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2012 June - General Assembly

 

From Catholic News Service

Bishops Discuss Religious Liberty, Economy, 10-year Review of Charter

By Catholic News Service

ATLANTA (CNS) -- During the public sessions of their spring meeting in Atlanta, the U.S. bishops received a 10-year progress report on their abuse charter, voted to draft a message on work and the economy, and heard reports about religious liberty issues in the United States and abroad.

They also listened as an Iraqi bishop made an impassioned plea on behalf of Iraq's dwindling Christian population and called on the U.S. prelates to press the Obama administration to take steps to protect religious rights in the Middle Eastern country.

The meeting was June 13-15, with public sessions the first day and a half; the rest of the time was scheduled for executive session and not open to media coverage.

On the opening day, the bishops voted 171-26 to move ahead with a draft of a message on work and the economy as a way to raise the profile of growing poverty and the struggles that unemployed people are experiencing. It is expected to be ready in time for a final vote at the bishops' fall meeting in November.

Titled "Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy," the message would advance the bishops' priority of human life and dignity to demonstrate the new evangelization in action, explained Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

It would be a follow-up to a Sept. 15, 2011, letter by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, in which he urged bishops and priests across the country to preach about "the terrible toll the current economic turmoil is taking on families and communities."

Al J. Notzon III, chairman of the lay-led National Review Board, presented a report marking the 10th anniversary of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People." The charter was part of the U.S. bishops' response to the clergy abuse scandal that was a major concern when they met in Dallas in 2002.

While the Catholic Church has taken major steps in addressing allegations of clergy sexual abuse, it must continue to be vigilant in assuring that victims and their families will receive the attention and care they deserve, Notzon told the bishops.

Meeting that transparency remains a crucial component of building and maintaining credibility among the Catholic faithful as well as the general public, he said.

Despite the successes, Notzon said the church's credibility continues to suffer because many Catholics and the broader community not only believe clergy sexual abuse remains at a high level but also think that local bishops continue to cover up the problem by not reporting allegations of abuse to local authorities.

"This suggests a trust problem and must be met with scrupulous adherence to the charter," he said.

In a presentation on religious liberty issues, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore ,chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom, acknowledged the U.S. bishops' "fortnight for freedom" campaign has come under heavy criticism in the secular media, in the blogosphere and by some Catholics as being a partisan political effort.

But the two-week period is meant to be free of politics and will emphasize church teaching on religious freedom, he said.

"Already we realize that defending religious freedom is not a walk in the park," he said. "We've seen some reaction to our work that is sometimes hostile, sometimes unfair and inaccurate and sometimes derisive."

The upcoming fortnight, which takes place June 21-July 4, will be a period of prayer, education and action aimed at explaining how a federal health care contraceptive mandate violates religious principles. The mandate requires most religious employers to provide free health insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations.

At the end of the discussion on religious freedom in the United States, the bishops affirmed by a unanimous voice vote a recent statement of the USCCB Administrative Committee regarding the HHS mandate titled "United for Religious Freedom."

In his remarks to the assembly, Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad made an impassioned plea on behalf of Iraq's dwindling Christian population, and called upon the U.S. bishops to press the Obama administration to take steps to protect religious rights in the Middle Eastern country.

He said the country's Christians are being targeted by Muslim extremists bent on ridding the country of all religious minorities.

He said in the session presented by the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace that the difficulties Christians face emerged only after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"As leaders of the church in the United States," he told the bishops, "you bear a special responsibility toward the people and Christians of Iraq. In 2003 your government led the war that brought some terrible consequences. The U.S. government can and must do all it can to encourage tolerance and respect in Iraq, to help Iraq strengthen the rule of law and to provide assistance that helps create jobs for Iraqis, especially those on the margins."

In a report on the Year of Faith, set to begin in October, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., chairman of the Committee on Evangelization, said the 2012-13 church-wide observance stems from Pope Benedict XVI's call for a new evangelization. He said it will incorporate television, radio, social media and numerous online resources to better connect -- or reconnect -- Catholics with their faith.

In a presentation June 14, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Communications, said the new evangelization calls for using new forms of media to reach people in their everyday lives.

From electronic books to social media to traditional forms of print and broadcast, the church is rethinking how to carry its teachings and its stances on public policy issues to broader audiences, including Catholics, he said.

Serious questions revolve around how to effectively communicate the church's work while remaining true to authentic church teaching, Bishop Wester said.

The spring assembly opened with Mass celebrated by Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory at Sacred Heart of Jesus Basilica, who urged his fellow bishops to recall the life of St. Anthony of Padua to help them renew religious life. The saint -- whose feast day was June 13 -- demonstrated a deep devotion to Christ through his preaching.

"Certainly here our contemporary church ought to seek his assistance since we seem to have lost something of our confidence and vitality in proclaiming the Gospel," Archbishop Gregory said in a brief homily.

"Unfortunately, we may also have occasionally misplaced clerical integrity and the facility of announcing the good news of Jesus Christ with conviction. Religious life has suffered confusion and needs serious renewal. That, perhaps, St. Anthony can once again help us to rediscover," he said.


Bishops Told They Must Embrace New Media for the New Evangelization

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

ATLANTA (CNS) -- The new evangelization calls for using new forms of media to reach people in their everyday lives, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Communications.

From electronic books to social media to traditional forms of print and broadcast, the church is rethinking how to carry its teachings and its stances on public policy issues to broader audiences, including Catholics, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City told Catholic News Service.

"We've got to figure out a way to be where the people are getting their news," Bishop Wester said. "The advantage is the instantaneousness of it. Others are getting the news out there, and so if the church doesn't get her message out there, than other messages are going to be sitting there ... and then it's settled in people minds."

In a 20-minute presentation June 14 at the U.S. bishops' spring meeting in Atlanta, Bishop Wester discussed a series of steps his committee is undertaking to build stronger relationships with millions of parishioners in American pews.

He said there are serious questions revolving around how to effectively communicate the church's work while remaining true to authentic church teaching.

"We used to ask ourselves, 'What do we need to tell the people?' Now we have to ask ourselves, 'What do people want to hear from us?' he said.

The USCCB is developing a new business model that incorporates best practices for its communications work and takes into consideration the way people seek information today and how they might seek information in the future.

Communication has become a two-way street where people expect to interact with sources of information and the church must be able to offer people a chance to comment on the information they are receiving, he explained.

The USCCB will continue to depend on traditional print forms of communication such as diocesan newspapers, but also will utilize multimedia primarily through the Internet to reach new audiences and to draw non-practicing Catholics back to the church, he said.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, USCCB president, told the bishops that the effort will include the naming of a spokesperson for the conference who would be available around the clock to respond to media inquiries and to be pro-active in seeking to share church views and teaching.

That prospect drew broad support from the bishops.

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston told the assembly that the church and the Vatican do a poor job of "communicating around controversial topics." He said a spokesperson would be welcome and would help frame information in light of church teaching rather than having it distorted by voices in the media.

"More than a few of us have raised the possibility of having a spokesperson who could respond to situations that appear," said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta. "I think that's vital because we waste a second and a second could be vital."

He also cautioned that the eventual spokesperson must have the full trust of the bishops so that he or she will have the confidence to know he or she "will not be shot down," he said.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami urged that more emphasis be made on developing messages for the growing segment of Spanish-speaking Catholics.

Bishops also raised questions about the cost of a stronger communications effort, saying that the commitment to keep the effort going must be continuous and have the understanding such outreach is "well worth it."


Year of Faith Activities Aimed at Bringing Catholics Closer to Jesus

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

ATLANTA (CNS) -- The Year of Faith set to begin in October will give Catholics the chance to experience a "conversion" by turning back to Jesus and entering into a deeper relationship with him, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis said June 13.

Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., told the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the 2012-13 observance stems from Pope Benedict XVI's call for a new evangelization and will incorporate television, radio, social media and numerous online resources to better connect -- or reconnect -- Catholics with their faith.

Special emphasis will be placed on explaining church teaching through liturgy and prayer, catechetical aids, parish programs, homily guides and online applications and websites. Already weekly posts on Facebook promote the lives of saints and those declared blessed and venerable, while quizzes on the Catechism of the Catholic Church help connect online users with tenets of the faith, Bishop Ricken said.

The Year of Faith opens Oct. 11, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the catechism. It runs through Nov. 24, 2013, the feast of Christ the King.

Pope Benedict announced the Year of Faith in "Porta Fidei" ("The Door of Faith"), an apostolic letter released Oct. 17, 2011.

The observance envisioned by the pope under his call for a new evangelization does not propose new teachings but is "rather a 're-proposing' of the Gospel to those awaiting a first evangelization and those whose roots of Christianity are deep but have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization," Bishop Ricken said.

The bishops' conference has worked since October to develop numerous resources including apologetic material, brochures related to new evangelization and teaching aids for use by Catholics as well as the general public, he said.

Many of the resources are being developed for Spanish speakers as well, he said.

Bishop Ricken said a new online version of the Catechism of Catholic Church is now available on the USCCB website. He also announced that an online version of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults will be available soon on the site. The online versions have interactive features and are searchable by specific terms. Users also will be able to bookmark specific passages and will be able to view their selections on tablets and smartphones.

A prayer for the new evangelization as well as intercessions for the Year of Faith also are being developed, Bishop Ricken said.

In line with an initiative of the Vatican that European cities implement a "metropolitan mission" program for Lent 2013, a similar effort is being considered for the United States during the same period. Such missions would include catechesis by local bishops, the availability of the sacrament of reconciliation, devotions and popular piety, spiritual exercises and mission-style programs in local parishes, Bishop Ricken said.

Emphasis also will be placed on assisting families in observing the Year of Faith with prayer services and other catechetical resources, he added.

Bishop Ricken said annual events such as the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington in February and the observance of Respect Life Month in October 2013 also will focus on the Year of Faith.


'Fortnight' about Religious Freedom, Not Politics, Archbishop Says

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

ATLANTA (CNS) -- Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore June 13 acknowledged the U.S. bishops' "fortnight for freedom" campaign has come under heavy criticism in the secular media, in the blogosphere and by some Catholics as being a partisan political effort.

But the two-week period is meant to be free of politics and will emphasize church teaching on religious freedom, the chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom said in Atlanta.

"Already we realize that defending religious freedom is not a walk in the park," Archbishop Lori said during the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying that politics plays no role in the effort.

"We've seen some reaction to our work that is sometimes hostile, sometimes unfair and inaccurate and sometimes derisive," he said.

The upcoming fortnight will be a period of prayer, education and action aimed at explaining how a federal health care contraceptive mandate violates religious principles. The mandate requires most religious employers to provide free health insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations.

The fortnight opens with Mass June 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. It ends in Washington July 4 with Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the tolling of bells at churches across the country at noon Eastern time.

Cautioning that derogatory comments can be discouraging, Bishop Lori encouraged his fellow bishops to maintain their focus on religious rights as established in the U.S. Constitution and to avoid choosing to "soft-pedal" the church's basic message.

"Instead I would say these things should prompt us to do exactly the opposite. They show how very great is the need for our teaching and our prayers both within our culture and within our church. It shows how far we have fallen and how far we have to climb before we can rest assured religious freedom stands on firm footing," he said.

During a news conference following the afternoon session, Archbishop Lori said the bishops' religious liberty campaign was being funded by the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Malta, Our Sunday Visitor and "many other groups as well."

"They (Knights of Columbus) have been generous to a whole variety of causes including this one," he said.

"It is not just one group. It is not in any way partisan in its spirit or its funding. I will say once again that the generosity that we've experienced has been heartening," he added.

The archbishop also said the USCCB has begun considering alternative actions should the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the health care law and should the dozen lawsuits challenging the contraceptive mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services fail to have the mandate overturned for religious institutions.

While not offering specifics, Archbishop Lori said the bishops remain interested in meeting with officials from President Barack Obama's administration.

He also suggested that the bishops' conference may look toward a legislative remedy "even though that's pretty challenging at this particular time in our political history."

At the same afternoon session, the president of The Catholic University of America suggested that the decline in the religious practice across society seems to be playing a role in the growing indifference toward religious rights in the United States.

John Garvey said that if fewer people are practicing religion, as census data and sociological studies indicate, people are less likely to understand that a government action infringes on religious freedom.

"Our society won't care about religious freedom if it doesn't care about God," Garvey explained. "That's where reform is needed. We won't have, and we probably won't need, religious exemptions for nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers if no one is practicing religion.

Garvey suggested that "the best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people they should love God."

Garvey supported his claim by citing the findings of author Charles Murray in his book "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010." Murray found, according to Garvey, that among white working class Americans those who profess no faith or attend a worship service only once a year has increased from 38 percent to 59 percent in the last 50 years.

The university president also quoted Murray's findings that point to a decline in marriage in the same demographic group from 84 percent to 48 percent and a seven-fold increase in out of wedlock births from 6 percent to 44 percent during the same period.

Garvey also said infringements on religious liberty such as the HHS mandate as well as a series of other decisions by federal and local governments pose serious threats to religious practice.

As part of his presentation to the bishops, Archbishop Lori reviewed two documents explaining church teaching on religious freedom recently issued by the bishops.

One document, "United for Religious Freedom," which describes various threats to religious liberty in the United States, was adopted by the USCCB Administrative Committee in March.

The five-page statement explained that the bishops' concerns about the contraceptive mandate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the health care law as well as its "new definition of who we are as people of faith and what constitutes our ministry."

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan moved that the full body of bishops adopt the statement as its own. His motion was approve unanimously.

Archbishop Lori also discussed "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty," a statement on religious liberty issued by the ad hoc committee. He noted that the statement "recognizes that our religious freedom problems in the U.S. pale in comparison to those problems abroad."

Noting that at least 70 dioceses had planned events -- with more expected -- during the fortnight campaign, the archbishop thanked the bishops for their support.


Charter Progress Report Details Success Dioceses Have in Abuse Cases

by Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

ATLANTA (CNS) -- While the Catholic Church has taken major steps in addressing allegations of clergy sexual abuse, it must continue to be vigilant in assuring that victims and their families will receive the attention and care they deserve, said the chairman of the National Review Board.

In a report marking the 10th anniversary of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," Al J. Notzon III told the U.S. bishops June 13 at their spring meeting that transparency remains a crucial component of building and maintaining credibility among the Catholic faithful as well as the general public.

He credited the country's bishops for developing more pastoral responses, rather than being concerned primarily with legal issues when allegations are made.

"In the long run, the strictly legal response caused more pain, did more damage and cost more money," Notzon said. "The lesson learned by the church is clear: We must treat those making allegations of sexual abuse with compassion and care. It is not only the best solution, but the right thing to do and an integral part of the church's spiritual mission."

The charter was part of the U.S. bishops' response to the clergy abuse scandal that was a major concern when they met in Dallas 10 years ago.

Notzon also commended the bishops for reporting abuse allegations to law enforcement authorities for investigation, a requirement of the charter. He cautioned that the bishops must continue to do so.

"When one bishop fails to do so, the whole church suffers," he said.

Despite the successes, Notzon said the church's credibility continues to suffer because many Catholics and the broader community not only believe clergy sexual abuse remains at a high level but also think that local bishops continue to cover up the problem by not reporting allegations of abuse to local authorities.

"This suggests a trust problem and must be met with scrupulous adherence to the charter," he said. "The truth is the dioceses and eparchies are still receiving reports of sexual abuse of minors and most are being reported to civil authorities as required by law. Those few cases that are not reported quickly become news.

"The harm that could be done to children and a distant second, the negative publicity that results, should serve as a reminder to all to follow canon law, diocesan policy and state law."


Religious Liberty Concerns, Charter Report on Tap for Bishops' June 13-15 Meeting

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With a long-standing campaign to press its concerns about infringements on religious liberty by governments and the courts, the U.S. bishops will devote a significant portion of their spring meeting June 13-15 in Atlanta to the issue.

The bishops also will receive a 10-year progress report by the National Review Board on the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and hear recommendations from the review board stemming from the study "The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010."

Two hours will be devoted to the religious liberty discussion, which will encompass domestic and international concerns as the bishops continue to rally support for and raise awareness about infringements on religious rights in the United States and abroad.

At the forefront of the bishops' religious liberty efforts is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that would force Catholic institutions to provide health insurance coverage to employees for procedures the Catholic Church opposes, including abortion-inducing drugs, artificial contraceptives and sterilizations. The mandate was announced Aug. 1, 2011, as part of the rules HHS is issuing to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

Other concerns have surfaced that worry the bishops, including court rulings and policy decisions that have forced Catholic institutions out of adoption and foster care.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, told Catholic News Service he will update the status of the series of lawsuits filed May 21 across the country by Catholic institutions and organizations challenging the HHS mandate. He also planned to discuss the major activities around the country for the "fortnight for freedom" campaign in support of religious freedom called by the ad hoc committee for June 21 to July 4.

He said he also will review "ongoing efforts to educate Catholics and the general public on the church's teaching on religious liberty and religious heritage as Americans."

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, will address religious liberty concerns internationally during the two-hour discussion. Two other speakers will join Bishop Pates during the session to offer ways Americans can be in solidarity with the church abroad.

Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, who serves as president of Caritas Iraq, will describe the situation facing Christians in the Middle Eastern country.

Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, will provide an overview of challenges to religious freedom around the world.

"Our view is that the two (sides of religious liberty) are very much interrelated," Archbishop Lori said. "It's important for us to keep the torch of religious liberty burning brightly at home so we can be a beacon of hope for people everywhere, particularly for people who are suffering real persecution."

Representatives of the National Review Board will look at the progress made on preventing incidents of clergy sexual abuse since the adoption of the charter in Dallas in 2002 and offer recommendations on how to strengthen its implementation for the future, said Mary Jane Doerr, associate director of the bishops' Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.

The report will examine accomplishments under the four sections of the charter: healing, effective response, accountability and protecting the faith.

The National Review Board also will offer a series of recommendations to the bishops stemming from the "causes and context" study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York released in 2011. The study found "no single identifiable 'cause' of sexually abusive behavior toward minors" by clergy and encouraged steps to deny abusers "the opportunity to abuse."

The recommendations will encompass the main factors identified in the study: education, situational prevention, and oversight and accountability, Doerr told CNS.

"They want the recommendations to broaden the audience, not just to members of the church, but to the community at large. We're all responsible for protecting children," Doerr explained.

Carolyn Woo, the new president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, will address the bishops for the first time. She stepped into her position as head of the bishops' international aid and development agency in January.

The bishops will hear from Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, on activities planned for the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI, which will run from October 2012 to November 2013. His report will include an overview of the resources the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is developing for use in dioceses and parishes.

A discussion on a proposal for a special message on "Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy" also is planned.

Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., chairman of the bishops' Subcommittee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, will deliver a report on the subcommittee's work.

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, who chairs the bishops' Committee on Communications, will report on the work of the Task Force for Communications.

On internal matters, Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, USCCB secretary, will update the bishops on the development of the conference's 2013-2016 strategic plan. USCCB staff have spent months developing plans to carry out conference-wide priorities under the overarching theme of "New Evangelization: Faith-Worship-Witness."

The update is expected to identify strategies to tackle the priorities of faith formation and sacramental practice, life and dignity of the human person, religious liberty and strengthening marriage and family life.

Finally, the National Advisory Council, which includes bishops, men and women religious, diocesan priests, deacons and laypeople representing the 15 geographical regions of the bishops' conference, will give its regular report to the bishops.




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