At USCCB General Assembly, pornography, politics statements take center stage

Bob Roller | Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE -- The U.S. bishops approved a formal statement on pornography and additions to their quadrennial statement on political responsibility at their Nov. 16-19 fall general meeting in Baltimore.

The votes were made during the public portion of the meeting, which ran Nov. 16-17. The bishops met in executive session Nov. 18-19.

The 2015 version of political responsibility document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," passed 210-21 with five abstentions, and a separate vote on the statement's introductory note passed 217-16 with two abstentions; two-thirds of diocesan bishops, or 181 votes, were needed for passage.

Additions to the document were made to reflect the teachings of Pope Francis and the later encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI. But some bishops said the document does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has asked the church to do.

The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and euthanasia, that some people "outside of this room" would "misuse" the document and claim other issues did not carry the same moral weight.

The pornography statement, "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography," says that "producing or using pornography is gravely wrong" and is a "mortal sin" if committed with deliberate consent and urges Catholics to turn away from it. Approval of the statement came on a vote of 230-4 with one abstention, with 181 votes needed for passage.

Bishop Richard J. Malone, of Buffalo, New York, chair of the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, described pornography as a "dark shadow in our world today." He added pornography is a "particularly sinister instance of consumption" where men, women and children are "consumed for the pleasure of others."

The bishops approved a budget for the work of their national conference in 2016, but their vote was inconclusive on a proposed 3 percent increase in 2017 to the assessment on dioceses that funds the conference.

The budget was approved by the bishops by voice vote Nov. 17. But a separate written ballot on the diocesan assessment failed to gain the required two-thirds majority of bishops who head dioceses or eparchies. The vote was 123-49 in favor of the 3 percent increase, and 132 votes were needed to reach the two-thirds majority. Heads of dioceses who were not present at the Baltimore meeting will be polled by mail on the matter.

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas, USCCB treasurer and chairman of the bishops' Committee on Budget and Finance, argued the assessment increase was necessary. The USCCB "needs to have a sustainable income" that does not rely on growth in its long-term investments, he said. "As we have seen between 2008 and 2009, we should not have our fates so heavily dependent on financial markets over which we have no control whatsoever," he added.

The bishops approved priorities and strategic plans for 2017-20 in a 233-4 vote Nov. 17. The document emphasizes five major areas: evangelization;, family and marriage; human life and dignity; religious freedom; and vocations and ongoing formation.

In his USCCB presidential address Nov. 16, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, called on his fellow bishops Nov. 16 to imitate the "pastor's presence" exhibited by Pope Francis during his recent U.S. visit, "touching the hearts of the most influential, the forgotten and all of us in between."

Noting the upcoming Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8, Archbishop Kurtz said a ministry of "presence means making time and never letting administration come between me and the person. It's seeing the person first."

From entering a diocesan Holy Door to undertaking the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, Catholics can model a compassionate life during the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, said the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

The jubilee period, from Dec. 8 through Nov. 13, 2016, can be observed in many different ways that allow every Catholic to be a "credible witness to mercy," Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Conn., said Nov. 17.

CRS Rice Bowl for families, student ambassador programs for high school and college students and a fledgling parish ambassador program can help U.S. Catholics "deepen their commitment to an essential dimension of their faith," a Catholic Relief Services official told the U.S. bishops Nov. 17.

"I just wish that every Catholic knew about and could be proud of the wonderful works of mercy and justice they are part of" through the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, said Joan Rosenhauer, CRS executive vice president for U.S. operations.

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a Nov. 17 presentation, said 13,000 people were already registered for World Youth Day, to be held July 25-31 in Krakow, Poland, with U.S. registration expected to top 30,000.

Pope Francis, in inviting young people and young adults to the celebration, connected World Youth Day with the Year of Mercy. The event in the southern Polish city will become a "youth jubilee," Bishop Caggiano said.

Citing young altar servers' weak arms and older priests' weak eyes, the U.S. bishops approved an adapted version of the Roman Missal to be used during the times at Mass when the celebrant is seated, subject to Vatican approval. The bishops endorsed "Excerpts from the Roman Missal: Book for Use at the Chair" by a 187-27 vote, with three abstentions.

Elections

Bishops voted for general secretary, treasurer and for chairmen for six standing committees. In the elections:

Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield was elected general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati was elected treasurer. He will succeed the current USCCB treasurer, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas.

USCCB officers

When this year's fall assembly comes to a close, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans will become secretary of the USCCB. The archbishop was chosen secretary-elect during the 2014 bishops' assembly. He succeeds the current USCCB secretary, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who is finishing his three-year term.

The other USCCB officers are: Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz Louisville, Kentucky, president; and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, vice president.

Committee chairmen

The bishops also voted for chairmen-elect for six standing committees: Divine Worship; Migration; Domestic Justice and Human Development; Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations; Catholic Education; and Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. Other elections were for the boards of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC.The committee chairmen-elect each will begin a three-year term as chairmen at the end of the bishops' fall general assembly in 2016:

Committee on Divine Worship: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta.

Committee on Migration: Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles.

Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development: Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla.

Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations: Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis.

Committee on Catholic Education: Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, elected over Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis.

Committee for Laity Marriage, Family Life and Youth: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Also several chairmen-elect also chosen last year will become committee chairmen at the end of this assembly:

Communications: Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, succeeding Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Cultural Diversity in the Church: Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, succeeding of Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas.

National Collections: Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Alabama, succeeding Cincinnati's Archbishop Schnurr.

Pro-Life Activities: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, succeeding Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley. 

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