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Familiar Issues Arise At USCCB Annual Meeting

November 16, 2019 Frontpage No Comments


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held its fall meeting this past week, and it was designed to be uneventful. New officers were elected, new chairmen were assigned, various reports were accepted. “Many bishops express their strong support and to continue the moment[um] from last year,” read the USCCB notice on Twitter as the meeting opened.
Of course, last year any momentum they might have had was ground to a halt by Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who abruptly shut down the bishops’ discussion of the then-Cardinal McCarrick investigation, leaving them little else to do but go home. Several bishops insisted on addressing McCarrick and the charges made by former Papal Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò. But Cupich would have none of it. Rome would do the investigating, he said, and the report would soon be forthcoming.
That was a year ago. This time around, it was Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s task to explain that, no, the report wasn’t finished yet. “The Vatican wants it to be as transparent as possible,” he said, “which is why it’s taking so long.” O’Malley expects it to be released “soon.”
Call that “momentum” if you like, or call it “dead in the water.” But two issues of substance did arise this week that go to the heart of what Msgr. George Kelly called “The Battle for the American Church” forty years ago. The first issue was introduced by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Pope Francis’ nuncio to the United States. In his address opening the meeting, Pierre didn’t waste any time. He pointed to the authority of Pope Francis as the keystone to reforming the American Church.
In addressing the bishops’ continuing sex abuse and coverup crisis, Pierre called for continuing their efforts to reform. But the key to reform, he said, is to listen to the Vicar of Christ.
“If we are together, in real hierarchical communion — hierarchical communion that permeates our hearts and are not merely words — we become the visible sign of peace, unity, and love, a sign of true synodality,” he told the assembly. But then, in a departure from his prepared remarks but reported by the Associated Press, he addressed further the bishops’ relationship with Pope Francis.
“The Pope has emphasized certain themes,” he said. “Mercy, closeness to the people…a spirit of hospitality toward migrants, and dialogue with those of other cultures and religions. Do you believe these are gradually becoming part of the mindset of your clergy and your people? The pastoral thrust of this pontificate must reach the American people,” he continued, “especially as families continue to demand of dioceses and parishes the accompaniment envisioned by Amoris Laetitia.”

Issues, Myths, And Realities

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia appeared in 2016. It was immediately challenged because of its ambiguous implication that couples who were divorced and remarried could be “accompanied” by their pastor, and eventually allowed to receive Communion without ending their sinful cohabitation and going to Confession.
With that in mind, Archbishop Pierre’s comment seems to suggest a “demand of dioceses and parishes” by a mob of men who, having dumped their wives and married again, demand that they be welcomed at the Communion rail under the authority of Pope Francis.
“Archbishop Pierre is promoting the myth that surrounds and sustains Pope Francis: the myth that he has introduced an era of reform and a regime of merciful pastoral care,” Phil Lawler writes. “Worse, the papal nuncio is also implicitly endorsing another myth: that the American bishops have undermined the Pope’s reform efforts.”
Pope Francis and his advisers have harbored a resentment about the United States for years. They are anti-capitalist internationalists thinking in the Marxist terms of Liberation Theology. Their hostility has become full-blown since President Donald Trump’s election, which has embittered many of them to the point of full-blown hysteria.
True to their materialist message, the Pope’s defenders imagine a phalanx of conservative agitators (among whom this writer is pleased to be numbered), financed by a secretive cadre of wealthy financiers (to whom The Wanderer would be pleased to be introduced), all of whom are dedicated to resisting the Pope’s agenda. Of course, this “myth” defies the reality of the fog of confusion and uncertainty for which that agenda has been responsible.
One wonders when Pope Francis will announce his intention to canonize a new model for Christians, “Saint Ambiguous.”

Is Abortion “Just
Another Issue”?

The second issue of substance arose as bishops discussed the final text of their Faithful Citizenship document. While seldom read by the faithful, the text of this biannual rehash has become a bloodless struggle between Social Justice advocates of Cardinal Bernardin’s “Seamless Garment” and pro-life advocates. We’ve noted for some time that bishops have never been very good at distinguishing their prudential views on politics (with which good Catholics are free to disagree) and the magisterial truths to which we must all adhere “with divine and Catholic faith” (canon 750 §1). This latest tussle indicates they still need a lot of work.
Ed Condon of Catholic News Agency reports that, as the discussion continued, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich insisted that the document’s term “firm and passionate” defense of the unborn should not be a higher priority than the “equally sacred lives of the poor, infirm, elderly, and marginalized.”
San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, supporting Cupich, specifically opposed the document’s paragraph stating that abortion is the “preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”
“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching,” McElroy argued. “It is not.” To include the phrase would be in conflict with Pope Francis’ magisterium, he implied.
At that point, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and Tyler, Texas, Bishop Joseph Strickland rose to disagree. Calling abortion the “preeminent priority” was not just correct, Chaput argued, but necessary, in view of the current political climate in the United States.
“I am against anyone saying that our stating that [abortion] is preeminent is contrary to the teaching of the Pope,” Chaput continued, “because that isn’t true. It sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true.
“I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used, because it isn’t true.”
A vote of the bishops defeated Cupich’s amendment, 143-69. “Thank God the USCCB voted to uphold the preeminence of the Sanctity of the life of the unborn,” Bishop Strickland wrote on Twitter. “It is sad that 69 voted no.”
Sad indeed, bearing in mind that Bishop McElroy is a rising star in the Francis era, while Archbishop Chaput, at 75, has submitted his resignation to Pope Francis. But at least we know the number (but not the names) of our prelates to whom life is just one among many prudential issues.
If you’re interested in that category of political opinions, rest assured, so are the bishops. The assembly renewed its usual litany of Democratic policy goals, addressing amnesty for illegal aliens, gun control, and global warming. In fact, on the same day the bishops met, a group of Democrats was gathered on Capitol Hill at a “DACA prayer breakfast” in support of Obama’s diktat on illegal aliens that President Trump had nullified (that morning the Supreme Court was hearing arguments on the issue).
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) told the group that they need to “believe in climate change as though it’s a religion, it’s not a science,” a statement more revealing than she might have realized.
Sen. Hirono is a Buddhist — a first for the U.S. Senate. Given her religious zeal on an issue so dear to the USCCB, the bishops should consider offering her some “accompaniment.” You never know.

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