Tuesday, November 17, 2009

USCCB Fall Meeting – Day 1 Report

Yesterday was the first public day of the USCCB’s Fall meeting in Baltimore. Leon Suprenant with the School of Faith in Kansas is there and sending us occasional reports. I apologize for not having this one up yesterday:

The opening afternoon of the meeting was not particularly eventful, as the "action items" won't be decided upon till later in the week. Such items include:

(a) The approval of five items that will conclude the work of the U.S. bishops in translating the new Missal into English. If passed, official recognition is needed from Rome before the new translation will be published for use throughout the United States.

(b) The approval of a new pastoral letter on marriage, called "Love and Life in the Divine Plan."

(c) The approval of a new document on reproductive technologies, entitled "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology."

(d) Revision of the section of Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services that relates to the provision of nutrition and hydration to patients in a "persistent vegetative state."

One thing the bishops did do today was to adopt as a body the statement of Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, regarding the moral dimensions of the healthcare debate, especially the firm position of Catholic leaders that no federal funds be used to pay for elective abortions.

Several of the bishops with whom I spoke are looking forward to the approval of the English translation of the Roman Missal as the end of a long, difficult process. Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon told me he thought this would help bring about a revival of liturgical sensibilities that would touch all the faithful. This thought was shared by Bishop Kevin Rhoades, the new Bishop-designate of South Bend-Fort Wayne, Indiana, who stressed the importance of catechetical preparation for the changes, especially among priests. He too sees the importance of taking advantage of the new translation to deepen the liturgical life of the local Churches. And as Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Illinois, adds, this new translation, which is more faithful to the original Latin is, at the end of the day, doing what the Holy Father wants.

There were several touching addresses during the afternoon, including an address by Fr. David O'Connell, outgoing president of Catholic University of America, and one by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio. The latter stressed three key qualities of bishops as servants of the Gospel: fidelity, prudence, and goodness.

But for turn of phrase, I need to turn to the opening address by Cardinal George. I couldn't help but think of Notre Dame as he said:

"We have recently begun discussions on how we might strengthen our [the bishops'] relationship to Catholic universities, to media claiming the right to be a voice in the Church, and to organizations that direct various works under Catholic auspices. Since everything and everyone in Catholic communion is truly inter-related, and the visible nexus of these relations is the bishop, an insistence on complete independence from the bishop renders a person or institution sectarian, less than fully Catholic. The purpose of our reflections, therefore, is to clarify questions of truth or faith and of accountability or communion among all those who claim to be part of Catholic communion."

Leon mentioned a couple of things in a note to me earlier yesterday that I thought I’d share as well:

One thing that's a little different this year is that EWTN is not providing live coverage, though Raymond Arroyo is here and will do "The World Over" broadcast on site. Instead, coverage is provided by Telecare, the television station of the Diocese of Rockville Center, NY. The bishops I spoke with were surprised with this development. Certain obvious inferences may be drawn from this change, but I'm trying to get a more definitive explanation.

For those who want to follow this year's meeting online, there will be streaming video at http://www.telecaretv.org/. In addition, the U.S. bishops' site will be posting election results, approved documents and statements, etc.

This morning I attended Mass with 200 bishops and maybe two or three dozen non-bishops, with most of them being priests or religious. Among the various bishops I was privileged to greet before and after, the most moving for me was my encounter with recently retired Bishop D'Arcy. I like to think that I spoke for many in thanking him for his faithful service to the Church, and especially for his courageous stand this past year regarding President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame, where he also received an honorary degree in law. Bishop D'Arcy was very gracious and appreciative.

This past Saturday, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg was named Bishop D'Arcy's successor as "Bishop of Notre Dame". Bishop Rhoades has distinguished himself in Harrisburg, so much good can be expected from this appointment.