Our USCCB 2019 Plenary Assembly in Baltimore has just concluded. For the first time in a few years, I was able to stay for the Thursday morning of prayer and Eucharistic Adoration, which for many reasons, is such a good way to conclude these gatherings.
After Mass, the Eucharist is exposed for adoration, confessors are available for the morning, and we had a beautiful reflection during Morning Prayer led by the Bishop of San Angelo, Bishop Michael Sis. All of you would be consoled if not edified to witness your shepherds kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for healing, wisdom and the grace to be your Good Shepherds.
As always, our time together began with an address from our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Every time this man speaks, he touches my heart. He is always hopeful, joyful, and clearly focused on the heart, mind and priorities of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He diplomatically encouraged all our bishops to do even more in making those priorities more concretely a part of the day-to-day life of the Church in the United States, and I could not agree more!
Following his address, we also heard encouraging words from the outgoing President of the Conference, Cardinal DiNardo, who received warm expressions of gratitude for his three years of leadership.
Every three years, the body of bishops elect new leadership. Congratulations to Archbishop Jose Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, who was elected our new President. He is a humble, holy man, and we will be blessed as a conference with his prayerful, wise leadership. Congratulations also to Archbishop Allen Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, who was elected as our new Vice President. Archbishop Vigneron is a seasoned veteran of our Conference, and has held many positions of leadership, and will give sound assistance and advice to Archbishop Gomez over the next three years.
Numerous other committee chairmen were elected as well, including Bishop James V. Johnston of Kansas City – St. Joseph as the new Chair-elect of one of our most important committees, Protection of Children and Young People. Other bishops elected to key chairman positions include Archbishop Jerome Listecki, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Bishop David Talley and Bishop Dave Malloy.
The bishops learned in a brief report from Cardinal O’Malley that the Holy See is in the final stages of preparing the results of their investigation into the processes by which Theodore McCarrick rose to the level of Bishop, Archbishop and a Cardinal of the Church. The report will hopefully shed light on who knew of his misdeeds, and at what point did they know. We all welcome the necessary and important transparency this report will provide.
Our church in this country will be well served for years to come due to the excellent work of Cardinal Tobin and the committee and staff of our office of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations in composing the 6th edition of the Program for Priestly Formation. I am very pleased with the final product, which now goes to the Holy See for a formal recognitio.
The bishops also approved the ICEL translation of the revised Order of Christian Initiation of Adults as the base text for a future edition of this rite for use in the dioceses of the United States. We approved the 2020 Budget for the Conference, however they did not accept or approve the request to increase the diocesan assessments. We also approved our revised Strategic Priorities for 2021-2024.
One of the most encouraging floor discussions, which was focused on perhaps the most practical agenda item in the life of our Catholic family was led by Bishop Robert Barron on the topic of how best to reach out to and engage the so-called ‘nones’. This is the growing body of the US population that claims no religious affiliation – thus ‘nones’. The results of this discussion will lead to some concrete guidance in assisting all of our bishops and dioceses in this important work of evangelization.
As is often the case, there were some moments of strong debate, and this year’s primary example of such a moment came about as we discussed the brief letter to supplement our Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship. While I did sense overall this week a growing unity among the body of bishops, we still have some points of contention among us where there are strong disagreements.
The rest of our discussions mainly revolved around reports on other activities of the Conference.
While I have my own concerns about the things that divide us as a body of bishops, and as a broader Church, I took great hope from the conversations that took place ‘behind closed doors’ when we went into executive session on Wednesday afternoon. My friends, do not believe everything you read on social media, and be particularly mindful and honest about the bias of certain sites. Please, do not let them be your sole source of news if you want an accurate picture of the Church. Do not lose hope in your bishops, nor in the body as a whole. This is the Lord’s Church. It has always been entrusted to ‘mere humans’, but the power of the Chief Shepherd is always at work, and always will be.
I can never end reflections upon these gatherings and the work of the USCCB without giving a word of thanks to all the great staff who work for us at the Washington headquarters of the USCCB. We have such hard working and devoted lay people, priests and religious! They make the face of Christ visible to so many people who benefit from our work, not only in the US, but around the globe!
That is all from Baltimore. See you back in Seattle next week!