USCCB ‘ghosts from another era’

By FutureChurch, Nov 2019

As the camera spans the body that is called the U.S. Bishops on the first day of the General Assembly, I get the distinct feeling that I am seeing ghosts from another era. There is a noticeable lack of energy…lack of enthusiasm…and a sense that they are being drawn as if by tractor beam from one alternative reality to another.

So, I should not have been surprised when one bishop had to ask that a report on the current state of the McCarrick investigation be added an agenda item. I had to scratch my head. Wasn’t that already on the agenda?

And, I got a case of the involuntary giggles when Bishop Joseph Strickland of Texas asked the body to consider adding an agenda item on “guarding the deposit of faith.”

“I think there are a lot of issues circulating around; some are just rumors; some are big questions,” said Strickland. “But I think I’d like to see on our agenda a section dealing with guarding the deposit of faith.”

Guarding the deposit of faith? From whom? Pope Francis? The Pachamama? It’s not hard to figure out where he is getting his news, and it is clear he continues to be part of the self appointed guardians who are enthralled with their own tales of a pope gone off the tracks. So, it is not surprising when
Bishop Strickland, who believed the former nuncio’s accusations against Pope Francis were credible, wants to double down on a fix…more adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for everybody.

Like a Dr. Seuss scene…so strange that it is humorous…these ideas move to take up space on the agenda with a first and second motion and a big “aye.”

The Minority Voices Ring True: Teach the Pope’s Priorities

It is truly a sad sign of the times in the U.S. episcopate when the Apostolic Nuncio has to encourage the bishops to be in communion with Pope Francis.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre who has served as Apostolic Nuncio since the fun times with the former nuncio, Carlo Maria Vigano, did just that.

And when one notes that the outgoing president of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo made the outrageous claim that global warming is important, but not urgent, it is easy to see that Pierre continues to have a lot of work to do, and above all, helping get new bishops appointed.

Noting the challenges the Catholic Church faces in the United States, he wondered aloud if the pastoral priorities of the U.S. Bishops should be realigned respecting the magisterium of Pope Francis’s teaching.

As the ad Limina visits are upon us, it is good to reflect on the ways in which we exercise our communion with the Holy Father and with the wider Church. The Pope has emphasized certain themes: mercy, closeness to the people, discernment accompaniment, a spirit of hospitality toward migrants, and dialogue with those of other cultures and religions. Do you believe that these are gradually becoming part of the mindset of your clergy and people? It is an interesting question to ask, because while there has been a strong emphasis on mercy by the Holy Father, at times, paradoxically, people are becoming more and more judgmental and less willing to forgive, as witnessed by the polarization gripping this nation. 

After the nuncio addresses the breakdown of relationships between bishops and priests, and each other, he addresses their willingness to be in communion with the bishop of Rome.

Finally, in preparation for the ‘ad Limina’ visits, it may be useful to prayerfully reflect on the gift of communion with the Bishop of Rome. While we can reflect on this communion in a theological way, we ought to examine it practically, namely by measuring to what extent we as individuals and our local churches have received the Magisterium of Pope Francis. Certainly, many have grappled with ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, and the Convocation of Catholic Leaders was a successful venture; by now, ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ should be the framework for efforts at evangelization. Adopting its missionary impulse and being in a permanent state of mission might represent tangible signs of communion with the Holy Father, for it would show the reception and implementation of his teaching as the key for missionary evangelization. 

He takes them to task for their reticence to teach Amoris Laetitia and Laudato Si among U.S. Catholics, and especially younger Catholics.

The pastoral thrust of this Pontificate must reach the American people, especially as families continue to demand of dioceses and parishes the accompaniment envisioned by Amoris Laetitia.

Other parts of the Magisterium of Pope Francis have been well-received by young people but will require greater effort on our part if they are to reach the hearts of political and civic leaders; here I think about the Holy Father’s message about our common home and the environment, articulated in Laudato Si.

Our communion with the Holy Father can be expressed in the concrete actions that we take to make his Magisterium better known among our people. 

I am glad to see Pierre speak up about the current mindset of most U.S. bishops, but he could have been even more forceful and directive with this bunch.

The effects of the priest shortage are causing devastation and isolation among the workforce. All Catholic leaders are culpable. They continue to shrink the workforce and offer few real solutions (ordained women, a married and celibate priesthood of women and men, and priests who were forced out when they married but remain priests in every sense of the word). As such, they use thimbles to put out wild fires in the U.S. Church. While Pierre’s words seemed to fall on deaf ears in that room, Catholics need to know and leverage the guidance he offered as they take more and more responsibility for the Church in dioceses where these culture warriors live.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin wants a new kind of priest.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, head of the committee on clergy, consecrated life and vocations spoke to the assembly during a presentation but also during the press conferences about the proposed new formation process.

Noting that there are many young men who are “well intentioned”, he said they are often lacking in maturity, spiritual formation and academic training.

Tobin said the formation program had been updated to integrate the December 8, 2016 Congregation for the Clergy’s release of The Gift of the Priestly Vocation (Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis—3rd Edition), with its mandate that each conference of bishops update its Program of Priestly Formation.

In his remarks Tobin explained that the biggest difference in the document is the expectation that seminarians will have to meet certain benchmarks instead of simply marking advancement through the formation and academic timeline.

According to Tobin, “What is crucial in this and in other questions is the PPFs focus on benchmarks, the outcomes that must be achieved by the seminarian prior to advancing to the next stage in his formation rather than emphasis on chronological time.”

Formation will be reconfigured so that instead of the usual regiment of seminary formation and then graduate studies, seminarians will follow an introductory phase lasting one or two years with a mentoring stage that will last two years.

Four foundational areas of growth are advanced.

Human formation
Academic formation
Pastoral formation
Spiritual formation

Tobin explained that the document has been updated to integrate the December 8, 2016 Congregation for the Clergy’s release of The Gift of the Priestly Vocation (Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis—3rd Edition), with its mandate that each conference of bishops update its Program of Priestly Formation.

The PPF six concentrates on the individual development that is necessary for a seminarian to grow into his the his priestly identity in order to advance to the next stages of formation…

The new PPF is about 300 pages long. It addresses some important issues:
Clericalism;   Abuse of power;  Criminal behavior including the rape and abuse of children writing that any “seminarian found to have pathological sexual attraction to minors is to be dismissed from the seminary with no possibility for readmission to the same or another seminary;”  Pornography; and Racism
This document received a vote and passed with 226 voting yes, 4 voting no, and 3 abstaining. It must now receive approval from the Congregation for Clergy.

With Tobin at the helm, this is sure to be a step in the right direction. Still it remains to be seen if this new guidance will actually form seminarians in a Vatican II model of servant leadership and co-partnership with laity, especially women.

The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests sent suggestions to Tobin and the committee regarding the PPF Six last year. FutureChurch supported their effort. You can read their letter here.

Who’s in and how they will influence the direction of the conference

As expected, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles stepped up as president of the USCCB. He is the first Latino to take on that role. In a country where the crisis at the border is mounting, the choice of his leadership is an important marker.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit as vice president. But as Michael Sean Winters writes this contest really exposed the ongoing differences between the minority of voices who side with the Francis agenda and those in the majority who cling to culture warrior values.

The first tally had Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron in the lead with 77 votes. I [Winters] had thought Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley would come in second place and he was close with 40 votes but Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese narrowly outpaced him with 44 votes. With no candidate securing a majority, they proceeded to another ballot in which Vigneron and Broglio were again in the lead but short of a majority. Under the bylaws, the last ballot was a direct face-off between the top two vote getters, and Vigneron defeated Broglio by a vote of 151-90.

But Vigneron will not help the U.S. Bishops get closer to Francis. Winters writes:

After Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò launched his attack on Pope Francis in August 2018, Vigneron issued a statement that made no effort to defend the pope. His seminary is a hotbed of anti-Francis sentiment. But, the conservative bishops who backed Vigneron, however, did not think through the implications of their vote. He is already 71 and while he could run for the top spot in three years, he will be one year shy of the mandatory retirement age. An emeritus cannot serve as president of the conference, so bishops will think twice about electing him to the post.

Winters is hopeful.

In three years, Team Francis might have the votes to win conference elections and they might not be forced to deny a sitting vice president the traditional ascent to the top spot. Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services, USA was elected secretary.  Winters also recalls thta Broglio served as top aide to Cardnial Agnelo Sodano, former secretary of state who is implicated in shielding Marcial Maciel Degollado’s criminal activity as well as promoting McCarrick during his tenure, issues that will certainly follow him as the McCarrick report is released at year’s end.

Again, according to Winters:

The clearest ideological choice came in the vote for a new chair of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Bishop Steven Lopes, of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, the nationwide ordinariate for those parishes that were once Anglican but which came to Rome as the Episcopal Church drifted to the left, faced off with Memphis Bishop David Talley, who has led the conference’s anti-poverty Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The arch-conservative Lepanto Institute has long argued that CCHD was insufficiently Catholic. Talley won by only 123-114 votes, but it marked the first time a demonstrably pro-Francis bishop defeated a bishop more closely identified with traditional elements in the church.

Influencing the U.S. Catholics on the Vote
In 1976, the bishops started issuing guidance on voting.

In June 2018, there was a push by a minority of bishops to throw away the Forming Faithful Consciences Voter guide and replace it with something much more aligned with the teachings of Pope Francis.

That push came from Cardinal Blaise Cupich, Bishop John Stowe of Lexingon,
Bishop Michael Warfel of Great Falls-Billings, and Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego.

Prophets in the desert, they made valiant efforts to dismantle the culture warrior’s guide to all things Catholic and to help Catholics embrace with greater understanding the teachings of Pope Francis.

There was certainly movement toward a more wholistic Francis approach in the 2019 version, but the bishops effectively excised language that would implicate them in failing to embrace his approach while writing over the rest by clinging to their long held priorities.

In the debate, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago continued his 2018 push to amend the document to incorporate the entire paragraph from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exultate“.

The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.[84] We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego supported the Cupich amendment and also wanted to see the word “preeminent” removed since prioritizing abortion allows Catholics to ignore the pope’s call to consider other concerns as equally important.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput disagreed and the new president Gomez suggested the hard knuckle part of the paragraph (bolded above) was eliminated for brevity’s sake.

In the end, while the text was revised, Cupich’s amendment was not included in a 143 to 69 vote.

Here is the text of the cover letter.

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship Introductory Letter

As Catholics, we bring the richness of our faith to the public square. We draw from both faith and reason as we seek to affirm the dignity of the human person and the common good of all. With renewed hope, we, the Catholic Bishops of the United States, are re-issuing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, our teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics, which provides guidance for all who seek to exercise their rights and duties as citizens. Everyone living in this country is called to participate in public life and contribute to the common good.1

In Rejoice and Be Glad [Gaudete et exsultate], Pope Francis writes: Your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. . . . You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavor.2

The call to holiness, he writes, requires a “firm and passionate” defense of “the innocent unborn.” “Equally sacred,” he further states, are “the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”3

Our approach to contemporary issues is first and foremost rooted in our identity as followers of Christ and as brothers and sisters to all who are made in God’s image. For all Catholics, including those seeking public office, our participation in political parties or other groups to which we may belong should be influenced by our faith, not the other way around.

Our 2015 statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, sought to help Catholics form their consciences, apply a consistent moral framework to issues facing the nation and world, and shape their choices in elections in the light of Catholic Social Teaching.

In choosing to re-issue this statement, we recognize that the thrust of the document and the challenges it addresses remain relevant today. At the same time, some challenges have become even more pronounced.

Pope Francis has continued to draw attention to important issues such as migration, xenophobia, racism, abortion, global conflict, and care for creation.

In the United States and around the world, many challenges demand our attention. 1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1913-15. 2 Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, no. 25. 3 Ibid, no. 101.

The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself,4 because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.

At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.5

Our efforts to protect the unborn remain as important as ever, for just as the Supreme Court may allow greater latitude for state laws restricting abortion, state legislators have passed statutes not only keeping abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy but opening the door to infanticide.

Additionally, abortion contaminates many other important issues by being inserted into legislation regarding immigration, care for the poor, and health care reform.

At our border, many arriving families endure separation, inhumane treatment, and lack of due process, while those fleeing persecution and violence face heightened barriers to seeking refuge and asylum. Within our borders, Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and mixed-status and undocumented families face continued fear and anxiety as political solutions fail to materialize. Lawmakers’ inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform which acknowledges the family as the basic unit of society has contributed to the deterioration of conditions at the border.

As we seek solutions, we must ensure that we receive refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants in light of the teachings of Christ and the Church while assuring the security of our citizens.

The wound of racism continues to fester; the bishops of the United States drew attention to this important topic in the recent pastoral letter, Open Wide Our Hearts.

Religious freedom problems continue to intensify abroad and in the United States have moved beyond the federal to state and local levels.

As international conflicts proliferate, addressing poverty and building global peace remain pressing concerns, as does the need to assist persons and families in our own country who continue to struggle to make ends meet.

We must work to address gun violence, xenophobia, capital punishment, and other issues that affect human life and dignity.

It is also essential to affirm the nature of the human person as male and female, to protect the family based on marriage between a man and a woman, and to uphold the rights of children in that regard.

Finally, we must urgently find ways to care better for God’s creation, especially those most impacted by climate change—the poor—and protect our common home.

We must resist the throw-away culture and seek integral development for all. With these and other serious challenges facing both the nation and the Church, we are called to walk with those who suffer and to work toward justice and healing.

At all levels of society, we are aware of a great need for leadership that models love for righteousness (Wisdom 1:1) as well as the virtues of justice, prudence, courage and temperance. Our commitment as people of faith to imitate Christ’s love and compassion should challenge us to serve as models of civil dialogue, especially in a context where discourse is eroding at all levels of society. Where we live, work, and worship, we strive to understand before seeking to be understood, to treat with respect those with whom we disagree, to dismantle stereotypes, and to build productive conversation in place of vitriol.4 Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, no. 22 5 Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, no. 29

Catholics from every walk of life can bring their faith and our consistent moral framework to contribute to important work in our communities, nation, and world on an ongoing basis, not just during election season.

In this coming year and beyond, we urge leaders and all Catholics to respond in prayer and action to the call to faithful citizenship. In doing so, we live out the call to holiness and work with Christ as he builds his kingdom of love.

Merciful Father, Thank you for inviting each of us to join in your work of building the kingdom of love, justice, and peace. Draw us close to you in prayer as we discern your call in our families and communities. Send us forth to encounter all whom you love: those not yet born, those in poverty, those in need of welcome. Inspire us to respond to the call to faithful citizenship, during election season and beyond. Help us to imitate your charity and compassion and to serve as models of loving dialogue. Teach us to treat others with respect, even when we disagree, and seek to share your love and mercy. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen

I am grateful for the work of a few for the common good and look forward to a time when the wisdom of Francis and Bernardin will become the norm when considering the vote.

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