Dec 15, 2004

Bishops Send Mixed Signals at USCCB Meeting

Online Edition – December 2004 – January 2005

Vol. X No. 9

Bishops Send Mixed Signals at USCCB Meeting

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops "is likely to be a much different conference five or ten years from now", predicted out-going president, Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, in his final address to his brother bishops at their annual plenary meeting in Washington, DC, November 13-17.

Bishop Gregory presided over a conference divided and damaged by sex-abuse scandals, the resulting resignations of several bishops, the defrocking of priests, millions of dollars spent to settle lawsuits — including the bankruptcy of two dioceses (Tucson, Portland), and one more announced a week before the conference (Spokane, by vice-president Bishop William Skylstad).

Bishop Gregory’s prediction may be correct, but it is by no means clear from their actions at this meeting exactly how that difference is likely to be expressed. The elections of the USCCB officers and committee chairmen suggest a certain ambivalence: "business-as usual" in the vote for conference president, a potential change in perspective in the choice for vice-president, and possible problems in the conference’s relationship with the Holy See in the surprising choice of chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL).

New President and Vice-President

Conference elections were the first order of business. As usual, the bishops elected the vice-president to succeed Bishop Gregory — though the margin was closer than usual (52%), perhaps in part because of the impending bankruptcy filing announced a week earlier by Bishop Skylstad.

Of the nine remaining nominees on the ballot, Chicago Cardinal Francis George had the most votes, and he was elected vice-president, with Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl a close second (118-112). Bishop Wuerl headed the writing committee for the simplified National Adult Catechism that the bishops approved at this meeting and which now awaits Vatican approval. (The introduction states that so-called "horizontal inclusive language" was used for this text.)

If Cardinal George becomes president in 2007, he would be the highest ranking prelate to head the conference since Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler (1992-95) who was elevated to that rank in 1994, and would be only cardinal to be elected president of the conference since Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia (1971-74).

Cardinal George, chairman of the BCL since 2002, is the US bishops’ representative to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and is ICEL’s treasurer. He is also a member the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), and of Vox Clara, the committee established by the CDW to guide English-language liturgical translations. He serves on six other Vatican dicasteries, including the Synod of Bishops.

During his tenure on ICEL’s board, the "mixed commission" was completely restructured; new ICEL statutes were approved in October 2003, and in February 2004, ICEL’s first draft of an English translation of the new Roman Missal was circulated among bishops for comment. Meanwhile, Vox Clara produced a "ratio translationalis" (translation guidelines) for the English-speaking conferences, based on the 2001 instruction Liturgiam authenticam.

At the Vox Clara meeting November 9-11 in Rome, Cardinal George presented a report on the latest ICEL Missal translation, and Vox Clara members reviewed this work in the light of Liturgiam authenticam.

The bishops’ selection of Cardinal George’s successor as BCL chairman, however, calls this work into question.

New Liturgy Committee Chairman

Among the committee chairmen scheduled to be elected at this meeting was a chairman-elect for the Liturgy Committee, who would succeed Cardinal George when his term expired in 2005.

Two candidates for this office were proposed by the nominating committee: Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, and Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland. Both are current members of the BCL; Cardinal Rigali is also a member of the CDW and was one of the American bishops who aided the Holy See in repairing the Lectionary for Mass now in use.

(The revised Lectionary was approved by the US bishops in 1992, but required corrections — principally because of so-called "inclusive" language. It was finally approved by the Holy See in 2001. The US Lectionary, in use since 2002, is now undergoing review.)

Surprise move…

Just before the vote for chairman-elect of the BCL, Cardinal George announced that he would resign as chairman because of the demands of his new office as vice-president; and he proposed that the bishops select a chairman to begin a new three-year term immediately. (This was a departure from the practice of appointing an interim chairman to complete an unexpired term, then electing a permanent chairman at the next meeting of the conference.) The bishops accepted Cardinal George’s proposal.

In a very rare move, a nomination was proposed from the floor. Bishop John Kinney of St. Cloud rose to nominate Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, and read the names of five bishops who seconded the nomination: Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles; Bishop Donald Pelotte, Gallup; Bishop Victor Balke, Crookston; Bishop Alexander Salazar, ordained November 4 as auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles; and Bishop Stephen Blaire, Stockton.

More Conference Complexities

Bishop Blaire currently heads the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA), and at this meeting he introduced a plan to establish an ecumenical group for dialogue and action, Christian Churches Together (CCT), which received a favorable vote.

The bishops also chose a chairman-elect of the BCEIA, Bishop Richard Sklba, auxiliary of Milwaukee since 1979, who will become BCEIA chairman in 2005. This committee works closely with several other committees, including Liturgy and Doctrine.

Bishop Sklba was chairman of the Ad hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translation from 1992 (when it was established) to 2001; and he remains a member. This committee reviews all translations of the Bible submitted for the approval of the USCCB. Bishop Trautman was a member of this committee 1992-2001.

Bishop Sklba is also president of the board of trustees of the Catholic Biblical Association. The CBA objected to Liturgiam authenticam, the Holy See’s 2001 instruction on translation, and strongly promotes "inclusive language". In May 2002, the CBA produced an unofficial revision of the psalms, along with a rationale for "inclusive" translation.

No bishop has been a more vocal proponent of "inclusive language" than Bishop Trautman, who was chairman of the BCL from 1993-1996, a period of great controversy and extended debates over the proposed revisions by ICEL of the "Sacramentary" (Roman Missal), and the revised translation of the Lectionary. The Holy See rejected the ICEL "Sacramentary" in 1998. Bishop Trautman is on the editorial board of "We Believe!", a group of progressive liturgists organized in 1994 to oppose "roll backs" in liturgical reform.

Even as head of the Doctrine Committee (2000-2003), Bishop Trautman publicly criticized the Holy See for what he terms "interference" in liturgical matters.

Writing in America magazine (March 4, 2000), Bishop Trautman implied that the Holy See’s concerns about ICEL undermined the Second Vatican Council:

In his recent letter [to ICEL chairman], Cardinal Medina states that vernacular texts must be accurate and fully convey the content of the original Latin text. Cardinal Medina’s statement must, however, be placed in the context of the insistence of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI that these translations into living languages would become ‘the voice of the church’ at prayer. However, recent directives of the congregation aimed at ICEL’s work appear to require a word-for-word, syntax-for-syntax correspondence between the Latin and the English texts. The congregation has implied on several occasions that strictly literal translation is the primary goal, and that if the vernacular texts cannot always be immediately understood by those who hear them, explanations can be given afterwards in the homily or by catechesis. Does not such an approach run counter to the great hope of the Second Vatican Council and of Pope Paul VI?

Bishop Trautman’s America article elicited an unprecedented response from Cardinal Jorge Medina, then prefect of the CDW, to correct misstatements.

But Bishop Trautman has remained unswerving in his public criticism of the Vatican worship congregation and of any bishops or scholars who have supported translation principles enunciated in Liturgiam authenticam, the Holy See’s 2001 instruction on translation.

At the October 2003 meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC), which was keynoted by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the CDW, and addressed by Cardinal George, Bishop Trautman received the FDLC’s "Frederick McManus Award". In his acceptance speech, Bishop Trautman urged FDLC members to persist in their resistance to "Vatican interference" and said that liturgists must overcome the influence of the those he believes to be retrograde and not consistent with the "spirit" of post-conciliar reform.

When we encounter those who advocate a "reform of the reform", we must say, "Do not quench the Spirit". The Holy Spirit was present at Vatican II and gave us new liturgical direction.  When we encounter people who harken back to rigidity in rubrics, we must say. "Do not quench the Spirit".  When inculturation is denied and one liturgical form is forced on all, we must say, "Do not quench the Spirit".  When the Scripture translations in our Lectionary are flawed and not proclaimable, we must say, "Give us the richness of God’s Word: Do not quench the Spirit".  The Holy Spirit prompted the renewal and reform of the Liturgy.  Now, more than ever, we must say, "Do not quench the Spirit"…

When such Roman liturgical drafts call us to return to a liturgical mentality prior to Vatican II, we need to say to one another: Keep up your courage. When liturgical expertise is not respected, we must say to one another: Keep up your courage.  When fundamental principles of liturgical renewal are reversed, we must remind one another: Keep up your courage. When liturgical offices are closed and liturgical budgets are slashed, we must say to one another: Keep up your courage. When we see liturgical renewal still wanting in many parishes and when we feel the pain of the clerical sex abuse scandal and its impact on worshipping assemblies and presiders, let us give hope to one another. 

(The phrase "reform of the reform" has been used by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.)

Bishop Trautman concluded his address to the 2003 FDLC convention with a call to action:

I say to you who are in the liturgical ministry of the Church: Persevere; let no one quench the Spirit; give one another courage; keep the liturgical movement alive. Keep the liturgical movement alive.

The Erie bishop is recognized as a leader of opposition to the Holy See’s actions on liturgical matters, and as the strongest advocate of the old-guard "progressive" liturgical establishment that had reigned unopposed until the 1990s.

Voting Problems Add Confusion

Flawed technology added to the confusion surrounding the election of the BCL chairman. At this meeting a new electronic system of voting was introduced that would eliminate ballots and give instant results of a vote. Though the system had performed well during the preceding votes, the system malfunctioned when the vote for the BCL chairman was taken, so the bishops were instructed to vote by paper ballot. However, more ballots were cast than there were bishops eligible to vote, thus invalidating the first ballot. The electronic system was later restored, and a re-vote was taken. On the first ballot, of 237 votes cast, Cardinal Rigali received 90, Bishop Vigneron 32, and Bishop Trautman 115 (49%). Of the 239 votes cast on second ballot, Cardinal Rigali received 105; Bishop Vigneron 7, and Bishop Trautman 127.

Bishop Trautman was elected with 53% of the vote — almost the same majority as Cardinal George received in the vote for vice-president. Was the election of Bishop Trautman to head the BCL a vote of "no confidence" in Cardinal George’s work? That is hardly borne out by the cardinal’s successful bid for the vice-presidency. What this will mean for the future work of the BCL is hard to say.

What Lies ahead?

Whether the election of Bishop Trautman portends a dramatic turnaround in the key work of the translation, or how his leadership of the BCL (and his appointment of committee members) will affect the already-delayed English version of the new Roman Missal, it is impossible at this point to predict. Will his election be considered a "mandate" for his well-known views? Or will he recognize the delicacy of the situation and overcome his opposition to the recent official documents on the Liturgy?

After the election of Bishop Trautman, Cardinal George made a brief public statement. He thanked the BCL staff, and said that "the meetings of the committee itself have been the most pleasurable meetings of any I’ve had in any of the committees of the conference". He stressed that "the Liturgy is the source of our unity", and that we must "avoid its becoming a source of conflict or division among ourselves, or between ourselves and other groups, or between ourselves and the Holy See.

And of course that is because the Lord Himself brings us to constant conversion as we approach His infinite love in the Most Blessed Sacrament. That conviction, that the Eucharist must always remain, no matter what else happens, a source of our unity … would not have been possible for me as chairman without your co-operation. I thank you for it. And I am sure that you will give that same co-operation to my successor. God bless you.

Cardinal George is likely to remain in the positions he now holds at the CDW, ICEL and Vox Clara; and progress in achieving good English translations for liturgical and biblical texts will probably continue. Surely no one wants to see a return of the "liturgy wars" of the 1990s.

But the divisions within the conference are increasingly visible, as revealed in the conflicts over the Liturgy; even more starkly in the sex-abuse crisis; and this year, in the bishops’ divergent responses on Catholics and political responsibility. This situation cannot easily be resolved.

What will the the USCCB be like in five years? No one could have predicted five years ago the dramatic changes we have experienced. Indeed, the post-September 11 world, and the Church’s own "9-11" of the sex-abuse scandals presents a vastly altered landscape and challenges unimaginable five years ago.

This Year of the Eucharist calls all of us to renew our convictions about this "source and summit" of our life, and to deepen our commitment and our fidelity to the liberating truth of Christ’s Holy Church.



Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the <em>Adoremus Bulletin</em>, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited <em>The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God</em> (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including <em>Spiritual Journeys</em>, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.