As most of you are aware, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held its annual June General Meeting in Atlanta this past week. Here are some thoughts regarding out time together.
The General Meeting of the full conference ran Wednesday thru Thursday. However, many other Committees and sub-committees gather the weekend prior for the purposes of conducting their business. Even though the June meeting is typically not as ‘full’ as the November meeting, this June held some serious, and fruitful discussions.
Despite the very full days and many meetings, there is also the overall benefit of simply enjoying the fraternity and support of one’s brother bishops. Our evenings are generally free and provide opportunity for gathering for dinner and socializing. One real ‘plus’ are the daily celebrations of the Eucharist.
The agenda for our public sessions covered a number of salient and urgent issues, such as a report from our National Review Board, who continue to give the Bishops sage advice as we continue to make every effort to provide a safe environment for our children and properly respond to any allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy or church employees or volunteers. One very encouraging factor that is still to be properly understood by many is that this sad history of clergy sex abuse peaked in the 1980’s.
Our efforts to educate our youth as well as all church employees, parents, and volunteers is having a positive impact. The policies put in place ten years ago through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and our commitment to respond appropriately to victims and report incidents of abuse to appropriate authorities in a timely fashion are working. The challenge now is to not let down our guard and act as if the problem is solved. This will require continued diligence, sensitivity and effort.
We also heard from the President of Catholic Relief Services, Dr. Carolyn Woo. It is clear that this vast Catholic arm of emergency disaster response is in good hands! One of the things I learned is that CRS not only is a leader in emergency response, but it also devotes a great deal of resources to stabilizing situations once the emergency has passes, and continues on the scene for sometimes many years helping to reform local systems for the long-term good of local communities and individuals.
The Bishops also approved a proposal from the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development to draft a special message entitled Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty, and a Broken Economy. We wish as a Conference to acknowledge that many people today are suffering because of poverty, and the strains this places on the human person, family and communities. This will give us a forum in which to review some of our basic Catholic Social Teaching and Sacred Scripture in application to this urgent need in our society today.
The Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, chaired by my predecessor, Bishop David Ricken, has been hard at work in the last seven months since November! Keep your eyes on the USCCB website for the many good materials being developed for this important work of the New Evangelization and our on-going efforts to inculcate the Catholic Faith.
The entire afternoon on Wednesday was devoted to the discussion on Religious Freedom, both Domestic and International. There were excellent presentations from Archbishop William Lori, the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, along with the President of Catholic University of America, Mr. John Garvey. I found Mr. Garvey’s comments particularly thought-stimulating. I will share more of his thoughts in talks later this month while we participate in the Fortnight for Freedom.
Two other note-worthy presenters were Bishop Shlemon Warduni, from Iraq. It is heart-wrenching to hear the effects of the Iraq war on the Christian community in Iraq. His most passionate appeal came towards the end of his address:
We beg you to do something for us. We want only peace, security, freedom. You can tell everybody: Iraq was very rick, but now is very poor, because of the war and much discrimination. We want to cry out to you: we want peace, justice, stability, freedom of religion. No more war, no more death, no more explosions, no more injustice.
Another fine presentation on the status of international religious freedom came from Mr. Thomas F. Farr. Mr. Farr is the current Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center.
As this entry is getting well beyond my usual length, I will conclude quickly. Before going into our Executive, ‘closed door’ session, we also heard from our sub-committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, the Task Force on Communications (which was quite interesting and exciting), a brief report on our Priorities and Plans for the next three years, and finally, a report an a new effort (which will take quite some time) to produce and publish a New American Bible for common use in personal, and liturgical prayer.