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Iraq, politics, liturgy top bishops’ 2007 meeting
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Monday, December 1, 2008
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BALTIMORE (CNS)—The announcement of dates and locations for Pope Benedict XVI's U.S. visit next year highlighted the U.S. bishops' Nov. 12-15 fall general meeting in Baltimore. The April 15-20 trip will include visits to New York and Washington and an address at the United Nations.
On Nov. 13, for the first time in 36 years, the bishops elected a cardinal—Francis E. George of Chicago—as their next president.
The same day, with the approval of the body of bishops, a new statement on Iraq was issued in the name of the bishops' outgoing president, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash. It says that some U.S. policymakers "seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the reality and failures in Iraq and the imperative for new directions."
The statement bemoans a "political and partisan stalemate in Washington" that parallels a "dangerous political stalemate" that blocks reconciliation in Iraq.
"As pastors and teachers, we are convinced that the current situation in Iraq remains unacceptable and unsustainable," it says and notes that for almost two years the bishops have called for bipartisan action. "Our country needs a new direction to reduce the war's deadly toll and to bring our people together to deal with the conflict's moral and human dimensions."
On Nov. 14, the last public day of the four-day meeting, the bishops approved the document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility From the Catholic Bishops of the United States."
The document rejects politics based on "powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites and media hype" and calls instead for "a different kind of political engagement." That engagement must be "shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and vulnerable," it said.
The bishops also approved several liturgical agenda items Nov. 14: a document on liturgical music, 183-22, with three abstentions; an English-language version of a document on weekday celebrations of the Liturgy of the Word, 190-18, and a Spanish-language version, 188-16, with five abstentions; and revised readings during Lent, 199-6, with five abstentions.
The music document, "Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship," had originally been proposed as a document that would have required Vatican approval and would have been binding on bishops in their dioceses. But Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., outgoing chairman of the bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, said the committee decided to recommend the document only as a guideline for bishops, not as "normative law."
In "Stewardship and Teenagers: The Challenge of Being a Disciple," approved in a 198-6 vote Nov. 14, the bishops spelled out in simple language what young people can and should do to share their "time, talent and treasure. They also approved a Spanish-language brochure, 202-5; it is not a translation but was written originally in Spanish. Both are to be circulated as brochures.
To love Jesus, according to the English-language text, "means loving Jesus as my brother and my savior, my best friend and my God. It means living our faith fully. It means sharing it freely as disciples of Jesus Christ by living out the Gospel value of stewardship. It means walking a mile in the other person's shoes."
The bishops Nov. 14 also unanimously OK'd a curriculum framework for developing catechetical materials for high school students, 220-0.
With a 212-3 vote, they also approved a 21-page set of guidelines on catechetical instruction on chaste living for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. This document had been worked on since 2003 in response to catechetical publishers who had been seeking guidance on this topic.
Its introduction states that these guidelines should not only help publishers, but parents, catechists and teachers "in their respective roles in this crucial and delicate task."
On Nov. 12 the bishops were briefed by the staff of the New York-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice on an ongoing study of the "causes and context" of clerical sexual abuse.
Researcher Karen Terry told the bishops that early research seems to indicate that the patterns of sexual abuse within the church are consistent with the experience of society as a whole, adding there are "clusters of hypothetical factors being studied" to explain the incidence of sexual abuse.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, announced the details of the papal visit during his remarks to the bishops Nov. 12.
According to the archbishop, the pope will arrive in Washington April 15 and will receive an official welcome at the White House April 16, his 81st birthday. That afternoon, he will address the U.S. bishops. On April 17 he will celebrate Mass at the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium, meet with directors of Catholic universities and colleges and diocesan educational leaders, and attend an interreligious meeting at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.
On April 18, Pope Benedict will be in New York for a morning U.N. address and an afternoon ecumenical meeting. On April 19, the third anniversary of his election as pope, he will celebrate Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in the morning and meet with youths and seminarians in the afternoon. On April 20, the pope will visit ground zero, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood before they were brought down in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. In the afternoon, he will celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium.
Cardinal George won the presidency on the first ballot with 188 votes, or 85 percent. He is completing his three-year term as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He succeeds Bishop Skylstad, whose three-year term came to an end at the close of the meeting. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., was elected vice president.
Cardinal George, in remarks at the end of the public portion of the meeting, thanked Bishop Skylstad for his leadership and friendship, and said: "The conference is stronger in its sense of mission and more purposeful in our decisions."
He said he learned as bishop of Yakima, Wash., just how difficult it is to shuttle to meetings in Washington, with early-morning and infrequent flight schedules. He joked that as president he would propose moving USCCB headquarters to Chicago to cut down on travel complications. But he assured the bishops that he wasn't really serious.
The bishops voted overwhelmingly Nov. 13 to draft a brief policy statement on embryonic stem-cell research and a pastoral document on reproductive technologies.
Earlier that day, the bishops took the final steps to formalize the new USCCB structure and approved a $147.7 million budget for 2008 and a 16 percent reduction in the diocesan assessment to fund the USCCB.
By a 221-7 vote Nov. 13, the bishops approved legislation specifying when a bishop must get the consent of his diocesan finance council and college of consultors before making certain financial transactions or commitments. It now goes to the Vatican for its approval.
Norms approved by the bishops in 2002 set those thresholds at $500,000 for dioceses with fewer than 500,000 Catholics and $1 million for dioceses with 500,000 or more Catholics.
The bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Diocesan Audits recommended annual reporting by every parish as well as exercising caution about the tradition of presuming church employees view their work as ministry and do not need oversight. Such a "trusting environment" can be exploited by a dishonest worker, the committee's report said.
In his last official address as USCCB president Nov. 12, Bishop Skylstad urged a leadership style that does not measure success "moment to moment" but instead follows the example of Jesus and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
"We cannot shrink from our calling to be shepherds, to be leaders," he said. "As Christ made it his mission to show us his Father, to teach us to seek the will of his Father, we cannot in fidelity to him renounce or weaken our proclamation of the truth."

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