Recapping a busy day for the bishops

Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, Mich., speaks on the floor of the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 11 in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, Mich., speaks on the floor of the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 11 in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Here’s a summary of today’s stories and liveblogs on today’s sessions of the U.S. bishops’ meeting:

Bishops to present concerns on abortion, other issues to politicians

Bishops approve blessing service for children in the womb

‘We are our brothers’ keepers,’ remind bishops in economic statement

Text: “Solidarity at a Time of Economic Crisis”

Three bishops honored for their restoration efforts following Katrina

Tuesday morning’s liveblog

Tuesday afternoon’s liveblog — Part 1

Text: Bishops guidelines to Cardinal George

Tuesday afternoon’s liveblog — Part 2

Look for further coverage of the meeting tomorrow both on our home page and on our blog.

Liveblog: U.S. bishops’ Tuesday afternoon session (Part 2)

(If you’ve opened this page mid-session, make sure you refresh your browser often to get the latest updates.)

Tuesday afternoon’s string was getting too long, so we’ve decided to start a new live string here, which begins after the bishops’ mid-afternoon coffee break.

6:45 p.m.: Final press conference is here.

6:23 p.m.: Results are announced that the bishops have approved both liturgical items discussed earlier this afternoon — the Mass translations and the Grail Psalter. Both now need approval by the Vatican before they can be implemented.

And as Cardinal George just said, this ends the public portion of this year’s fall general meeting.

6:17 p.m.: Some questions raised about the criteria and process for the CCHD funding and collection.

6:08 p.m.: He adds that auditors have found no connection between CCHD funding of local ACORN groups and the problems at the national ACORN office.

6:06 p.m.: He stresses that no funds are going to ACORN and that his subcommittee is formally ending any relationship to ACORN because of serious issues such as political partisanship and financial irregularities.

6:00 p.m.: Report now being given on relationship between Catholic Campaign for Human Development and ACORN by Bishop Morin.

5:45 p.m.: Each of the U.S. synod delegates — Cardinal George, Bishop Kicanas, Archbishop Wuerl, and Cardinal DiNardo — is giving a brief report on what the synod meant to them.

5:36 p.m.: Oral report, led by Cardinal George, now being given on last month’s world Synod of Bishops on Scripture. (You can read all about the synod here.)

5:33 p.m.: Goals and objectives done. Bishop Kicanas thanks the bishops for their input because this will lead to specific goals and objectives to be voted on one year from now.

5:23 p.m.: Bishop Kicanas, who is leading the discussion on goals and objectives, points out that they’re not listed in any order of importance. There had been some concern that cultural diversity was listed ahead of faith formation or vocations.

5:17 p.m.: Seems to be no objections to the goals and objectives, or maybe it’s just because it’s getting late in the day.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., signals that he would like to address the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 11. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., signals that he would like to address the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 11. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

5:13 p.m.: I know I missed the debate on the Grail Psalter, but there’ll be more on that later. Now they’re on the long-term goals and objectives.

5:02 p.m.: Committee chairman election results announced. The new chairmen-elect are:

National Collections: Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas.

Cultural Diversity: Coadjutor Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento.

Doctrine: Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

Pro-Life Activities: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

Communications: Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles.

4:59 p.m.: Paper ballots now being collected.

4:48 p.m.: More discussion of whether these prayers are too long and too hard to understand, even though they’re faithful to the original Latin. Bishop Galeone compares some of the prayers to music — a period is a full stop, a semicolon is a half stop. Should these prayers be poetic or faithful? But Bishop Serratelli, chairman of the liturgy committee, defends the translations, saying they are faithful but not slavish to the Latin. No translation will meet the personal preference of everyone who hears it, he says.

4:45 p.m.: Bishop Braxton warns that some priests and laity have already said they won’t use these translations, so efforts must be made to educate our people.

4:35 p.m.: Ineffable stays. So now they’re working toward a final vote. But this too will be a paper ballot, so results won’t be available right away.

4:29 p.m.: What about the word “ineffable”? Some bishops think people won’t know what it means, but others think liturgical words can rise above ordinary conversation and be worshipful and sacred.

4:21 p.m.: For instance, the dispute now is over how to properly translate a Mass prayer from the original Latin.

4:17 p.m.: This is going to get tedious for the ordinary Catholic, but liturgical issues always take time. And these are the prayers that were rejected at the last meeting.

4:11 p.m.: Here we go. First up, Mass translations.

4:10 p.m.: Cardinal George wanted to resume at 4, but they’re already running late.

Bishops’ guidelines to Cardinal George for post-election statement expressing church’s concern about abortion, other issues

Here is the preliminary text of the statement from the U.S. bishops offered this afternoon providing guidelines to Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president, in drafting a post-election statement expressing the church’s concerns about abortion and other issues:

“The bishops of the United States have agreed to address the opportunities and dangers for our country at this time. According to the bylaws of the conference, the body of bishops cannot write and approve a statement that is not submitted through the Administrative Committee. Consequently, the bishops have asked the president of the conference to write a letter which will be published with their approval. It remains a statement of the president and not of the conference.

“The points to be addressed in the statement include the following:

“1. Essential elements of the (cardinal’s) presidential address can inform the statement.

“2. The bishops desire to work with the administration, especially in the areas such as economic justice and opportunity: immigrattion reform; health care for the poor, especially for women and children; education; religious freedom; and working for peace. The church is intent on doing good.

“3. The church is also intent on opposing evil. The bishops are completely united and resolute in our teaching and defense of the unborn child from the moment of conception. The bishops therefore express our concern for those left unprotected by law in our present situation: children in their mother’s womb. In the last Congress, a law that would make abortion a ‘fundamental right’ and remove any restrictions now in law would consequently forbid the involvement of the parents of a minor child in a decision to abort, would permit partial-birth abortion, would apparently reject freedom of conscience for health care workers and place Catholic health care in jeopardy, would deregulate abortion clinics, and use tax money to pay for abortions. Such a law would reduce religious freedom and the church must work against its passage.

“4. The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the collapse of the economy, the loss of jobs and economic security for families, here and around the world. Even issues such as the Iraq War and universal health care, let alone abortion rights, were of secondary importance. If the election is interpreted as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. The common good would be even more grievously wounded and our society would be more deeply divided than it is now. The common good of our country is assured only when the life of every unborn child is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies and legislation will permanetly alienate tens of millions of Americans and would be interpreted by many Catholics as an attack on the church.

“5. We are grateful for the good will and good work of those Catholics in political life who work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us by correcting unjust laws, sometimes at the cost of great sacrifice to themselves and their families. We again express our desire that all Catholics in public life be fully committed to the common good. The church is a communion of persons united around Christ, and we pray that this communion may always be complete.”

Liveblog: U.S. bishops’ Tuesday afternoon session

(If you’ve opened this page mid-session, make sure you refresh your browser often to get the latest updates.)

We continue our grand experiment: liveblogging of the public sessions of the U.S. bishops’ fall general meeting in Baltimore. (Earlier sessions here, here, and here.)

4:11 p.m.: Go here for the rest of this afternoon’s liveblog, because this post was getting too long.

3:48 p.m.: To help you understand the discussion earlier in this post on politics and abortion, we now have, in a separate post, the preliminary text of the guidance statement for Cardinal George as he formulates that response.

3:42 p.m.: Just before coffee break, votes are announced on “action items” discussed in the morning. All were approved: priorities and plans, the budget for 2009 and both the English and the Spanish versions of the special blessing for children in the womb.

3:37 p.m.: Other bishops talking about the impact of recent hurricanes in Texas and Louisiana. These are heavily Catholic areas, where the parish hall serves as the community gathering place, but the media has moved on and no one knows about the ongoing suffering.

3:29 p.m.: Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston is giving an update on recovery from Hurricane Ike. Notes that once the media left, no one knows about the devastation. Says life in Galveston is still a catastrophe.

3:24 p.m.: Cardinal George sums up by noting the variety of audiences the statement could be aimed at — general public, Catholics, politicians — but that arguments can be based on natural law theory, not just religious principles that others can reject. He promises “I’ll do my best” with all the suggestions that have been made.

3:18 p.m.: More calls for a “prophetic” statement. Obama was elected by using the words “hope” and “change,” and the bishops must be equally prophetic.

3:15 p.m.: Bishops encouraging other bishops to not be afraid to stand up for life in whatever they do in their home dioceses, even if it means risking their own lives.

3:07 p.m.: Bishop Martino of Scranton alludes to Vice President-elect Biden when he comments that no Catholic politician should be able to come into his diocese — Biden was born in Scranton — and erroneously state Catholic teaching on abortion.

3:05 p.m.: Bishop Trautman says he trusts that Cardinal George will issue a good statement, but also suggests that it take a prophetic tone. Bishops now express joking concern that the cardinal will be up all night trying to take all their suggestions to heart.

2:53 p.m.: Bishops also concerned about the term “common good” since some Catholic groups tried to use that terminology to justify voting for pro-abortion politicians.

2:47 p.m.: Lots of bishops speaking up now. I take back what I said below at 2:29 — they were just getting warmed up.

Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., and Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., attend the Nov. 11 session of the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., and Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., attend the Nov. 11 session of the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

2:45 p.m.: Archbishop Hughes raises issue that President Obama may be able to reverse a number of executive orders on his first days in office, underlining the urgency of this question.

2:38 p.m.: More applause as bishops recall the link Cardinal George made in his presidential address yesterday tying the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision to the current battle for the rights of the unborn.

2:34 p.m.: Bishop Boyea draws applause when he raises the specter of Catholic hospitals being forced to shut down because of their refusal to comply with regulations requiring them to perform abortions.

2:29 p.m.: Bishops going point by point through a five-point proposal for the statement. Little discussion, because obviously everyone in the room agrees on the importance of the abortion issue in America today.

2:25 p.m.: Cardinal Egan asks that the statement be limited to “one important thing to say” and not let it get lost in trying to cover too much. Bishops agree by voice vote.

2:21 p.m.: Politicians and abortion discussion now beginning. Statement coming, but can’t be issued by the full body of bishops on such short notice, so the bishops are authorizing Cardinal George to issue a statement on their behalf.

2:19 p.m.: Just for the record, Cardinal George is reading the text of this morning’s statement on the economy.

2:15 p.m.: Here’s a link to the list of the five committees for which the bishops are electing chairmen.

2:12 p.m.: Back to elections for committee chairs, but they’re doing them by paper ballot, so we won’t get results right away.

1:57 p.m.: Getting ready for the afternoon session. Bishops have lots to cover.

“Solidarity at a Time of Economic Crisis”

The new statement on the economy approved by the bishops this morning and issued in the name of Cardinal Francis George, USCCB president, has not yet been posted on the USCCB Web site, but here is an unofficial version:

As the Catholic bishops of the United States gathered in Baltimore and as servants of Jesus our hope, we bring with us our concern for people in our dioceses, and we want to express our active support and solidarity with all those who are being hurt by the current economic crisis. As pastors and bishops, we see the many human and moral consequences of this crisis. Clearly, the impact is greater in some regions than others. However, across our nation families are losing their homes; retirement savings are threatened; workers are losing jobs and health care; and many people are losing a sense of hope and security.

This disturbing and complicated situation brings home a universal truth: we are all children of God. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We all are in this together. Hard times can isolate us or they can bring us together. The Catholic community will continue to reach out to those in need, stand with those who are hurt, and work for policies that bring greater compassion, accountability and justice to economic life.

Pope Benedict XVI has outlined our goals in his 2008 World Day of Peace message: “The family needs to have a home, employment and a just recognition of the domestic activity of parents, the possibility of schooling for children, and basic health care for all.” He also insists that society and public policy should be “committed to assisting the family in these areas.”

We offer our prayers for the families and individuals, our sisters and brothers, who are hurting, anxious or discouraged in these difficult times. We also pledge our prayers for our wounded nation and suffering world. We pray that, working together, we can find the courage, wisdom and ways to build an economy of prosperity and greater justice for all.

(UPDATE: Here’s the official version.)

Liveblog: U.S. bishops’ Tuesday morning session

(If you’ve opened this page mid-session, make sure you refresh your browser often to get the latest updates.)

We continue our grand experiment: liveblogging of the public sessions of the U.S. bishops’ fall general meeting in Baltimore. (Earlier sessions here and here.)

12:41 p.m.: Press briefing for journalists about to begin here.

12:34 p.m.: No time for Q&A, so the morning session is now over.

12:30 p.m.: Consumers want conversations, but they will be more accurate if you participate in them, so that’s why the church needs to be involved in these tools.

12:25 p.m.: Search engines also important. Google search of “Bible,” for instance, brings up USCCB’s New American Bible page as one of the top results.

12:22 p.m.: Facebook page for fans of Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., shown on the screen, drawing chuckles from the bishops. YouTube channel sponsored by Philadelphia Archdiocese also shown.

12:20 p.m.: Tons of information being presented here, compacted from the three-hour workshop on Saturday. Blogs, RSS, social networks, other new tools. Don’t know how many bishops are understanding this.

12:12 p.m.: Now the bishops are hearing about “user-generated media” and “consumer-generated media.” The latter can have a great impact on organizations and brands.

12:09 p.m.: Digital media can be a very powerful ally of the church, she notes.

12:02 p.m.: Amy Federman, from Burson-Marsteller, is giving the presentation, telling the bishops about the importance of participating in this new age of digital communications. In a show of hands, biggest group of bishops admit they are “absolute beginners.”

11:57 a.m.: Next up, a presentation on digital media and Web 2.0. A version of this was presented to the bishops’ Communications Committee in June, then there was a workshop for bishops on Saturday.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gives his homily during Mass Nov. 10 at the bishops' annual fall meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gives his homily during Mass Nov. 10 at the bishops' general meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

11:54 a.m.: On the economic crisis, a statement is being discussed that will be issued in the name of Cardinal George as president of the conference. By voice vote, the bishops assent to it being issued.

11:51 a.m.: Just to clarify, I think these were always going to be paper ballots, under conference rules.

11:48 a.m.: Bishops speaking on importance and symbolic value of such a blessing. And then there’s another paper ballot on this. Also voting on a separate Spanish version.

11:43 a.m.: Next up, debate and vote on blessing service for children in the womb.

11:41 a.m.: No questions here either, so another paper ballot, with results announced later.

11:39 a.m.: Now they’re talking about priorities and plans for the USCCB. Much of this is internal, but let’s see if questions are raised.

11:35 a.m.: No questions from the floor for Archbishop Schnurr, so now they’re voting on it by paper ballot. Results later.

11:30 a.m.: Moving on to debate and vote on USCCB budget for 2009, presented by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr.

11:27 a.m.: Still problems, so moving to written ballot for members of the board for Catholic Relief Services, which had to be on paper anyway.

11:25 a.m.: Trying again with vote for chairman-elect of national collections committee.

11:22 a.m.: Uh oh, there’s a problem with the electronic voting.

11:20 a.m.: New secretary-elect for USCCB is Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown.

11:15 a.m.: Meanwhile, check out this new story from CNS:

Three bishops honored for their restoration efforts following Katrina

11:12 a.m.: These elections used to be complicated paper ballots, but now they’re mostly electronic, with devices that look like TV remote controls.

11:10 a.m.: Executive session and coffee break over, so back to work. First stop: elections.

9:10 a.m.: As previously announced, the bishops are in closed, executive session until approximately 10:30, and then we’ll all face a busy day with elections, priorities and plans, liturgy, a discussion and/or statement on politicians and abortion, the current economic crisis, and possibly CCHD/ACORN. Stay tuned.

CNS Bible Blog: Jesus’ farewell discourse

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Father Scott M. Lewis, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

After the supper (described in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17), Jesus gives a long farewell discourse reminiscent of the sort of teachings that great philosophers and religious figures were expected to give to their followers prior to their departure from this world. It represents a sort of last will and testament.

Many of the verses are repeated several times and the discourse is rather circular. It probably is a compilation of many of the things that Jesus had said at various times in his ministry. Jesus tells them that in the Father’s house there are many dwelling places and he is going to prepare a place for them (14:2). But they are puzzled and can’t understand where he is going and how they can follow even though he insists that they know the way.

Scott M. Lewis SJ

Scott M. Lewis, SJ

Finally, he must spell it out for his rather slow-witted disciples: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).

How are we to interpret this? For so long it was thought that one must be a card-carrying Christian in good standing in order to be “saved” and be with God. And we must remember that John would have raised the bar even higher: one must be a member of his particular brand of Christianity. But we must not confuse what Jesus is saying about himself with institutional Christianity.

The “way” is the term given to the earliest Christian communities. It simply means the path — the spiritual path — that leads to God. We saw earlier that when Jesus is portrayed as the “truth” it has nothing to do with doctrine. Jesus simply knows and reveals God as God really is: love and light, in whom there is no darkness or violence. He is the “life” in that he imparts the life-giving spirit of God to all those who open their hearts and minds to him.

Jesus is the divine pattern for what it means to be authentically human and divine. Those wishing to reach God must conform to this pattern regardless of who they are or what label is attached to them. This pattern is love, humble service, and openness to the transcendent and holy. An astounding promise is made in verses 12-14: the believer will do the works that Jesus did and even greater ones!

A stained glass image of Christ (CNS photo from Crosiers)

A stained glass image of Christ (CNS photo from Crosiers)

If this is true, then it seems that we have missed something. Often we are too literal in our interpretation of the Gospel, others times not literal enough. This instance belongs to the latter. This spiritual empowerment — already indicated in the prologue (1:12-13) — is possible because Jesus shares all that he is and has with his disciples through the gift of the spirit.

But there is an important proviso: disciples must “abide” in Jesus. Abide (menein) appears 10 times in the image of the vine in chapter 15. This image of the vine is similar to that of the body of Christ in 1 Cor 12:12-27; Col 1:18; and Eph 1:22-23. The image indicates that we are totally dependent on Christ for our spiritual power and sustenance. Once cut off from him we wither and die, although we may not realize it immediately. We can even continue to go through the motions of religious practice. One abides in Christ by means of love. Verses 12, 15, 21, and 23 spell it out: If you love me (conditional) you will keep my commandments. It is then that Jesus and the Father will take up residence in the believer’s heart and soul. It describes a mystical union that is a way of life rather than an experience of a few key moments.

Love is the way in which God is known as well as an empowering principle. Love — abiding in Jesus — also transforms human relationships with God. The divine friendship to which Jesus invites his followers means that nothing is hidden and that there is an easy familiarity with the Lord. Being a servant of the Lord is great, but being the Lord’s friend is far better. Which are we?