Jul 15, 2003

USCCB June Meeting

Online Edition – Vol. IX, No. 5: July-August 2003

USCCB June Meeting ­ Special Report

As Sex-abuse Controversy Continues, Conference Plans Four New Documents

Bishops authorize vote in favor of revised ICEL Statutes

The following report summarizes the June 2003 meeting of the US bishops. Susan Benofy attended the meeting for Adoremus Bulletin. The report is complied from audio tapes she recorded and the documentation provided to reporters. The photo was taken by Sherry Tyree, of Women for Faith and Family, who also attended part of the meeting. Helen Hull Hitchcock also contributed to this report.


As the US bishops continue face challenges resulting from the ongoing clergy sex-abuse crisis, and media interest in this crisis remains unabated, their determination to conduct business as usual was evident at the plenary meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held in St. Louis June 19-21.

New statutes proposed for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and plans to produce four new documents were approved during the meeting.

The bishops also voted favorably on two Conference "Directories": one on the diaconate and the other on catechetics; heard several reports, including one from their Committee on Sexual Abuse; and devoted an entire day to prayer and reflection concerning a "Plenary Council" of the nation’s bishops proposed last year.

Four Committees Plan Documents

Four Committees, Laity, Women, Agriculture and World Missions, presented plans to produce documents. (The Laity and Women committees have the same secretariat at the USCCB offices.)

Early in the discussion Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans suggested the bishops should first decide whether this many proposals for new documents was appropriate:

I’m also aware of the extraordinary commitment of energy, time, personnel and finances to the development of any one document. I’ve just been very much involved in that effort. My concern is this: that we husband our resources to address the substantive issues we will be attempting to discuss in this meeting, and next year in June. We have four different proposed new documents being presented to us. And I’d to just like, if it’s appropriate, test the house.

Archbishop Hughes was a member of the committee that had worked on a "women’s pastoral" for ten years.

The bishops informally agreed that all four proposals would be heard before they voted to approve the plans.

Formation of Professional "Lay Ministers"

The first report was the Committee on the Laity’s proposal to develop a "foundational document" that would offer "theological, pastoral reflection and guidance for the formation and preparation of lay ecclesial ministers".

The Committee on the Laity is chaired by Bishop Dale Melczek (Gary), and its Subcommittee on Lay Ministry is chaired by Bishop Gerald Kicanas (Tucson). Bishop Melczek introduced the proposal, noting that the Subcommittee on Lay Ministry was begun nine years ago. In 1999 the subcommittee presented a preliminary report, "Lay Ecclesial Ministry: the State of the Question".

In response to that report, many bishops requested further clarification of terminology and definitions, and guidance for the preparation of "ecclesial lay ministers". Seminaries, graduate schools and diocesan programs expressed similar interests. According to the documentation for the meeting, a feasibility study of this document began when a representative of several theological schools requested that the bishops produce a document on preparation of lay ministers.

Bishop Melczek said that the document will concentrate mainly on full-time, salaried lay ministers. He estimated that there are thirty-five thousand lay people currently serving full time in such roles as pastoral coordinators, directors of religious education and youth ministers. Bishop Melczek summarized the purpose of this "foundational document",

which, while not particular law for our dioceses, would help to influence and form an understanding of the theologies of lay involvement in the Church, as well as formation guidelines for the formation of those who will serve, along with practical guidelines for things like commissioning, accreditation, salary and benefits, and many of the other issues that affect lay involvement in the Church.

As it is not intended as "particular law" for the US Church, the document would not be binding on the individual bishops, and would not need to receive a recognitio (approval) from the Holy See.

Conference president Bishop Wilton Gregory (Belleville) asked about funding this project, and Bishop Melczek replied that the project would be funded mostly from outside sources. (The Lilly Endowment, Inc. and the Bonafils Foundation were named as sources of funds in the documentation.)

Bishop William Weigand (Sacramento) observed that a document on lay ministry needed to be balanced with affirming the role of lay people in the marketplace.

Bishop Melczek replied that discussions of lay ministry "have always balanced that important theological responsibility of all the baptized with their involvement as ecclesial lay ministers. That will be part of our theological reflection".

Collaboration of Women and Clergy

Bishop Edward Cullen (Allentown), chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Women in Society and the Church (BCOW), presented a proposal for a document on collaboration of women and clergy.

He said that the new letter would be a follow-up to other statements on women’s issues: "Strengthening the Bonds of Peace" (1994), "Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium" (1995) and "From Words to Deeds" (1998).

The new statement will be based on a national consultation held in 2001 with women in diocesan leadership positions. Many of these women, Bishop Cullen reported, praised "From Words to Deeds" (FWTD), but recommended more instruction on how to achieve the desired collaboration. The committee’s response to the women-leader’s concerns is to produce a new document to provide practical resources that would implement FWTD.

(FWTD was the latest of a series of documents that followed years of controversy over a "women’s pastoral", resulting in the 1994 "pastoral reflection" on women issued by BCOW. The project had originated in the early 1980s in talks between a group of bishops and feminist advocates of women’s ordination.)

The proposed document would include a statement on the importance of collaboration, and elaborate FWTD’s recommendations. (Among the perennial recommendations is the use of so-called "inclusive" language in liturgical texts and all official communications, and promoting sensitivity to women among seminarians.)

The letter will list suggestions for the document’s use in workshops. BCOW members have agreed to test the collaboration program in their own dioceses. To guarantee that clergy would also have input, national organizations of clergy — as well as Conference Committees on the Diaconate and on Priestly Life and Ministry — will be consulted.

Bishop Allen Vigneron (Coadjutor, Oakland) began the discussion by referring the lingering women’s ordination problem:

I note that according to "From Words to Deeds" the first practical step that needs to happen in order to advance collaboration in ministry is to examine personal beliefs and behaviors that might hinder the capacity to collaborate. It’s my observation that not a few of our people have difficulty in accepting the Church’s teaching that women cannot be admitted to priestly ordination. And so I would judge that any hesitancy in accepting that infallible doctrine is a grave difficulty in moving on to collaboration.

And so I have a question. Can we anticipate that the document that we’ll eventually see will be developed on the basis of the conviction that acceptance of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is a sine qua non for fruitful collaboration between women and clergy? And depending on that, really, that would have an important impact on how I vote this morning.

Bishop Cullen replied that the document would restate the Conference’s position on women’s ordination in the introduction so that the document could not be seen as opening that question for discussion.

Both Cardinal Bernard Law (archbishop emeritus, Boston) and Bishop Raymondo Peña (Brownsville) suggested that the focus of the proposed document be broadened so that it would explore collaboration between clergy and laity – both men and women.

Bishop Cullen responded that the committee preferred to focus only on collaboration with women in its drafting of the document, though the suggestions given could easily be adapted to the wider context:

[W]e received from the National Advisory Council a request that we focus on the relationship in collaboration between clergy and women. And that also surfaced in the consultation two years ago in Chicago, where women leadership in the Church sought that specific, narrower area for collaboration.

Statements on Agriculture and World Missions

Bishop Ronald Gilmore (Dodge City), chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Agricultural Issues, proposed a statement applying Catholic social teaching to current problems in agriculture. The Committee was formed by Bishop Joseph Fiorenza (Galveston-Houston), then president of the Conference, and was asked to review USCCB policy on agricultural issues.

The Committee on World Missions, chaired by Bishop Gregory Aymond (Austin), has identified "a new and growing sense of mission" in the Church in the United States and wishes to deepen this by a short pastoral letter addressed especially to catechists, youth ministers and Catholic schools, encouraging mission education in all religious education programs.

After the presentations, a voice vote was taken separately on each of the four proposals. All were approved with little or no opposition. (The proposal from BCOW received the most negative votes.)

Report on Revised ICEL Statutes

The last item of business on Thursday morning was a set of revised statutes governing the International Commission on English in Liturgy (ICEL), the body in charge of translating official liturgical books into English. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, US representative to ICEL, presented the latest revision of the statutes to the conference. The ICEL board will meet later this summer. The bishops authorized Cardinal George to vote in favor of the new statutes at that meeting. If approved by the ICEL board, the statutes will be sent to the Holy See for the required approval (recognitio).

(See ICEL Statutes: Review and Update on page 1 of this issue.)

Day of Prayer and Reflection on Proposed "Plenary Council"

On Thursday Archbishop Daniel Buechlein (Indianapolis) explained the purpose and structure of the day of prayer and reflection to be held the next day.

Archbishop Buechlein heads an ad hoc committee to address ways of proceeding on a proposal (varium) to hold a Plenary Council that was submitted by several bishops last year. The proposal listed problems in the current situation of the Church in the US that may have contributed to the sex abuse scandal, and suggested a formal Plenary Council to find remedies for these problems.

After the USCCB November meeting last year, the ad hoc committee surveyed the bishops on a list of 11 concerns. Top issues were based on replies from 226 bishops. These were the basis of the reflections given during Friday’s closed session by Archbishop Justin Rigali (St. Louis) on "The Identity and Spiritual Life of Priests and Bishops"; Cardinal George on "The Role of the Laity and the Contemporary Cultural Milieu"; and by Bishop Donald Wuerl (Pittsburgh) on "Sacramental Practice and the Need for Cathechesis".

Archbishop Buechlein said that "At the end of the day [of prayer and reflection] the Committee will seek suggestions and directions from the body of bishops in order to plan for the extraordinary assembly of June 2004".

Directory on the Diaconate

Two major documents were discussed and brought to a vote on Saturday. The first was a new "National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States". The Committee on the Diaconate, chaired by Bishop Robert Morlino (Madison), began work on this Directory in 1997.

The new Directory builds on earlier guidelines for the formation and work of deacons approved in 1971 and revised in 1984. Among other sources, the Directory is based on a document from two Congregations of the Holy See, for Catholic Education and for the Clergy: "Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons — Directory for the Ministry and Life of Deacons".

At that time the Vatican Congregation for Education said that "the Episcopal Conferences which have restored the permanent diaconate are requested to submit their respective rationes institutionis diaconorum permanentium for examination and approval by the Holy See. The same will approve them, firstly, ad experimentum, and then for a specific number of years so as to guarantee periodic revisions" (quoted from the documentation for the June 2000 USCCB meeting.)

An earlier draft of this Directory was approved by the bishops at their June 2000 meeting. Following that procedure the Directory was sent to the Holy See. The version of the Directory considered at this meeting is a further revision taking account of comments made by Vatican Congregations.

The new document, approved by the US bishops, includes a discussion of the theology of the diaconate, a section on the life and ministry of deacons and norms for selection and formation of deacons. It will need formal recognitio by the Holy See.

National Directory for Catechesis Approved

After the Vatican Congregation for Clergy released a new "General Directory for Catechesis" in 1997, the development of a new "National Directory for Catechesis" was approved by bishops in 2000. The current document is the work of the Bishops’ Committee on Education and its Subcommittee on Catechesis. They were assisted by an episcopal Editorial Oversight Board and an Advisory Committee of catechetical professionals. During the drafting process there was a consultation on a proposed outline in 2001, and another on the first full draft in 2002.

The 355-page draft considered at this meeting offers theological principles and practical guidelines for catechesis of Catholics of all ages. It considers methodologies and organization of teaching materials, as well as content in such areas as morality and liturgy and the sacraments.

The bishops submitted 1459 amendments to the draft text. The Committee (chairman, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans) accepted almost 1200 of them.

The amended document was approved and will be sent to the Holy See for recognitio.

Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse

The June meeting ended with a report by Archbishop Harry Flynn (St. Paul and Minneapolis), Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, who summarized the efforts made this year to implement the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People".

According to Archbishop Flynn "since our meeting last year several hundred priests who had sexually offended a minor at any time during their priesthood have been removed from the ministry".

The Holy See promulgated norms for the US dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors, and the Conference worked with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to clarify the procedures to be followed.

"To assist us in these cases the Congregation conducted special training for over 200 canonists, who can now assist us as judges, promoters of justice, advocates, and notaries", Archbishop Flynn said, adding that there will be a workshop in August.

The Office of Child and Youth Protection is conducting an audit to determine compliance with the Charter, and the National Review Board is working on two studies on the scope and causes of the crisis. The Conference has been meeting with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men to work out details of how the norms apply to priests in religious orders. The bishops have also set up a group to determine the meaning of "a life of prayer and penance", which the Charter prescribes for abusers who are not removed from the priesthood because of age or infirmity.

Bishop Gregory: Final Words

Bishop Gregory, president of the USCCB, opened the final press-briefing with a statement from a prepared text that began with comments on Phoenix Bishop Thomas O’Brien, who resigned June 18, a day after his arrest for a fatal hit-and-run accident. Said Bishop Gregory:

Let me say first of all, that what happened in Phoenix over the last several days has greatly affected us all.

Jim Reed and his bereaved family are in our prayers as are all the faithful of the Diocese of Phoenix.

Bishop Tom O’Brien has been a member of this conference for over 20 years. We know him well for his quiet dedication throughout these years. We pray for him at this time of suffering in his life.

Bishop O’Brien had been the chairman of the Committee on Family that produced a controversial 1997 committee statement "Always Our Children", addressed to the parents of homosexuals. At the time of his resignation he was a member of the Committee on Pastoral Practices and the Committee on Vocations. Two weeks before the fatal accident, Bishop O’Brien had relinquished much of his authority under threat of criminal indictment involving sex-abuse cases. When Bishop O’Brien resigned, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe was made Apostolic Administrator of the Phoenix diocese.

Bishop Gregory introduced Kathleen McChesney, head of the Office for Child and Youth Protection, who was present, and mentioned the audit of diocesan records on sex abuse cases her office is conducting. He also mentioned the National Review Board, in particular former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, who had resigned as chairman of the board earlier in the week:

I want to say a word of thanks and appreciation to them and especially to Governor Frank Keating for being the board’s first chairman. As I said in my letter accepting his resignation, I saw in him, as a devout Catholic and as the governor who led his state through the terrible tragedy of the Oklahoma City bombing, the qualities that would make a good first chairman. As far as I am concerned he fulfilled this promise as chairman.

Bishop Gregory told the press he was in no hurry to appoint a new chairman of the board, which is currently functioning with an acting chairman.



The Editors