American Bishops to Choose Culture War or Communion in Baltimore

On November 12, 2018, several bishops pray during a fall general assembly session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. The 2021 plenary meeting of bishops in Baltimore will be the first time they meet in person since before the pandemic. (CNS / Reuters / Kévin Lamarque)

In less than two weeks, the American bishops will meet for their 2021 plenary meeting in Baltimore. This will be the first time they have met in person since before the pandemic, so whatever happens, at least the manipulative dynamic of Zoom meetings will be gone.

You probably have to go back to the turn of the 20th century to find a time when the hierarchy was as divided as it is today. And the whole world will be watching because of the debate over whether or not to deny communion to pro-choice politicians, including the President of the United States, who has engulfed the church in the past year.

Ahead of their June meeting, the Vatican warned of the problems with such an action plan and the corrosive and divisive effect it was having on the conference as a body, something that was more evident to those outside the group than inside. The bishops nevertheless voted to proceed with the drafting of a document on the Eucharist, but only after the chair of the Committee on Doctrine, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, indicated that the document would not focus on denying people Communion. . This did not prevent other bishops from insisting on the names of the proposed documents.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the American Bishops Committee on Doctrine, is seen at a press conference on June 17, the second day of the three-day virtual spring assembly bishops. (CNS screenshot)

The Holy Father clarified that he had never refused Communion to anyone during his press conference on the return flight from Slovakia in September. Yet the reaction to Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis on October 29 showed just how crazy the president is driving some bishops. Maybe a lot of crazy.

The project, which has been leaked to several media, is disappointing. A theologian whose bishop asked him to look at him told me that he reflected a “pre-Pius X” theological view. Pius X died in 1914.

As I noted in September, as the bishops held regional meetings to discuss the matter, the universal Church was entitled to the “bread of life” discourse in the Gospel of John, and if “the bishops think that their document on the Eucharist can improve on the discourse of the bread of life of Jesus, they are wrong. “This judgment is confirmed by the draft text.

The problem with this proposed document, and the reason why it should never have been suggested, is this: As far as the doctrine and theology of the Church is concerned, it must relate primarily to the Eucharist, but in so far as it is concerned. which concerns public perception, it is mainly about Abortion. Thus, the bishops cannot reverse the teaching on grace of the Eucharist which dates back at least to the Council of Trent, and they do not want to send the signal that they are loosening their opposition to abortion anyway. Whichever way they choose to solve this problem, that choice will send a signal. Either pro-life professional groups will be disappointed, or Rome will have to veto the document because it is contrary to the teaching of the church.

How is it going to play out? The bishops have scheduled an executive session for the first full day of their meeting. Usually, they conclude their meetings with an executive session on Thursday or late Wednesday. During the executive session on Monday, they will try to forge a consensus around an essentially innocuous document. Tuesday, in public session, this document will be put to the vote for a vote.

I expect one of the Culture Warrior Bishops to propose amending the text to include a paragraph that they believe supports the denial of communion to pro-choice politicians from the Aparecida document of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference in 2007. They will note that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was the primary editor of this document, although the language in question was originally suggested by the reactionary cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo at the 2005 Synod of Bishops conference. (And López Trijillo wasn’t talking about pro-choice politicians but divorced and remarried Catholics.) Those who want to include this paragraph should be forced to explain why they are invoking Pope Francis when he was not yet Pope Francis, but ignoring his clear statements now!

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the American Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, is pictured on January 17, 2019 (CNS / Gregory A. Shemitz)

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the American Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, is pictured on January 17, 2019 (CNS / Gregory A. Shemitz)

In any case, this amendment on paragraph Aparecida will be the key vote. If the bishops vote to include this language, the document must be rejected. If it is passed by the necessary two-thirds margin anyway, but the vote is not unanimous – it will not be unanimous – then Rome will have to refuse the acknowledgement, without which it is not an official education. It’s hard to imagine a more ugly outlook, but it’s the dilemma that the warrior bishops of culture have brought us.

Another objective of the meeting will be the election of new committee chairs, an elected treasurer and a new secretary general. Elections for committee chairs are important not only because of the qualities of the candidates, but also because committee chairs become members of the administrative committee and can help move the conference forward in a particular direction. If Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, was not currently the Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Rhoades the Chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, we might have avoided the mess of Eucharistic documents discussed. above.

Appointments are made by the Priorities and Plans Committee. Some of the choices are good: Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, and Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski would both be excellent as chair of the migration commission. The choice of a new elected treasurer pits a rising star of the Church of the West, Archbishop of Seattle Paul Etienne, against a proven fundraiser from the East, Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey . Both would be good, but Etienne is the more forward-looking choice.

It is not known why the committee appointed Bishop Steven Lopes of the Anglican Ordinariate to lead the Committee on Divine Worship. One of the main reasons for the existence of the Ordinariate was that Anglicans who converted to Catholicism could keep a different liturgy. Lopes faces Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis, a priest at heart, who previously served as chair of the Commission on Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs. Perhaps most importantly for this position, he was vicar for Hispanic ministry when he was auxiliary bishop in Baltimore. Hispanic ministry – and the liturgy – will play a bigger role in the life of the American church than the Anglican ministry and liturgy, so I suspect the bishops will choose Rozanski.

It is downright puzzling that the committee appointed two prelates who have spent most of their episcopal careers outside the United States as chairman of the Committee on National Justice and Human Development. Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archparchy of Philadelphia was the Head Church in France from 2012 until his transfer to the United States in 2019. Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki has lived in his own right-wing universe since at least that long.

While the vote on the Eucharistic document will demonstrate how much American bishops wish to remain in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the election of new commission chairs will indicate the direction they want the conference to take. The ideological cleavages are no longer as apparent as they once were. Four years ago, for example, when the conference elected Naumann as head of the pro-life committee, they opened up the possibility of the kind of crop war madness that brought them to this time of division and resentment. . It was only if they selected Paprocki that they would reaffirm their desire for a continued approach to the culture war.

As noted, this is the first face-to-face meeting since before the pandemic. I hope they realize how tired the people in the benches are, tired of the pandemic, tired of all the resentment of our political life and tired of cultural wars, especially when they burst into our ecclesial life. The Lord, who is the head of the church, is the one who brings rest to the weary, and our whole culture and society is weary. This mission has been entrusted to the Church, especially to the successors of the apostles. I hope the bishops will remember this when they gather in Baltimore.

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