Jun 12, 2014

UPDATED: At spring assembly, bishops focus on families, religious liberty



(CNS photos/Bob Roller)

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops, gathered in New Orleans for their spring general assembly June 11-13, were urged to promote and support Catholic families.

At the close of the morning's session June 11, the bishops were advised to pay close attention to the Vatican's extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family Oct. 5-19 and to promote the World Meeting of Families September 2015 in Philadelphia.

The bishops, by their applause, also showed support for a letter to be sent to Pope Francis, inviting him to the Philadelphia meeting.

Read by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the letter said that the pope's presence would "add significance" to the gathering and "deepen the bonds of affection" many Catholics feel for the Holy Father.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, described the Philadelphia gathering as a key factor in promoting family life, which he said is currently in crisis.

"The family today is living out a paradox," he told the bishops. "On the one hand, great value is given to the bonds of family, everywhere in the world," but today's families are weakened and often "lose their way."

The archbishop said he hoped the Philadelphia gathering would provide a "new spring" for families.

"Please believe and preach to your flocks" the importance of families, he added.

Archbishop Kurtz spoke about the upcoming synod on the family, noting that it will take its cue from responses given by responses from surveys of Catholic families worldwide. He said the responses were to remain confidential, but that he could reveal the trends the answers revealed.

They indicate that Catholics were eager to respond to questions about family life, he said, and many expressed a desire to hear a more clear explanation of church teaching about marriage and families.

He also said many parents indicated that they are "at a loss" for how to transmit the faith to their children and that they also face challenges from today's economy, busy schedules and a culture they have described as being "hostile" to their faith.

The synod will bring together presidents of bishops' conferences, the heads of Eastern Catholic churches and the heads of Vatican offices to discuss "pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization."

Another family issue addressed in the morning session highlighted the bishops' efforts in support of traditional marriage. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, chairman of the USCCB's Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, noted that the redefinition of marriage is occurring at the state level and the federal level.

The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage. Catholic teaching upholds the sanctity of traditional marriage as between one man and one woman. It also teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin.

He urged the bishops to move forward in their support of marriage, recalling the words of Pope Francis: "Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment."

He encouraged them to continue to "move forward in confidence with prayer and solidarity with all people, knowing that strengthening marriage and family is vitally important and necessary for the good of all."

The bishops also approved action items relating to the permanent diaconate, the bishops’ religious liberty efforts and their quadrennial statement on Catholic political responsibility.

The bishops voted to permit the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations to seek a renewed recognitio, or approval, from the Vatican for the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. Vatican approval to the text would be for another five-year term.
The bishops also approved a second three-year term for the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty and the proposal of a working group for the limited revision of their 2007 document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" with a new introductory note.
All three action items passed in unanimous voice votes.
Prior to the vote about extending the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom for three years, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, the committee chair, compared the body's work to the "humble beginnings of the pro-life movement." He noted that the March for Life, which began a year after the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, was initially a small gathering and now is the "largest pro-life march in the world."

Organizers of these initial efforts, he said, didn't expect changes overnight, but are now seeing shifts in opinion on abortion, especially as polls show how "young people are more pro-life than their parents." That effort, he said, has taken a lot of hard work in building bridges, policy work and teaching with pastoral sensitivity about the value of life.

"We find ourselves in a comparable situation with religious freedom," he said. Although the ad hoc committee was formed in 2011, the "need for its sustained work is at least as great as when it started," Archbishop Lori told the bishops.

He noted it has gotten "off to a good start, but there is more work to be done."

In a question-and-answer period, bishops voiced their support for the ad hoc committee. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle said that to stop it would "send a bad message to our own" and to those who oppose its work.

Others said the ad hoc committee's efforts, particularly through materials it provides to dioceses, have been helpful. One bishop pointed out how lay Catholics have gotten behind the issue of religious liberty and hoped the momentum would continue.

For the U.S. church, chief among threats to religious liberty is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that most employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs.

Another item the bishops passed was the vote for a limited revision of their quadrennial statement offering Catholics guidance for election decisions and drafting a new introductory note for it. The most recent iteration, in 2007, is called "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States." The revision and draft will be presented to the U.S. bishops at their annual fall assembly in November.

The introduction to the current statement on political responsibility reminds Catholics that some issues "involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified," while others "require action to pursue justice and promote the common good."

Since 1976, the Catholic bishops have issued a quadrennial statement linking church teachings to political responsibility. In October 2011, the bishops issued a new introduction to the document.

A note in the 2011 introduction clarifies that the document "does not offer a voters' guide, scorecard of issues or direction on how to vote." Instead, it "applies Catholic moral principles to a range of important issues and warns against misguided appeals to 'conscience' to ignore fundamental moral claims, to reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters, or to justify choices simply to advance partisan, ideological or personal interests."

Nine bishops' committees: pro-life, migration, education, communications, doctrine, domestic justice, international justice and peace, cultural diversity, and laity, marriage, family life and youth are weighing in on the document signed by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairmen of these committees.

In asking bishops to consider revising the document, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the USCCB's vice president, noted that to do nothing to the document would leave out the magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and to start from scratch on a new version of the document would fail to acknowledge the work that went into the 2007 version.

The cardinal proposed a limited revision of the 2007 document, which the bishops unanimously approved. He also recommended the drafting of a new introductory note that would be submitted to the general assembly for possible approval. The bishops unanimously approved of that decision as well.