others," Steinem wrote in a letter shared on Twitter by New York 1 reporter Zack Fink.

“The bill ignores the socio-economic and racial inequalities of the reproductive commercial surrogacy industry, and puts disenfranchised women at the financial and emotional mercy of wealthier and more privileged individuals,” she continued.

Steinem noted that surrogate mothers are often college-age women who are victims “of an educational system that does not provide free or affordable college education.”

She added that these women are often given fertility drugs without being warned of the possible side effects, and that they face other medical and psychological injuries from the procedure, “including an inability to bear other children and even death.”

She also slammed the bill for failing to provide measures properly to vet intended parents, unlike adoptive parents, who are thoroughly vetted.

Poust told CNA that while the Catholic Conference has strongly opposed the legalization of surrogacy, he worried that the bill still may pass, as Cuomo has made it an “end of session priority.”

Poust said he hopes the added opposition of otherwise progressive feminists will hold even more sway with state lawmakers considering the bill.

USCCB passes three measures in response to abuse crisis

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 12:15

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference voted Thursday to approve proposals intended to respond to recent scandals involving sexual abuse, coercion, and cover-up on the part of bishops, most notably former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield.

The bishops, gathered in Baltimore for their spring General Assembly, voted overwhelmingly in favor of three measures aimed at building processes to address episcopal misconduct or neglect, and the ongoing crisis of credibility widely perceived to overshadow ongoing work to eliminate sexual abuse from the Church.

The assembly approved protocol explaining the powers of a diocesan bishop to curtail the public ministry of a retired bishop in his former diocese by a margin of 212-4.

They also approved a set of directives applying in the U.S. the new universal norms for investigating allegations against bishops promulgated by Pope Francis in Vos estis lux mundi.  After initial discussion earlier this week, they were presented to bishops June 13 with an explicit exhortation for metropolitan bishops to appoint “on a stable basis, even by means of an ecclesiastical office, a qualified lay person” to receive allegations against bishops and work with the metropolitan in any subsequent investigation.

The directives were approved by 218-1.

The bishops also approved a joint statement, “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitments,” establishing a non-binding moral commitment by bishops to hold themselves to the same standards and measures as are currently applied to their priests and deacons. That document passed by a similarly wide margin of 217-1.

The consensus in favor of the measures was unsurprising. After the bishops were prevented by Rome from adopting similar proposals in November, the majority of bishops returned to Baltimore ready to vote.

The widespread agreement in favor of the three documents was reflected in the much-abbreviated discussion which preceded each vote. With relatively little debate, the bishops finished their morning session more than an hour ahead of schedule, even after adding business they’d intended to address in the afternoon.

As in the previous discussions on Tuesday, several bishops raised the need for clearly established lay involvement in the process of handling complaints against bishops. Changes to the text of the implementation directives for Vos estis were highlighted as a response to those concerns, something Cardinal Joseph Tobin noted was a “clear expectation” of Vos estis itself.

Bishops Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City said that mandatory lay involvement is essential “to make darn sure we bishops do not harm the Church” in the ways seen in recent cases.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler was the only bishop to raise directly the issue of Theodore McCarrick during the session, insisting that “a full reckoning” still needed to be made for the former cardinal’s career but that he had “been assured that the Holy See is working on that.”

On the specific point of whether lay people should be assigned formal, canonically governed “ecclesiastical offices” in order to assist metropolitans, Archbishop Bernard Hebda noted that the drafting committee thought it better to leave that as an option. In some places, he noted, metropolitans might find it best to include a non-Catholic (ineligible for formal ecclesiastical office) in the process if their expertise “offered the greatest possibilities for accountability.”

Several bishops, most insistently Bishop Jaime Soto, raised the prospect of an independent auditing process to track and assess the U.S. implementation of Vos estis over the three-year trial period.

Bishop Robert Deeley explained to the conference that the independent third-party reporting mechanism, approved by the bishops on Wednesday, was itself a form of a self-auditing system with every complaint being tracked, though there were limits to how much the bishops could assess the effectiveness of what was a papal law.

“I think the committee agrees with you that an [assessment] process will have to be done,” Deeley said, but it was not for the U.S. bishops to decide how to evaluate the essential role of the Holy See in the process and implementation of its own norms.

Related to Rome’s role in the process of handling an allegation, several bishops noted that Vos estis provided for a response from Rome “within 30 days,” something Bishop Mark O’Connell, an auxiliary bishop of Boston, called an “intolerable" amount of time for a reporting Metropolitan to be unable to advance the case.

Deeley responded by noting that Rome had committed itself to responding “within not after” 30 days, and that the experience of many bishops was that when circumstances required it, the different Roman dicasteries were respond considerably faster. The longer time period was a reflection of the universal application of Vos estis, which would have to accommodate regions where communication could be more fractured and difficult.

Deeley noted that there had been four investigations into U.S. bishops conducted by metropolitans in recent months, including McCarrick and Bransfield, and that the successful way in which they had been concluded was a sign of the effectiveness of the new model. “That gives me confidence,” Deeley told the bishops.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles told the bishops that “the Holy See is aware of the urgency of this matter,” and commended the passage of the directives to the conference.

After the passage of the abuse-related measures and the conclusion of some other conference matters, the bishops concluded the public portion of their meeting and convened an executive session.

Analysis: As USCCB meeting continues, what are lay Catholics looking for?

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 09:12

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 07:12 am (CNA).- Nearly all U.S. bishops know by now that U.S. Catholics are experiencing crises of faith and confidence at a scale that far exceeds even the Church’s sexual abuse scandal in 2002. They were presented with data this week noting that the rate of Catholics defecting from the practice of the faith has risen dramatically in recent years, and they are reminded in their own dioceses that practicing Catholics, priests among them, are deeply discouraged of the last year, and struggling to trust.

But there is a disconnect between the work that bishops are doing this week in Baltimore to respond to those problems and the way that work is perceived by even faithful and engaged Catholics.

The mission of bishops is the salvation of souls. Their call is to proclaim the Gospel, to teach the faith, to celebrate the sacramental mysteries of grace, and to lead and coordinate the apostolic and evangelical work of priests, deacons, religious, and laity. Their ability to do those things convincingly and compellingly is hampered by the scandals of the last year.

But so is the ability of millions of other Catholics to do the work to which God has called them. Within the Church, the scandals have tainted the credibility of the bishops. Beyond the walls of the Church, the scandals have tainted the credibility of every Catholic who tries to explain, proclaim, or live the Gospel.

It is not the case that Catholic laity are the de facto moral superiors of their bishops. It is not the case that Catholic laity give consistent witness to the Gospel. It is not the case that laity are less likely to be motivated by the concerns of this world, less likely to engage in sexual immorality, less likely to live as they ought not.

But it is the case that bishops are uniquely public Catholic figures, and that the integrity of their actions is - fairly or unfairly- uniquely taken as a measure of the Gospel’s integrity.

None of that is new. What is new is the scope of their visibility in the social media era, and the degree to which the misconduct of some, and the broken ecclesial culture that fosters it, is manifestly clear to those who look toward it.

The problems occasioned by those realities are complex. Bishops this week, at the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting in Baltimore, are engaging in discussion about the nitty-gritty technical aspects of some of those problems. They are debating, or attempting to debate, the finer points of third-party reporting systems and investigative review processes.

Those debates, some observers have noted, are important, but they are also painful. They are wonky, bureaucratic, and themselves not untainted by the marks of ambition, petty politics, and some degree of impatience. But they are nonetheless important.

The bishops seem keen to reflect in these debates their contrition for the sins of their brothers, their apparent desire to be seen involving lay people in their processes, and to convey the urgency of their mandate. In the words of one observer, some of that rhetoric has a Clinton-esque quality, offered by bishops who want Catholics to know “We feel your pain.”

But despite episcopal efforts, many of which are sincere, conference staffers, along with lay and priest observers at the meeting, tell CNA consistently that, in their estimation, many bishops “still don’t get it.”

While the buzzwords among the bishops in the meeting are “transparency” and “lay involvement,” the buzzing among their closest lay and priestly collaborators is whether the bishops understand, as one staffer asked CNA, “just how bad things are.” What is it they are perceived not to understand?

In the first place, CNA is told, bishops seem not to understand how much Catholics would like questions about McCarrick to be answered, forthrightly, directly, and comprehensively, and by those in official positions of power, not by priests leaking their accounts of old emails and letters.

In the second place, priests and laity say they would like to hear bishops recognize directly the scandal of the Bransfield report, and of the subsequent revelation that despite promises of transparency, and perhaps even in good faith, the names of bishops who were given large gifts from Bransfield were omitted from the report filed with Congregation for Bishops.

While Lori himself has expressed contrition for the omission, Catholics are looking for a direct response to the ensuing scandal, and a commitment to be open about their own financial entanglements with bishops of dubious moral reputation. In fact, Catholic observers tell CNA on the whole that bishops will be forthcoming about other potential financial scandals before they are spread across the pages of America’s leading newspapers, rather than after.

But most especially, Catholics tell CNA, that what they hope bishops will “get” is just how difficult all this scandal has been. They are looking, they say, for genuine expressions of the bishops’ own pain, rather than the sense that the crisis is being managed. They are looking for bishops who are turning to the Lord for answers in humility.

Above all else, Catholics tell CNA, they are looking for leadership: for bishops who decry sexual immorality, privilege, careerism, and indifference among their brethren without ambiguity. They are looking for bishops who will be among them in their pain. They are looking for those who will insist upon the truth, no matter the cost. They are looking for leadership that begins and ends in the mysteries of the Eucharist.

They are not looking for politicians or crisis managers. They are looking, they say, for priests, prophets, and kings.

That is what they hope their bishops will understand. Whether they will find those things in Baltimore remains to be seen.  


Analysis: At USCCB meeting, will words speak louder than votes?

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 06:00

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Today the bishops of the United States will debate and vote on three documents aimed at implementing the new universal laws promulgated by Pope Francis last month.

While the ostensible purpose of Thursday votes is to establish Vos estis lux mundi in the life of the Church in the U.S., the bishops gathered in Baltimore are aware that they are really voting to restore their own credibility among faithful and discouraged U.S. Catholics.

The laity have figured heavily in the bishops’ discussions, with many using Tuesday’s sessions to insist on establishing a clearly defined role for non-clerics in handling accusations against bishops.

The open sessions of the conference are being broadcast live, and the message many bishops appear to be sending is “We know you’re watching and we want you to know we are talking about you.”

Yet many Catholics are less interested in what the bishops have to say to them, and more about what the bishops have to say about one another.

The recent publication of a report into Bishop Michael Bransfield, formerly of Wheeling-Charleston, was the latest in a year of scandal and setback for the American hierarchy.

Yet, although Bransfield looms large in the minds of the faithful and bishops alike, his name has yet to be mentioned at the bishops’ meeting. Similarly, although Theodore McCarrick was mentioned by the lay representatives of the National Advisory Council and National Review Board, his influence on the conference proceedings has passed largely unspoken.

One of the documents upon which the bishops will vote today is titled “Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments.” The text includes several expressions of collective failure and contrition.

An act of corporate responsibility and renewed dedication can certainly be a useful tool in communicating with the faithful across the country. But, many would argue, too much solidarity can actually work against them in the battle to win back trust.

There is a fine line between expressing a meaningful collective remorse and giving the impression that the sins of the few are common to all bishops.

During the November meeting last year, Bishop Liam Carey of Baker noted the “shameful residue” left on all the bishops by McCarrick’s long presence among them. The recent Bransfield report has only strengthened the impression among some Catholics that the bishops are all the same.

If the goal is to truly heal the breach of trust, the bishops might find it effective to speak directly about the failings of their brothers, and the outrage it has caused among their own ranks.

There is a widespread perception that bishops cannot - must not - be trusted to police themselves. The bishops have, at times, said as much themselves. That impression is, inadvertently, reinforced when the hierarchy appears more comfortable voicing collective responsibility for the misdeeds of their colleagues than vocally sharing the outrage of their flock.

Privately, many bishops are furious at the scandals which have rocked the Church thanks to a minority of their number, and they are acutely aware of the damage done to their own credibility. The corporate commitment to passing procedural directives for Vos estis is solid, somber work, but it strikes many of the faithful as more of the bloodless progress of bureaucratic consensus, against which Pope Francis explicitly warned the bishops ahead of their January retreat in Mundelein.

While some laity are looking for the bishops to speak to them, many more want to see the bishops speak to and about each other with candor.

To many of the hierarchy, the language of “we bishops” speaking to “you faithful” is a natural expression of collegiality. But, when the subject is the egregious fault of a few of their number, it can seem reminiscent to Catholics of a clerical culture in which the virtuous shepherds instinctively stand with the vicious few, before thinking to align with the faithful of their own flocks.

The final day of open session will come with considerable scope for debate. The opportunity is there for the bishops to separate the sheep from the goats in their own ranks, and to offer the kind of personal leadership and vision which some of the people in the pews have almost lost hope of seeing.

Some may take the opportunity to speak with zeal and prophetic vision, others – maybe the majority – will remain silent, hoping that an anonymous vote will suffice for leadership.

There are many good bishops in Baltimore who recognize nothing of themselves or their ministry in the actions of Bransfield and McCarrick, and those who kept them in place for so long. But if they do not rise to say so out loud, will the faithful know they are there?

Maine governor signs bill legalizing assisted suicide

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 21:01

Augusta, Maine, Jun 12, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Maine became the latest state to legalize physician-assisted suicide Wednesday as Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed LD 1313 into law.

Mills had previously said that she was undecided on the issue of physician-assisted suicide, and was unsure if she would sign the bill into law.

Maine is now the ninth state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a terminally-ill patient a lethal dose of medication. Earlier this year, New Jersey legalized assisted suicide.

Mills said to reporters June 12 that the decision to sign the bill into law was the hardest she had made in her political career, and that she hopes assisted suicide does not become the norm in her state.

“It is my hope that this law, while respecting the right to personal liberty, will be used sparingly,” she said prior to signing the bill.

She added that she hopes Mainers “will respect the life of every citizen, with the utmost concern for their spiritual and physical well-being, and that as a society we will be as vigorous in providing full comfort, hospice and palliative care to all persons, no matter their status, location or financial ability as we are in respecting their right to make this ultimate decision over their own fate and of their own free will.”

To receive the life-ending medication, a patient must undergo two waiting periods, request the medication once in a written request and twice orally, undergo a psychological evaluation, and be approved by a second physician. The law also criminalizes coercing someone into assisted suicide, or forging a note requesting suicide.

The law was narrowly passed by the state legislatures June 4, and sent to the governor’s mansion. Mills had 10 days from June 4 to decide whether or not she was going to sign the law. Members of both political parties voted for and against the bill, which was passed by a single vote in the state’s House of Representatives.

In addition to LD 1313, Mills signed Executive Order No. 9, which requires the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to report all instances of physician-assisted suicide over the next years. Specifically, DHHS will examine the data for any trends regarding socio demographic status, location within the state, and medical conditions, to ensure that the “personal liberty and autonomy of all Maine people is protected.”  

While the bill is set to go into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends, the existence of Executive Order 9, which goes into effect immediately, means that assisted suicide will likely not be available in Maine until 2020. This is because lawmakers must approve the collection methods and norms required by the executive order.

The battle to legalize physican-assisted suicide in Maine was drawn out for about a decade. There were seven previous bills submitted to legalize the practice, all of which failed. In 2012, there was a statewide referrendum to legalize assisted suicide, which also failed.

Cities, states ask courts to block HHS conscience protections before taking effect

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 20:01

Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Santa Clara County, California is the latest entity to ask a federal judge to block a new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services designed to protect the conscience rights of healthcare workers.

The new HHS rule, announced May 2 and published May 21 in the Federal Register, strengthens a series of laws intended to protect the conscience rights of doctors and nurses.

“Even though Federal conscience and anti-discrimination laws are currently in effect, the public has sometimes been confused about their applicability in relation to other Federal, State, or local laws,” the new rule reads.

“Some advocacy organizations have filed lawsuits claiming that Federal or State laws require private religious entities to perform abortions and sterilizations despite the existence of longstanding conscience and anti-discrimination protections on this topic.”

Under existing law, medical providers may opt out of direct participation, as well as having to refer patients to other providers who will perform procedures to which they object, such as abortion and sterilization. The rule is due to take effect July 22.

New York is leading a suit against the new rule; its co-plaintiffs are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, Chicago, New York City, and Cook County, Ill.

Those plaintiffs say the rule would force some healthcare facilities to hire more staff in case there are too many conscientious objectors to provide requested procedures.

California filed a separate lawsuit May 21 against the rule, saying it “impedes access to basic care” and “encourages discrimination against vulnerable patients.” Planned Parenthood has also filed a lawsuit.

Last week, California asked for a preliminary injunction from the to block the rule, saying that if the state refused to comply, they could lose federal funding for healthcare. San Francisco joined the call for an injunction after announcing their own lawsuit May 2.

Santa Clara County announced their lawsuit May 28 leading a coalition of other entities including the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights. The coalition petitioned federal judge Nathanael Cousins in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California June 11 to prevent the HHS from enforcing the new rule.

James Williams, county counsel for Santa Clara, told NPR that the county already has a policy for conscientious objectors that requires that they notify the county of their objection in advance, and that includes an exception for emergency situations.

The HHS responded to concerned comments that the new rule would prevent some patients from being treated in an emergency, replying in the Federal Register that federal law mandating that “certain hospitals treat and stabilize patients who present in an emergency does not conflict with Federal conscience and anti-discrimination laws.”

In addition, the HHS contended that religiously affiliated hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, “play a major role in the delivery of health care to residents of the United States, including to underserved or underprivileged communities in particular, and are motivated by their beliefs to serve such communities.”

“This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said May 2.

The text of the rule acknowledges that several submissions were made during consultation regarding the possible limitation on access to abortion and sterilization in some communities, saying these submissions proved the inadequacy of previous conscience protections.

“The Department observed that it was contradictory to argue, as many commenters did, both that the rule would decrease access to care and that the then‐current conscience protections for providers were sufficient,” the rule reads.

“If the Department’s new rule would decrease access to care because of an increase in providers’ exercise of conscientious objections, it would seem that the statutory protections that existed before the regulation did not result in providers fully exercising their consciences as protected by law.”

The next step, NPR reports, will be for a judge in U.S. District Court to decide whether any of the California plaintiffs pass the test for preliminary injunctive relief, i.e. that they will suffer "irreparable harm" should the rule go into effect.

US bishops authorize reporting mechanism for episcopal abuse cases

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 19:04

Baltimore, Md., Jun 12, 2019 / 05:04 pm (CNA).- The US bishops voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize a national third-party system for victims confidentially to report cases of abuse by bishops in violation of Vos estis lux mundi.

“I think it’s obvious to me, and hopefully, I think, to all of us, that victim-survivors are a priority to all of us,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during deliberations June 12 on the reporting system at the bishops’ Spring General Assembly in Baltimore, Md.

“When that situation happens,” he said to the bishops of cases of reported abuse, “I think that every single one of us is going to be very attentive to the needs and healing process of victim-survivors. So I think this system will help us to precisely make sure that anyone who suffers abuse is going to be taken care of.”

The bishops met for the second day of their annual spring meeting Wednesday, during which they voted to authorize the third-party reporting system, in addition to approving a set of proposed strategic priorities for their upcoming 2021-24 Strategic Plan.

The priorities, the fruit of consultations with the body of bishops, five of their standing committees, and their National Advisory Committee, help determine where the bishops will choose to focus the most time and resources in that timeframe.

The proposed priorities, which passed by a vote of 213 to 8, with four abstentions, were: “Evangelization: Form a joyful band of missionary disciples”; “Life and dignity of the human person: Serve the common good as the leaven in a free society”; “Protect and heal God’s children: Restore integrity, foster virtue”; “Vocations: Equip all Christ’s disciples for mission.”

The reporting system that the bishops approved will feature options for victims to report abuse by phone or online.

In September 2018, the bishops’ Executive Committee proposed a third-party reporting mechanism, but after the publication of Vos estis lux mundi, the motu proprio of Pope Francis in response to the recent crisis of clergy sexual abuse, the bishops also voted to authorize updates to the proposed reporting system to comply with the new document. The updates are set to be approved by the administrative committee in meetings this fall.

For instance, as the document directed allegations of abuse by bishops to be sent to metropolitans, any confidential reporting system would need to reflect this by routing allegations to the regional metropolitan, not just to the apostolic nuncio, thus requiring a more complex and expensive reporting system. The violations to be considered would also be those outlined in Vos estis, not those in the U.S. Bishops’ Code of Conduct.

The bishops discussed other details of the system Wednesday, including advertising the phone number and website for confidential reporting, the procedure for contacting civil authorities and the metropolitan, the role of the third-party vendor, care for victims, and jurisdiction for considering an abuse allegation.

Additionally, the bishops voted to have the system activated by May 31, 2020. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago emphasized the need for prompt action, saying, “We need this up and running as soon as possible.”

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon said that in the interim, people need to know that they can still send allegations of abuse directly to metropolitans.  

At a press conference shortly after the discussion, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington acknowledged that the reporting system needs to be widely publicized, saying, “it’s our job to make it well-known.”

Among the other votes the bishops took Wednesday were expressing unanimous support for the cause for canonization of Irving C. Houle, a father of five from Michigan who appeared to bear the stigmata. Bishop John Francis Doerfler of Marquette, who delivered the presentation on Houle’s sanctity, as well as Archbishop Sample and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois, attested to Houle’s virtue.

“Irving can serve as an example of holiness for the ordinary guy," Bishop Doerfler said. "The extraordinary gifts of healing and the stigmata are further indications of how God chooses the humble and the lowly as his instruments."

Bishop Paprocki also revealed his intention to establish a shrine to Fr. Augustus Tolton in Quincy, Ill., where Fr. Tolton is buried. Pope Francis declared Fr. Tolton a Venerable Wednesday, an acknowledgement that he lived a life of heroic virtue.

The bishops also overwhelmingly approved a new translation of the Revised National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanaent Deacons in the United States, as well as the ICEL Gray Book of the Ordination of a Bishop, of Priests, and of Deacons.

Colo. baker sued a third time, for refusal to make cake signifying gender transition

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Jun 12, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Jack Phillips, a Christian cake baker based in Colorado, is being sued for a third time for declining to make a cake that expresses messages contrary to his religious beliefs.

Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., a Denver suburb. Last year, he won a six year legal battle that led all the way up to the Supreme Court, which upheld Phillips’ religious freedom and freedom of expression in his declining to make a cake in 2012 that would have celebrated a same-sex union.

Three months after winning the Supreme Court case, Phillips was sued again by Colorado lawyer Autumn Scardina, who identifies as a transgender woman, for his refusal to make Scardina a gender transition cake.

Phillips then countersued the state of Colorado, claiming that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs. The case was dropped in March, “after the discovery phase demonstrated that the state was displaying ‘anti-religious hostility’ by continuing to pursue Phillips,’” the National Review reported.

At the time, Phillips expressed his desire to be done with legal proceedings and out of the spotlight. “I hope this is the end of my legal battles, and that I can return to my quiet life as a cake artist,” Phillips wrote in an opinion essay for the Denver Post.

Phillips did not get his wish for long.

Scardina is now the plaintiff in a new suit against Phillips. On June 5, Scardina sued Phillips for the second time, this time claiming that he refused to make Scardina a birthday cake.

According to the complaint, filed with the District Court for the city and county of Denver, Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a “birthday cake - one in a simple design that Defendants admit they would make for any other customer.”

The complaint noted that Phillips has said previously that he would be happy to make other kinds of cakes for LGBT individuals, as long as they expressed messages that did not violate his religious beliefs.

In the call, Scardina requested from Masterpiece Cakeshop a birthday cake for 6-8 people, with pink cake and blue frosting. A Masterpiece Cakeshop employee confirmed to Scardina that they could make such a cake.

“Ms. Scardina then informed Masterpiece Cakeshop that the requested design had personal significance for her because it reflects her status as a transgender female,” the complaint states.

It was at this point that Masterpiece Cakeshop told Scardina that they “did not make cakes for ‘sex changes.’” Scardina reconfirmed that it was a birthday cake, but Masterpiece Cakeshop declined to take the order and ended the call, according to the complaint.

Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop again, in case the previous call had been unintentionally disconnected, the complaint states. Scardina spoke to a different Masterpiece Cakeshop employee about the same order, and that employee also declined the order, saying that making such a cake would violate their religious beliefs.

“Masterpiece Cakeshop, at the direction of Phillips, refused to sell a birthday cake to Ms. Scardina because of her status as a transgender woman,” the complaint states.

Paula Griesen, one of the attorneys representing Scardina, said that “the dignity of all citizens in our state needs to be honored,” according to the National Review. “Masterpiece Cakeshop said before the Supreme Court they would serve any baked good to members of the LGBTQ community. It was just the religious significance of it being a wedding cake. We don’t believe they’ve been honest with the public.”

The cake Scardina mentions in the new complaint is notably similar to the gender transition cake Scardina requested from Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2017, which was also requested to be made with pink cake and blue frosting.

Phillips was first sued for a declined cake in 2012, after declining to make a cake celebrating the union of a same-sex couple. Phillips said that particular kind of cake would violate his religious beliefs, but that he would create other kinds of cakes for the couple. Colorado law did not recognize same-sex unions as marriages at the time.

The couple filed a lawsuit against Phillips and in 2013 a Colorado judge sided with the plaintiffs. Phillips chose to stop serving wedding cakes at his shop in order to avoid further litigation.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission then took up the case, and ruled that Phillips had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law, which categorizes sexual orientation as a protected class, by refusing to make the cake. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2018 that Phillips has a right to refuse to create cakes that expressed messages contrary to his religious beliefs.

Phillips has said in the past that he not only has declined same-sex union cakes, but he also declines other types of cakes that go against his beliefs, including cakes for Halloween, bachelor parties, divorce, cakes with alcohol in the ingredients, and cakes with atheist messages.

Jim Campbell, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, whose lawyers have defended Phillips in the past, said the new lawsuit is another example of Phillips’ harassment for his religious beliefs.

“So this latest attack by Scardina looks like yet another desperate attempt to harass cake artist Jack Phillips,” Campbell said, according to the National Review. “And it stumbles over the one detail that matters most: Jack serves everyone; he just cannot express all messages through his custom cakes.”

Meet the new bishops in the USCCB

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 17:48

Baltimore, Md., Jun 12, 2019 / 03:48 pm (CNA).- At the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' biannual assemblies, new members of the US episcopate are announced, to much applause. CNA spoke to the newest members of the USCCB to find out what it’s like to be the new kid on the block.

Two of this year’s newcomers, Bishops William Muhm and Joseph Coffey have much in common. They have both served in the Navy, both as chaplains and prior to entering seminary; both were announced as the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese for the Military Services Jan. 22; and both were consecrated March 25. Neither expected to be bishops.

This is the first time either of them have attended a USCCB general assembly, and they told CNA they were a little bit intimidated at first by some of their brother bishops.

Bishop Coffey said that he did not anticipate speaking up much during this assembly, and that “as a new guy, I’m going to do a lot of observing.” Coffey was chosen to be one of the tellers of the assembly, an administrative duty that means he will be verifying the vote totals of the elections. He told CNA that he suspects he was chosen for this role because he is a brand new bishop.

Mild episcopal hazing aside, Coffey said that “it’s pretty darn exciting” to be at the general assembly and to be sitting next to the men he has read about and admired for years. He said he felt as though he has joined an “incredibly warm and friendly and welcoming community of brothers.”

Coffey said that as a bishop, he has been given the chance to represent Archbishop Timothy Broglio at events, and has traveled around the country with the permission of the military. As he is still active duty in the Navy, he said he will be seeking retirement or entering the reserves in order to work full-time as a bishop.

The whole experience, said Coffey, has been surreal.

“I was not expecting this at all, and so, it has only been a couple of months, so I’m still getting used to God’s providence and how it’s really changed my life, but it’s exciting, to say ‘yes’ and see what happens,” he said.

Bishop Muhm likened the feeling to the first day of school, but said that "everyone's been really welcoming.” He relished the chance to get to know the other bishops and to develop fraternal bonds, which he said was “one of the most important reasons to be here.”

Like Coffey, Muhm also said he planned on “doing a lot more listening than talking”, and that he was adjusting to the nuances associated with the bishops’ conference. With his primary priestly experience as a military chaplain, and only about six weeks administering a parish prior to being appointed a bishop, Muhm’s ecclesiastical career has been very different from most of his brother bishops.

“It's been a little bit overwhelming, with the level of detail that's being discussed,” said Muhm. “I don't have a background in many of these things that they're talking about, and I hadn't seen the documents until recently."

Muhm told CNA that he has been enjoying his time at the general assembly nevertheless, and is excited to move forward with his duties as bishop, which will involve tending to the needs of Catholics in the military serving in Asia and Europe.

Bishop Alex Aclan, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, was driving when he received a call from the nuncio Feb. 17. Aclan, who was on a sabbatical at the time, said that he was “pretty calm” when he found out his new role, and that he had “really no strong emotions.”

As the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is home to about 11.6 million people, with about 4.3 million Catholics, the auxiliary bishops are assigned to regions. Aclan is assigned to the San Fernando region, which includes 55 parishes, 13 high schools, and three hospitals. He said he has had a chance to visit a little less than half of the parishes so far, and that he has been very busy.

Aclan told CNA that he has been warmly received by the other bishops, who are “very welcoming” and “very hospitable, you know, when they see that you look lost.”

“They walk up to you and they’re talking to you, so they’re very really nice,” he said with a laugh.

While Aclan may be new to the USCCB, his prior role as the Vicar for Clergy for Losg Angeles archdiocese meant that he was already familiar with some of the bishops, and was not entirely alone at his first general assembly.

“Some of the bishops actually attended the conferences that we had (for other Vicars for Clergy), and some of those Vicars for Clergy now have also become bishops themselves,” he said.

While Bishops Aclan, Coffey, and Muhm are all newly consecrated, Archbishop Borys Gudziak was consecrated nearly seven years ago. Gudziak was installed June 4 as head of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Prior to that, he was Bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Saint Vladimir the Great of Paris, and thus a member of the French bishops' conference. The spring meeting marked the first time he has attended a USCCB general assembly.

Gudziak said that transitioning from a European eparchy to an American archeparchy was an adjustment, and that the Ukrainian Catholic population in the United States is substantially different than that of Europe. His past eparchy included five western European countries, and the war in Ukraine has resulted in an influx of very poor, often undocumented, Ukrainian emigrants moving to the European Union.

For Gudziak, his time in Paris “wasn’t a place or position or a job, it really became a family.” So when he when he was asked to come to America, it was “mixed emotions.”

He said he felt “sadness of leaving family members whom we went through thin and thin, I would say, not thin and thick. But great joy at coming back home,” he said. Gudziak was born and raised in the United States.

Comparatively, the Ukrainian Catholics in the United States have “about 70 years more history” than their western European counterparts, as well as “much more infrastructure.”

“The number of churches, schools, facilities, that are archeparchy here I would say has 50-70 times as much as we had in France,” said Gudziak.

Despite this, Gudziak said that his new parishioners face many of the same issues as his older ones, particularly among young people.

“With the young generation, there’s a need for coming down as Jesus came down and meeting people heart to heart,” he said. “Or as one young person had told me, ‘I need to be met at my broken heart.’”

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. And although he is not a Latin rite bishop like the majority of the bishops in the USCCB, Gudziak said that his new brother bishops have been “particularly friendly, knowledgeable, and embracing.”

And while he declined, citing his relative newness, specifically to say how he planned on using his unique experience to help the USCCB, Gudziak told CNA that he thinks he can play a role in improving relations between the Church in the US and Churches around the world.

“One thing that I would like to witness to is the universality of the Church,” said Gudziak. He said that due to the lack of American priests and seminarians who study in other countries, “it’s becoming more difficult to keep a knowledgeable, friendly relationship with other episcopal conferences and other bishops.”

“And I hope that I can contribute to a friendship between the Church in the U.S. and the Church in Western and Eastern Europe,” said Gudziak, “since I lived in both parts of that continent for many years.”

Judge issues injunction to keep MO abortion clinic open another two weeks

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 22:01

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 11, 2019 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis granted the city’s Planned Parenthood clinic a preliminary injunction Monday, allowing the state’s only abortion clinic to remain open until June 21, despite the state’s initial refusal to renew its license to perform abortions.

The judge said June 10 the authority to grant or deny the clinic’s license rests with the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, and that the clinic is entitled to a decision on its status one way or another. He did not rule on the merits of the case, but issued a ruling that he said “merely maintains the status quo” until the appropriate authority – i.e. the DHSS – can make a final decision on the abortion facility’s status.

The court’s order mandates that the DHSS issue a decision on the renewal of Planned Parenthood’s license “without undue delay but no later than June 21,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region had sued the state in late May to be able to continue to perform abortions – despite the state’s failure to renew the clinic’s license – arguing that the state had delayed the license in order to investigate “an unspecified patient complaint,” the Post-Dispatch reports.

The license of the Planned Parenthood clinic in question was set to expire May 31, but the clinic was able to secure a restraining order from Stelzer last week.

The state had issued subpoenas in an effort to speak with seven doctors who had worked at the facility. Two staff doctors agreed to interviews with health officials, but the others, who were not employees of the clinic, refused. Judge Stelzer threw out the subpoena of those five doctors as an “undue burden” June 4.

The state has cited numerous medical violations in its refusal to grant the St. Louis facility its license. Planned Parenthood representatives said they had done everything possible to comply with state requirements.

A 2016 state report on an inspection of the clinic, the most recent available through, shows that the clinic at that time was in violation of multiple state standards involving the sterilization and storing of equipment, and the proper documentation of medication and procedures.

Although the Planned Parenthood clinic is the last licensed “abortion facility” in the state, the law regulating abortion clinics in Missouri does not apply to hospitals. Several of the largest hospitals in St. Louis are operated by SSM Health, a Catholic health system that does not allow direct abortion.

Barnes Jewish Hospital’s Women and Infants Center in St. Louis, however, lists “pregnancy termination” as one of the services offered at the hospital.

In addition, while the clinic is the last abortion facility in Missouri, there is a private surgical abortion clinic near St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Ill. In addition, a Planned Parenthood clinic 20 miles from St. Louis in Belleville, Ill. offers medication-induced abortion. On the other side of the state, nearly half of all abortions performed in Kansas in 2017 were on Missouri residents, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

St. Louis Public Radio reported in 2017 that Barnes Jewish performs about 150 abortions per year, generally in the case of danger to the life of the mother or fetal abnormalities. The pro-abortion research group Guttmacher Institute reports that around four percent of abortions are performed in hospitals.

A recent law passed in Missouri outlawing abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy will restrict hospitals’ ability to perform abortions should it come into effect Aug. 28 as planned.

Judge Stelzer set a date and time of 9 am June 21 for a status conference to announce the state’s licensing decision for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood. He said Planned Parenthood is entitled to a review of the decision by a state licensing commission.

US religious freedom ambassador laments widespread silence on Uyghurs

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 21:01

Washington D.C., Jun 11, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Islamic countries should be more vocal in criticizing China's mistreatment of the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnoreligious group, the US ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom said Monday.

“I have been disappointed that more Islamic countries have not spoken out. I know the Chinese have been threatening them and but you don’t back down to somebody that does that. That just encourages more actions,” Ambassador Sam Brownback said in an interview with The Guardian published June 10.

Brownback welcomed Turkey and “a number of western countries that have spoken out aggressively on this.”

Some 1 million Uyghurs have been detained in re-education camps for Muslims in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uyghurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

“If China is not stopped from doing this they’re going to replicate and push this system out in their own country and to other authoritarian regimes,” Brownback commented.

He suggested that some Islamic countries “are concerned about their own human rights record and then they’re saying look: we don’t want people criticizing us [so] we’re not going to criticize somebody else.”

US diplomats have increasingly focused on China's human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in recent months.

The US was among the co-sponsors last week of a United Nations resolution proclaiming a day to commemorate victims of violence based on religion. While speaking at the UN June 4, Austin Smith, the US representative to the organization, called China's treatment of the Uyghurs “one of the world’s most horrific denials of freedom of religion.”

“Chinese authorities are restricting religious freedom by labeling peaceful religious practices as manifestations of 'religious extremism and terrorism,” he said. “The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. This repression has intensified under the current policy of 'Sinicizing' religion.”

China's representative responded that Smith's statements were an unfounded accusation, and reiterated China's position that it is combatting extremism. He called the camps for Uyghurs learning centers, and stressed their vocational and educational nature.

In April, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's annual report focused in its introduction on the abuse of Uyghurs.

During a March 8 speech in Hong Kong critical of the Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, Brownback also addressed the detainment of Uyghurs and other Muslims in China.

He rejected Chinese government claims that the camps are vocational training centers, charging that they are “internment camps created to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities.” Internment is often based on cultural or religious identity. Detention is indefinite, and internees are subjected to “physical and psychological torture, intense political indoctrination, and forced labor,” he stated.

Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, said earlier this year that “China has the right to take anti-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security,” and that “Saudi Arabia respects and supports it and is willing to strengthen cooperation with China.”

Pakistan is among the few Mustlim-majority countries to have warned against the escalating persecution of the Uyghurs.

In September 2018 Noorul Haq Qadri, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony, advised Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing that Beijing’s crackdowns on Uyghur activity would only fuel extremism, rather than mitigate it.

Along with its treatment of Muslims, China has been criticized for its persecution of a variety of religious groups: Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners.

USCIRF has noted that while the Vatican reached a provisional agreement with China on the appointment of bishops in September, “nevertheless, repression of the underground Catholic Church increased during the latter half” of 2018.

Analysis: The laity - the who and the how in sexual abuse reform

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 19:00

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday, the USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore gave over much of its morning session to hearing questions from the floor asking for clarity on proposals to increase transparency and accountability among its members.

Two major themes emerged from the interventions. The first was that several members desire to see a binding and clearly defined role for laity in the process of handling accusations against a bishop. The second was the need for - and lack of - a clear distinction between cases involving the sexual abuse of minors and those touching sexual misconduct more broadly.

Three documents related to abuse are under consideration by the bishops.

An “acknowledgement of episcopal commitments” seeks to establish a moral commitment by bishops to hold themselves to the same standards and measures as are currently applied to their priests and deacons.

A set of directives has been drafted to apply in the U.S. the new universal norms promulgated by Pope Francis in Vos estis lux mundi.

The third document lays out the powers available to diocesan bishops when it becomes necessary to limit the public ministry of their predecessor following scandal or accusations of misconduct.

Several bishops made calls to “institutionalize” the role of laity in the handling of accusations was clear. Different suggestions included requiring a metropolitan bishop to establish a stable position for a lay person to receive all accusations, mandating that metropolitans employ laity to assess - not just investigate - claims against bishops, and insisting that the report of a layperson be included with a metropolitan’s own conclusions in any submission to Rome.

Conference officials explained that all of these options are already open to any bishop charged with running an investigation, but what the USCCB cannot do, members were told to their seeming frustration, is curtail their own discretion given to them by the pope’s norms.

At one level, the desire of bishops to entrench a role for lay men and women in the process of policing their own is understandable.

The McCarrick scandal continues to loom large in the minds of the faithful as Church authorities in Rome and the U.S. consider what (if any) information to make public about how he was able to sustain himself in the hierarchy. The recent release of a report into the allegations against former Wheeling-Charleston bishop Michael Bransfield, detailing substantial financial gifts to his brother bishops, has only underscored the crisis of credibility facing the hierarchy in the United States.

But simply “getting the lay people involved” is likely to prove at best an incomplete answer to the problems facing the bishops.

Invocations of “the laity” Tuesday morning came virtually unqualified, with little mention of particular areas of expertise or experience, though a lay person is not necessarily more qualified, per se, to evaluate an allegation against a bishop than anyone else. Other qualities, like independence and proven judgment, have yet to feature much in discussions.

The proposals for clearly defined and mandatory roles for lay people suggest an underlying discomfort among the bishops for the level of discretion the pope’s recent reforms give an investigating metropolitan.

Having seen the criticism heaped on some bishops for their handling of particular cases, it might be forgivable if, lurking under the calls for external accountability, was a desire for the added security of a lay person – any lay person – to share the responsibility for tough decisions.

But such a mentality, even unspoken, would suggest the bishops remain concerned primarily with who should evaluate accusations against them, and not how they should be evaluated.

Towards the end of the session, a handful of questions emerged from the floor on the need to distinguish between sexual abuse of minors and other instances of sexual misconduct. Both are grave, some bishops noted, but they require different handling by people with different skillsets.

But what these differences are and how they should be applied to the messy reality of actual cases remains relatively undiscussed, much less answered so far.

Given the difficulty of parsing issues like consent in cases of clerical sexual contact, it is perhaps understandable that there is relatively little appetite to discuss such matters. But as bishops are learning through hard experience, if they do not move to set the criteria for assessing allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct – especially concerning adults – that criteria can be set for them after the fact when individual cases come to light and their judgement is assessed by an already cynical public. Moving to offer a clear consensus definition of sexual abuse vs sexual misconduct, and how to distinguish the two, could prove a more impactful contribution to transparency and accountability than reserving one or other role to a lay person.

Over the next few days in Baltimore, the bishops have a limited window to discuss the best path forward in recovering their own credibility. As they do so, they need to beware mistaking the means of lay involvement for an end in itself.

The true ends of justice and accountability can be served by a greater role for lay men and women, and by a real commitment to transparency. But it remains unclear how much real progress towards justice there can be until there is a full discussion and understanding of what justice looks like in different cases. Without that, talk of lay involvement may be little more than a definite means to an uncertain end.

Church must be present to migrants and refugees, USCCB leaders say

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 17:30

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Church needs to be present to migrants and refugees in the U.S. who are facing detention or deportation, and cannot be “invisible,” U.S. bishops said on the first day of their annual spring meeting in Baltimore, Md. on Tuesday.

“We can also redouble our efforts to offer spiritual support, and access to legal and social services to affected families,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin stated on Tuesday afternoon of an estimated 700,000 DACA recipients and 400,000 TPS holders whose legal status is uncertain but who have received a temporary reprieve from deportation as the administration’s actions ending DACA and TPS are litigated.

While delivering an update on the U.S. bishops’ working group on immigration, Bishop Vasquez maintained that “it is vital that they feel supported by the Church during this time of uncertainty.”

With thousands of undocumented immigrants in detention centers throughout the country, “we as pastors should be concerned that we have our priests there celebrating Mass for them, that the Church is present to them in this area,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami stated. “We have to respond to them and not let the Church be invisible to them.”

The U.S. bishops met on Tuesday for the first day of their Spring General Assembly, held in Baltimore, Md. from June 11-14.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Vasquez on Tuesday afternoon both presented the results of the bishops’ working group on immigration. The working group “has been formed to carry forward this mission for the Church to support immigrants and refugees,” Archbishop Gomez said.

The bishops listed what they said were serious challenges facing the Church’s mission to migrants and refugees—the “inhumane” and “immoral” treatment of migrants, asylum-seekers, and others seeking to enter the U.S., as Archbishop Gomez said.

The bishops cited the Trump administration’s lowering of refugee intake caps for a third straight year to 30,000 for FY 2019, as well as the ending of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017, and the ongoing non-renewal of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations.

In addition, asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their request is processed, putting “vulnerable people in harm’s way in Mexico,” Bishop Vasquez said. Meanwhile, the administration’s policies are “slowing down” and “clogging” the “ability of the ports of entry to process asylum claims.”

Other policies he cited were increases in family detention, rules “to further restrict access to asylum and due process,” and an “enforcement only approach to migration.”

Wenski mentioned that the Church should look to inform some DACA recipients and TPS holders of legal remedies that might be available to them. “We should be encouraging our parishioners and our legal residents to take the next step and to apply for citizenship,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the bishops also heard from Archbishop Gomez an update on the Working Group on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops’ teaching document on voting.

“I truly hear the Holy Spirit moving among us as both of those topics come together on the agenda,” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Tex. stated, noting Faithful Citizenship and the “tragic reality of immigration in our nation today.”

Strickland noted the importance of the sanctity of life and called on the bishops “as shepherds” to challenge those Catholic politicians who support issues that violate the sanctity of life such as legal abortion or harmful immigration policies.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego stated that “I feel there are two essential questions” to be considered with “Faithful Citizenship.” There is first “the primary obligation of the faithful citizen” he said “to try to heal and downplay the divisions in our culture,” and second, the importance of “character,” as “I feel we under attended to that question” in the past versions of the document.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., said that “often missing in our discussion” is an expression of “admiration” and “courage” for migrants who come to the U.S.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala. cited the recently passed Alabama law outlawing abortion in the state. Legislators “took a courageous stand” in passing and enacting the law, and he also noted the support for the law among Baptists and Catholics.

“When people do take those stands,” they must be supported by the bishops, he said.  


L.A. archdiocese reiterates support for religious sisters in convent dispute

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 16:12

Los Angeles, Calif., Jun 11, 2019 / 02:12 pm (CNA).- After a story in the New York Post sparked new interest in the drama of a years-long legal dispute involving Katy Perry and the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has reiterated their support for the care and well-being of the sisters.

“The main concern of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is and always has been the care and well-being of all the IHM Sisters,” the archdiocese said June 9.

“More than 10 years ago, as the members of the order declined to only five elderly Sisters, the Archbishop of Los Angeles undertook responsibility for their future care and well-being. Since then, the Archdiocese has continuously provided, on behalf of the IHM Institute, for all the living, medical and other costs for care of Sister Rita and all remaining IHM Sisters,” the archdiocese added.

The archdiocese issued the statement in response to an interview that Sr. Rita Callahan, 81, gave to the New York Post, published June 8. Callahan, an IHM sister, told the New York Post that Perry had “blood on her hands” after another IHM sister, 89 year-old Sr. Catherine Rose Holzman, collapsed and died in a Los Angeles courtroom last year during ongoing legal proceedings over the sale of the sisters’ convent.

According to the interview Callahan gave to the New York Post, Holtzman’s last words were: “Katy Perry. Please stop.”

The legal dispute is over the sisters’ former convent, which the remaining five, retired sisters vacated in 2011. According to the New York Post, the archdiocese “forced” the sisters to move. In their statement, the archdiocese said the sisters left the convent “because it could no longer accommodate their physical needs, and after the property became too costly for the retired Sisters to maintain.”

According to the archdiocese, the IHM sisters agreed in 2014 to let the Archdiocese of Los Angeles sell their convent on their behalf, and with the agreement that the proceeds of any sale would go toward the care and well-being of the remaining IHM Sisters, who had all moved from the convent to retirement facilities.

“In 2015, the Archdiocese, on behalf of the IHM Institute, entered into an agreement with singer Katy Perry for Ms. Perry to purchase the property for $14.5 million,” the archdiocese stated.

The archdiocese added that Perry’s “all cash” offer, along with her plans to use the property as a family home and not for commercial purposes, seemed to be what was best for the sisters’ needs and appropriate for the property’s “rich history.”

At the same time, the IHM sisters, not wanting their property to go to Perry, tried to sell their convent to a businesswoman named Dana Hollister.

“We asked Dana to buy our property as we didn’t want it to go to Katy Perry. Yes, we put the wheels in motion to sell our property,” Callanan told the New York Post. “Was it legal? Probably not entirely.”

That sale was eventually blocked by the archdiocese, after a long legal battle.

“The Archdiocese fully supported all of the Sisters throughout this process to ensure they were cared for during this lengthy legal battle,” the archdiocese stated. “The Archdiocese has always sought to act in the best interest of all IHM Sisters, both to fulfill their request to sell the Institute’s property and to provide for their care.”

The archdiocese said it will “continue to be in communication” with Perry about her “continued interest in the property.”

“Regardless of any sale, the Archdiocese has and will continue to provide and care for all the IHM Sisters for the rest of their lives,” the archdiocese said.

US bishops open debate on abuse reforms

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 13:35

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 11:35 am (CNA).- On the morning of the first day of the USCCB’s General Assembly in Baltimore, discussion began on three proposals to improve episcopal accountability.
As the discussion developed June 11, much of the focus concerned the role of lay people in the process of handling complaints against bishops, and the extent to which the conference could make binding provisions to that end.
The assembly considered directives to implement the pope’s recent motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, a formal affirmation of their moral commitments as bishops, and a set of protocols which can be applied by serving diocesan bishops to retired or emeritus bishops.
All three proposals were put to the floor for questions and clarifications, with the possibility to propose amendments in writing ahead of final votes in the coming days.
Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland presented the directives for implementing Vos estis on behalf of the conference’s Canonical Affairs and Church Governance Committee.
The directives were, he stressed, intended to only to be read “in constant reference to Vos estis,” the universal law of the Church. Deeley underscored to the bishops several times that it was not within the conference’s authority to contradict the pope’s provisions, but to act within them.
Many of the “new” provisions of the pope’s law, Deeley said, would be familiar to American bishops and reflected “long standing practices already observed in the United States.”
Vos estis carved out specific scope for bishops’ conferences to act in three key areas, Deeley said. These include the creation of a “public, stable, and easily accessible” mechanisms for making allegations of abuse, coming up with lists of qualified persons - including laity – who can assist in handling allegations, and establishing a fund to cover the cost of investigations.
As bishops asked questions from the floor, many focused on the involvement of laity in the investigation and assessment of an allegation against a bishop.
Cardinal Cupich of Chicago noted that Vos estis allowed for the designation of an ecclesiastical office for receiving complaints. The cardinal suggested that while such roles existed in many places, the could be made a standard practice and specifically assigned to a lay person.
This, he noted, offered the possibility of “institutionalizing lay involvement” at the first stage of the process of handling a complaint against a bishop. Cupich said that putting lay people in central role in the process was “an important message to send right from the beginning.”
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego called for changes to the proposed directives which would make other options for lay involvement mandatory.
Vos estis allows for the use of outside experts by a metropolitan archbishop to investigate and assess an allegation against a bishop. At the conclusion of the investigation, McElroy noted, the metropolitan can send the files of the investigation along with his own conclusions. McElroy then proposed that the directives for US bishops be amended to require that every metropolitan use a lay investigator and be required to send their full findings to Rome, together with the metropolitan’s own conclusion. This would, he said, ensure that Rome always received “at least one” lay person’s conclusions on the complaint.
Deeley explained to the conference that these and other suggestions for involving laity at the heart of any investigation were certainly viable, but that it was not within the scope of the conference’s power to limit the latitude given to metropolitans in the universal law.
Individual metropolitans were given considerable latitude to choose how best to incorporate independent experts in a given case, Deeley said, and the provisions of the pope’s law could not be “precluded” by the conference.
There were, he said “a number of possibilities” left open by Vos estis, and “it is not our wish to limit the possibilities a metropolitan has.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark presented the document entitled “Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments,” an earlier version of which had been discussed during the USCCB meeting in November, when it had been considered as a statement of standards of episcopal conduct.
The purpose of the document, Tobin said, was for the bishops to make a personal moral commitment to apply the standards of the Dallas Charter and the USCCB essential norms to themselves, as they already were bindingly applied to priests and deacons.
As he took questions from the floor, Tobin acknowledged that the commitment to apply the norms was “moral” rather than “legal.” Some parts of the Charter and Norms would be difficult for bishops to apply to themselves; for example, in issuing letters of suitability required for priests, a bishop could not meaningfully issue a letter attesting to his own suitability.
Tobin explained that legally binding norms on bishops were covered by Vos estis in a way “flexible enough to be written for the whole world” but that it was for the US bishops to “fashion it and implement it the best way we can for the national Church in the United States”
Drawing a distinction between the guidelines for implementing Vos estis and the acknowledgment of episcopal commitments, Tobin said that “what we tried to avoid was mixing genres between the moral and the aesthetical, and the legal.”
While the acknowledgement’s language could appear imprecise in places, Tobin said, it was intended to reflect the “moral responsibility” of bishops, with the legal obligations treated separately.
While the floor was open for questions and clarifications on the various documents, it was clear that a number of points remained unresolved in the minds of the bishops.
Many raised the distinction, or lack of distinction, in the various documents, between the sexual abuse of minors and forms of sexual misconduct among adults.
While there appeared to be broad acceptance that the two problems were separate, and that different allegations required different kinds of expertise to evaluate, there was no clear consensus on how best to reflect that in legally and morally binding language.
Deeley was also charged with presenting the draft protocols for placing restrictions on retired or removed bishops.
While paying tribute to the valuable service that emeritus bishops give to their local Churches, Deeley acknowledged that there was a need to clarify what measures a bishop could take to restrict his predecessor in the face of a departure necessitated by scandal.
Deeley stressed that the measures outlined in the protocols were a summary of existing provisions in canon law and did not attempt to create a new way for bishops to attempt to punish each other.
Competent authority in penal cases involving a bishop is only ever the Supreme Pontiff, Deeley said, urging reliance on the nunciature and direct intervention from Rome as needed.

The one novelty presented in the protocols, if approved, would be giving the USCCB president the power to suspend a bishop from participating in any conference meeting or work. Such a measure was widely called for last year, as more than one bishop observed during the November meeting that then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was, by rights, still technically an invited attendee notwithstanding the scandal and crisis he had caused.
Despite thoughtful discussion on the other two documents, Deeley received no questions from the floor on the protocols for placing non-penal restrictions on retired or removed bishops.

Nuncio recommends synodality, 'walking together' to US bishops

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 12:54

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 10:54 am (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2019 Spring General Assembly kicked off in Baltimore Tuesday with a brief address from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and a message from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, explaining the rationale for the Vatican’s cancelation of votes last November.

Pierre was unable to attend the meeting in Baltimore as he was in Rome with a meeting with his fellow Apostolic Nuncios, and his remarks were delivered June 11 by Msgr. Walter Erbi, chargé d'affaires of the Vatican nunciature in Washington.

Both Pierre and DiNardo spoke on the progress that has been made in tackling the sexual abuse crisis in the Church in America since last November’s general assembly, particularly the importance of careful discernment. In November, the Vatican intervened and canceled planned votes on various measures designed to increase accountability among bishops, much to the displeasure and confusion of nearly every bishop present.

“Through the mercy of Christ, we will make progress, and may our discernment lead us to God’s will,” said DiNardo.

According to Pierre, this delay was meant to ensure that careful prudence was taken in response to the crisis.

“I would say that among the reasons the Holy Father asked for a delay was his belief that the whole Church needed to walk together – to act in a synodal way, and that this ‘walking together’ of the whole Church, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would make the path forward clearer,” he said.

Since that time, the U.S. bishops have gone on a weeklong retreat, and the world’s bishops’ conference presidents met in Rome for the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. After that meeting Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which outlined new strategies to for the Church hold sexual abusers accountable for their actions.

“It seems to me that Pope Francis’ emphasis on synodality and walking together is a manifestation of the four principles articulated in Evangelii gaudium,” said Pierre, referring to Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world. These principles are: “time is greater than space,” “unity prevails over conflict,” “realities are more important than ideas,” and “the whole is greater than the part.”

It was this first principle, Pierre explained, that resulted in November’s delayed votes. Pierre wrote that Pope Francis believed that additional prayer and time were needed in order to address the abuse crisis as a worldwide Church.

“Technology and social media condition us to desire an immediate response to practically everything,” he said, particularly in the United States. “The idea that time is greater than space is a useful remedy. In an ecclesial context, faster responses do not always produce the best results.”

Pierre’s speech also emphasized the importance of Church unity and “walking together” to combat the abuse crisis, particularly at the meeting in Rome. The contributions of the episcopal heads from around the country proved valuable, he said.

Guided by the Holy Spirit and each other, “together, the whole Church was able to take steps – to walk together – to address the problem and concrete actions could begin – without one group running ahead of the others and another lagging too far behind,” he said.

This, plus the “concrete ideas” offered by Pope Francis at the summit and in his motu proprio, could only be accomplished with the additional time gained by delaying the vote, Pierre wrote.

“The Holy Father calls the whole Church to walk together in this moment of crisis,” he said, and there can be “no hesitation in responding vigorously as a matter of justice.”

“We must meet our people in their concrete situations, proposing the life-giving Word to them as a sure guide for understanding their experiences and for guiding their moral and spiritual lives,” added Pierre. If this is not done, the bishops run the risk of being disconnected and ineffective in dealing with their flock.

“In the process of walking together, we also have the opportunity to hear from different members of the group,” wrote Pierre, emphasizing the need to include the laity in these discussions.

“With Christ, together we can walk and face the realities of the Church today, and together discern the path forward.”