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By Lynn and Bob Gillen

Links for Learners | November 2002

"Calm Amid the Storm: An Interview With Bishop Wilton Gregory"


Finding Curriculum Connections
Understanding Basic Terms
The Role of Bishops
Collaborative Leadership
Related Resources
Research Resources

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

• Christian lifestyles—the mission of priests, bishops and laity
• Religion—the role of bishops, now and in history

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article.  Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Link for Learners. 


U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Societal issues



Multicultural church


Lay leadership

Charter for Protection of Children and Young People

Clergy sex abuse


Liturgical life

The Role of Bishops

This month's Links for Learners profiles Bishop Wilton Gregory who, as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has a leading role in the American Church. Examining his role will give us a glimpse into the life of a bishop in today's Church.

One of the strongest—and most sacred—duties of a bishop is to teach. In the mid-1960s, when all the bishops of the world gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council, they wrote a long letter outlining their position in the Church. In its Preface, the letter (Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of the Bishops of the Church) says, "Christ gave the Apostles and their successors the command and the power to teach all nations, to hallow men in the truth, and to feed them. Bishops, therefore, have been made true and authentic teachers of the faith…."

The bishops teach on three different levels within the Church:

1. Worldwide—

According to the 1965 Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of the Bishops of the Church, "The bishops…are successors of the Apostles as pastors of souls." Just as the original Apostles cared for the early Church, so the bishops today—their successors—care for the Church throughout the world by continuing the work of Christ. Just as a family can trace its roots back through its family tree, so the Church traces itself back through the bishops to Jesus and the first Apostles.

Through the 2000 years of its history, the Church has faced many challenges. To cite just one example, in the second and third centuries after Jesus the young Church experienced a period of rapid expansion throughout the Roman Empire, growing to almost 5,000,000 members. The diverse mix of cultures and philosophies in the Roman Empire challenged the Church to remain true to its origins as it encountered these other cultures and beliefs. Through the Church's expansion, local bishops took on a leadership role in their respective regions, then convened periodically as a whole Church to ensure its faithfulness to the teaching of Jesus.

2. Nationally—

In their role as pastors, the bishops work collectively in national conferences, addressing difficult issues facing the Church in various nations around the world:

· The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is currently addressing the issue of clergy sexual abuse. Recognizing their responsibility for their priests, the American bishops created action plans to deal with both victims and abusers. Vatican II's Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests states, "For above all upon the bishops rests the heavy responsibility for the sanctity of their priests."

· The bishops in Germany issued a letter on the 1995 50th anniversary of the liberation of the extermination camp at Auschwitz, acknowledging anti-Jewish attitudes in parts of the German Church during World War II and calling for a future of mutual respect.

· Catholic bishops in the Philippines recently urged the United Nations to lift its sanctions on Iraq, citing the suffering of Iraqi civilians.

· Bishops in Scotland shared with their faithful a communication from Pope John Paul II to use the Internet to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to the world.

· In 2001, African bishops in Nigeria condemned the imposition by the state of Islamic law on all residents.

· In China, Catholic bishops addressed the division of the Church in China and the Chinese government's recognition of bishops not aligned with Rome.

3. Locally—

Every bishop is, of course, the shepherd of his own diocese, where he ministers to the believers directly and through the ministry of his priests. The bishop exerts moral leadership through his actions and his preaching. Bishop Gregory's column for his local diocesan Belleville newspaper is a good example of a bishop's efforts to teach the faithful at home. Bishop Gregory's writing includes examining the meaning of interfaith services at the 9/11 anniversary (explaining that we are all sisters and brothers of a common Father) and the importance of liturgical blessings for expectant and adoptive mothers.


Collaborative Leadership

The ongoing scandal ignited by the clergy sexual-abuse crisis continues to remind Church leadership of its obligation to heal and restore. Bishop Gregory views this crisis in the American Church as a "rich possibility to make the Church more collaborative," with leadership coming from bishops, priests and laity alike. Bishop Gregory acknowledges that the bishops can't deal with this alone. The American bishops took a step in that direction by creating a National Advisory Council, teaming a number of lay members with the bishops to deal with issues facing the Church.

Bishop Gregory is serious in saying that the bishops need the collaborative efforts of all members of the Church. You can make your teen voice heard. You demonstrate your care and love for the Church when you speak from your heart about what concerns you. The recent celebration of World Youth Day in Toronto brought young people together with adult leaders, sisters, priests and bishops, even the pope himself. Collaboration within the Church can take many forms:

· In religion or CCD class, make an effort to ask your own questions or offer comments to your teachers.

· Your diocese no doubt has a Web site. Send an occasional e-mail with your comments (pro and con) on issues affecting teens. You can even make it a joint e-mail from your class, or a group of friends, or a parish discussion group.

· Write a letter to the editor for your diocesan or local daily paper, perhaps citing a school service project or thanking a local priest for conducting a school retreat.

· You might take it a step further by offering to write a monthly column on teen issues for your parish or diocesan newspaper. The column could be a Christian ministry project for your class, to be continued annually by each succeeding class.


Related Resources

Mission statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, including a list of its many committees and some recent issues it has dealt with.


Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further general reference.  Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The New American Bible

Documents of Vatican II 

The Vatican

The New York Times

The Los Angeles Times

The Chicago Tribune

The Washington Post

The Miami Herald

The Associated Press

Time Magazine



ABC News

Pathfinder—Access site to a number of online news publications

People magazine

The History Channel

The Close Up Foundation Washington, D.C.-based organization

Channel One —online resource for the school channel

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