BALTIMORE (CNS) -- As the U.S. bishops concluded the public portion oftheir Nov. 13-16 fall general meeting in Baltimore Nov. 14, theyapproved several new statements and a restructuring and downsizing oftheir national conference.
On Nov. 13, the first day of their meeting, theyallocated money for a further study of the context and causes of clergysexual abuse.
Among the texts they approved were:
-- A new statement outlining the preparation needed to receiveCommunion worthily which says that serious sin is a bar to receivingthe Eucharist.
-- A document calling married couples to understand and live church teaching on artificial contraception.
-- A statement on Iraq issued in the name of Bishop William S.Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference ofCatholic Bishops.
The USCCB also approved a series of guidelines for thepastoral care of persons with a homosexual inclination, gave their OKto creating a "Directory for Music and the Liturgy" for use in U.S.dioceses, and authorized a revision of the Lectionary for Mass forselected days in Advent by a 205-13 vote with two abstentions.
The Communion statement, "'Happy Are Those Who Are called toHis Supper': On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,"was approved 201-24 with two abstentions. The document calls on thosein a state of serious sin to refrain from receiving Communion. Thebishops emphasized they were addressing all Catholics, and not justpoliticians or any other group.
An effort to amend the document to specifically namepoliticians as among those who need to examine their consciences beforereceiving the Eucharist failed on a voice vote.
The document says that a Catholic who "knowingly andobstinately" rejects "the defined doctrines of the church" orrepudiates "her definitive teaching on moral issues" would not be incommunion with the church and therefore should not receive Communion.
The contraception document, "Married Love and the Gift ofLife," passed 220-11 with one abstention. It strongly supports naturalfamily planning, saying it "enables couples to cooperate with the bodyas God designed it," adding that contraception introduces "a falsenote" that disturbs marital intimacy and contributes to a decline insociety's respect for marriage and for life.
The Iraq statement, which passed Nov. 13 on a unanimous voicevote, said: "We hope our nation has moved beyond the divisive rhetoricof the recent campaign and the shrill and shallow debate that distortsreality and reduces the options to 'cut and run' versus 'stay thecourse.'" The four-page document was prepared by the USCCB Committee onInternational Policy in collaboration with the U.S. Archdiocese for theMilitary Services and the USCCB Administrative Committee.
"The (Bush) administration and the new Congress need to engagein a collaborative dialogue that honestly assesses the situation inIraq, acknowledges past difficulties and miscalculations, recognizesand builds on positive advances (e.g., broad participation inelections), and reaches agreement on concrete steps to address theserious challenges that lie ahead," it said.
The statement on pastoral care of homosexually inclinedpersons reiterates church teaching that all homosexual acts are morallywrong but affirms the dignity of those with homosexual inclinations andsays that experiencing such an inclination is not in itself sinful.
The bishops approved the statement 194-37 with one abstention,after turning back a motion to send it back to their Committee onDoctrine, which drafted the document, for more consultation andrevision. The draft document the bishops received before the meetingwas amended heavily before it came to a final vote.
The hymn directory, approved 195-21 with five abstentions, isintended to ensure that hymns used at Mass are doctrinally correct andbased on Scripture and liturgical texts. The document also includesnorms saying that each diocesan bishop is responsible for approvingliturgical songs in his diocese. The directory and norms now go to theVatican for its assent.
The bishops voted 213-19 for a four-year strategic plan for2008-2011 despite strenuous objections by some bishops over some of theplanned staff cuts. More than 60 jobs will be eliminated in therestructuring.
Heads of dioceses then, in a 158-6 vote, adopted a proposal tocut diocesan funding of the USCCB in 2008 by 16 percent. Diocesanassessments -- which will cover nearly $11.9 million of the USCCB's$139.5 million budget in 2007 approved by the bishops -- will shrink in2008 to just under $10 million. Only bishops who head dioceses wereallowed to vote on questions directly affecting the finances of theirdioceses.
On the clergy sexual abuse study, Patricia O'Donnell Ewers,chairwoman of the National Review Board overseeing the bishops'compliance with their child protection charter, told the bishops Nov.13, "I can't emphasize enough how important this study is for societyas a whole" as well as for the church.
The first study, conducted by the John Jay College of CriminalJustice in New York, was considered a landmark in its field, and thenew study is expected to be similarly groundbreaking.
The board commissioned the college to do the follow-up oncauses and context, expected to cost around $3 million, in November2005, after the bishops the previous June committed $1 million fromtheir reserve funds to help pay for the study. The $335,000 expenditurethey approved by unanimous voice vote Nov. 13 comes out of that $1million commitment. The college expects to obtain outside funding forthe more expensive last three phases of the new study.
They also approved their priorities and plans for 2007 Nov. 14by a 210-20 vote with three abstentions. They also created anongeographic episcopal region for Eastern-rite bishops, and extendedthrough 2011 a resolution on diocesan financial reporting first adoptedin 2000.
In other actions, the U.S. bishops:
-- Elected Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., as theirnew secretary, 118-116, over Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein ofIndianapolis. The bishops also chose 10 chairmen-elect for theircommittees.
-- Approved by a unanimous voice vote the creation of a newnongeographical episcopal region for the Eastern-rite bishops. Theyapproved creation of Region XV; the United States is divided into 14regions for the nation's Latin-rite bishops.
-- Listened to Bishop Skylstad in his presidential addressNov. 13 criticize the growing "coarseness" in U.S. society, which hesaid has had its impact on the Catholic Church. "Today vulgarity iscommon, hardly noticed," he said. "Even the name of God is disrespectedin everyday speech." He added, "I would suggest to you that thephenomenon is symptomatic of a growing failure in our society: the lackof respect for one another, to see each other as being made in theimage and likeness of God."
-- Heard an appeal from Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphiafor bishops to send delegations to the International EucharisticCongress slated for 2008 in Quebec City.
-- Reauthorized a number of ad hoc committees Nov. 14 by a vote of 213-8 with five abstentions.
The bishops also heard a Nov. 13 report from Msgr. Robert L.Stern, secretary general of the New York-based Catholic Near EastWelfare Association, The association is a papally establishedorganization serving church and social needs in areas where indigenousEastern-rite churches are the main Catholic presence or a significantone chiefly in the Middle East, but also in places such as India andEastern Europe.
Msgr. Stern said most funds contributed to the agency by U.S.and Canadian Catholics go to aiding Eastern Catholic churches, but theorganization also provides assistance to Orthodox churches in thoseregions and to Muslim people in need. He cited assistance to studentsat Bethlehem University in the West Bank as an example of Catholic aidthat benefits Muslims, bridging religious divisions.
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