Dec 15, 2013

US Bishops’ November 2013 Meeting — Special Report 

Online Edition:
December 2013 – January 2014
Vol. XIX, No. 9

US Bishops’ November 2013 Meeting — Special Report 

Elections, religious liberty, new liturgy books highlight actions

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

The election of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (Louisville) as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo (Galveston-Houston) as vice president were perhaps the most widely reported events during the USCCB’s annual fall General Assembly held November 11-14, at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott Hotel.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Kurtz completed their 3-year terms as president and vice-president at the end of the November USCCB meeting.

The bishops also elected the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education, Archbishop George Lucas (Omaha), and the chairmen-elect of five other committees.

Liturgy – New Chairman; Action Items

Unexpectedly, the election list included the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship (BCDW). Cardinal DiNardo, the chairman-elect of the BCDW, was expected to begin his term following this USCCB meeting, but he could not do so because of his election as vice-president of the conference.

Two candidates for chairman were proposed by the Committee on Priorities and Plans: Bishop Arthur Serratelli (Paterson) and Archbishop Alan Vigneron (Detroit). Both have been deeply involved in the authentic renewal of the liturgy for many years. Bishop Serratelli was chairman of the BCDW in 2007-2010, and is currently president of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

In a very close vote (114-112), Bishop Serratelli was elected, and began his 3-year term immediately. Other committee members and consultants will soon be named.

BCDW chairman Archbishop Gregory Aymond (New Orleans) introduced three main liturgy items for discussion and vote: a Spanish-language Misal Romano as used in Mexico (with adaptations for use in the United States), and draft English translations of both the Order of Celebrating Marriage (with proposed US adaptations) and the Order of Confirmation.

The marriage ritual was revised by the Holy See in 1991, but this “second typical edition” had never been successfully translated into English in the 22 intervening years. Although a “Task Group” of the BCDW had been assigned to study the matter as early as 1994, and met for several subsequent years, no draft English translation was presented to the bishops for vote.

This is an interesting example of the long dispute over liturgical translation that eventually led to Liturgiam authenticam, the 2001 instruction on authentic translation of liturgical texts, as well as the complete re-organization of ICEL, the commission that has produced English-language liturgical translations since the Second Vatican Council.

The 1991 Order of Celebrating Marriage includes prayers and rites not previously included in the first typical edition. Adaptations in the new translation retained the option of alternative forms of vows (including traditional wording: “… For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”), and added the option to move the Nuptial Blessing from after the Our Father into the rite itself, the option of using a litany of the saints (which would be at the beginning of the marriage ritual, just after the homily), and the optional use of the Hispanic practices of giving coins and the Blessing and Placing of the Lazo/Veil over the couple during the nuptial blessing.

The new translation was overwhelmingly approved by the US bishops, and requires recognitio from the Vatican.

Cardinal Dolan on Persecution of Christians and Religious Liberty

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York devoted his final presidential address to the serious problem of persecution of Christians throughout the world and religious liberty at home. He stressed that “our legitimate and ongoing struggles to protect our ‘first and most cherished freedom’ in the United States pale in comparison to the Via Crucis currently being walked by so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, who are experiencing lethal persecution on a scale that defies belief. If our common membership in the mystical body of Christ is to mean anything, then their suffering must be ours as well.”

After detailing the growing severity of this problem and giving several actions that can be taken to advocate for these suffering Christians, he concluded:

In general, my brothers, we can make supporting the suffering Church a priority — not one good cause among others, but a defining element of our pastoral priorities. As historians of this conference know, speaking up for suffering faithful abroad has been a hallmark of our soon-to-be-century of public advocacy of the gospel by the conference of bishops in this beloved country we are honored to call our earthly home.

Protecting religious freedom will be a central social and political concern of our time, and we American bishops already have made very important contributions to carrying it forward. Now we are being beckoned — by history, by Pope Francis, by the force of our own logic and the ecclesiology of communion — to extend those efforts to the dramatic front lines of this battle, where Christians are paying for their fidelity with their lives. As the Council reminded us, we are bishops not only for our dioceses, not only for our nation, but for the Church universal.

May all the blessed martyrs, ancient and new, pray for us, as we try to be confessors of the faith.

Praise be Jesus Christ!

Bishops Extend “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty”

The bishops voted to extend indefinitely the Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. In December 2012, the US bishops announced a call to prayer and penance whose “overall focus is to invite Catholics to pray for rebuilding a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.”

Components of this call for prayer include monthly Eucharistic holy hours in cathedrals and parishes, daily family rosary, special Prayers of the Faithful at all Masses, and fasting and abstinence on Fridays.

Originally scheduled to end with the conclusion of the Year of Faith, at their November 2013 meeting the bishops voted to extend it indefinitely. The USCCB website ( provides more information and an invitation for individuals to make a pledge to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays, and to receive a weekly reminder via e-mail.

Other agenda items in the public sessions of the November meeting included:

An update by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage

A presentation of a proposal to develop a formal statement on pornography

A presentation by Bishop Gerald R. Kicanas of Tucson, chairman of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and Carolyn Woo, CRS president, on the work and strategic priorities of CRS

Susan Benofy and Helen Hitchcock attended all sessions open to the media on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. The bishops also held regional meetings on those days, and met in executive session (not open to the press) on November 13 and 14.

(more information at

Special Message on the HHS Mandate

At the conclusion of their General Assembly November 13, the bishops issued a “Special Message” stating their concern about religious freedom “especially as threatened by the HHS [Health and Human Services] mandate,” which requires religious institutions to provide insurance for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety” the bishops’ message says. “That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service and our clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, especially those involved in Church apostolates, strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so.

“Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.

“Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care. As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom.”

 The USCCB website explains that  “regulations regarding statements and publications define a Special Message as a statement, only issued at general meetings, that the general membership considers appropriate in view of the circumstances at the time.”

The message was passed unanimously.

The complete text is accessible on the USCCB website:




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.