Bishop Michael J. Sis of of San Angelo, Texas, listens to presentation June 11 during the annual spring meeting of the U .S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in New Orleans. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
The family, marriage, religious
freedom, and evangelization were linked in the discussions and action items of
the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at their Spring General Assembly,
held in New Orleans June 10-13.
Only three public sessions on the
first two days were open to the press, and the bishops’ agenda was packed. A
Mass was celebrated at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica on Wednesday afternoon. The bishops also met in regional meetings
both days and in executive session on Thursday afternoon and Friday.
On June 10, the bishops heard a
report from the National Advisory Council, a group of lay people from all the
regions in the US Church who recommend issues for the conference’s attention.
They heard from Dr. Francesco Cesareo, the chairman of the National Review
Board, which advises and collaborates with the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People on
policies and practices, and from
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who presented an update on activities
of Catholic Relief Services, notably the CRS response to the deadly typhoon in
Hartford Archbishop Leonard Blair
presented an update on the activity of the Subcommittee on the Catechism. The
subcommittee has the task of reviewing catechetical texts, voluntarily
submitted by publishers, to determine their conformity with the Catechism of
the Catholic Church, and to list any changes to the texts that may be required.
Archbishop Blair stressed that the declaration of conformity of a catechetical
text does not guarantee a favorable endorsement of the text, and that the
overall quality of the text and its effectiveness is beyond the scope of the subcommittee’s
review. Furthermore, the process in
place cannot review all catechetical resources because there are too many.
Another challenge is the many digital resources are also impossible to review,
at present. At present the conformity review only applies to printed texts or
unalterable digital texts. Despite the challenges, he said that since 1996
there has been “significant improvement” in the production of catechetical
Marriagea Gospel witness
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
of San Francisco, chairman of the USCCB
Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, updated the bishops on the
catechetical work of the subcommittee, including videos and the website Marriage: Unique for a Reason.
He outlined the current legal landscape, and called attention to the serious
legal challenges that have arisen since the June 2013 ruling of the Supreme
Court that a federal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman
(in the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA) is unconstitutional, leaving the
definition of marriage up to the states. Archbishop Cordileone said that the
bishops are supporting the ability of states to uphold marriage as a union
between a man and a woman in a proposed State Marriage Defense Act, which would
require the federal government to honor the state law.
Also, he said, “we have endorsed
the House resolution calling for the Marriage Protection Amendment to the US
Constitution,” which, the archbishop explained, “is the only remedy in law
against judicial activism that may ultimately end with federal judges declaring
that the Constitution required states to redefine marriage. We are at a
critical point in this country when it comes to the promotion and defense of
marriage in the law.”
How do we respond to these
challenges? “Challenges exist to be overcome!” said Archbishop Cordileone,
quoting Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium
(109). So we must “share this beauty [of the family] with the world,” the
“We keep in mind that our culture
has been wounded by the erosion of an authentic vision of love, sexuality, and
marriage over several decades,” he said, and that this challenge to the truth
requires our response. Recalling Pope Francis, the archbishop said, “the Church
seeks not to impose the truth, but to appeal to freedom and our witness should
be marked by joy, encouragement, and liveliness.” The good of society is served
by prayer, he pointed out.
Archbishop Cordileone concluded
by mentioning both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods on the Family, the
World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015, and the March for Marriage,
to be held June 19 in Washington, DC. He also mentioned the positive response throughout
the country to the USCCB’s “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious
Synod on the Family
USCCB president Archbishop Joseph
Kurtz of Louisville briefly reported on preparations for the Extraordinary Synod
on the “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization,” to
be held at the Vatican October 5-19, 2014. Next year, the Ordinary
Synod of Bishops will have the same theme.
Archbishop Kurtz summarized
responses to the consultation that had been sent to bishops’ conferences around
the world. “We know there is a need for greater, effective teaching on key
tenets of the faith, such as the indissolubility of marriage, the importance of
sexual difference for marriage, the natural law, and the married couple’s call
to be open to life,” the archbishop noted.
Archbishop Kurtz introduced Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington,
DC, a member of the permanent governing council of the synod, who reviewed for
the bishops the council’s preparatory activities so far.
Cardinal Wuerl said that there have been six meetings of the synod
council, and that Pope Francis has attended all of them. This extraordinary synod
will last only two weeks instead of three, as in the past. The pope intends an
intense focus on family issues at both the extraordinary and ordinary synods.
The preparatory document for the synod, the Instrumentum
Laboris, is near completion, and it should be translated into major
languages and distributed to the bishops’ conferences very soon, Cardinal Wuerl
World Meeting of Families 2015
Archbishop Charles Chaput of
Philadelphia reported on progress in planning the World Meeting of Families, to
take place September 22-27, 2015, shortly before the Ordinary Synod on the
“The World Meeting of Families
2015 comes at a time when the Church in the United States urgently needs an
opportunity for joy and renewal,” Archbishop Chaput said. “It's also a time of
great confusion about the nature of marriage and the family…. Our goal is to
offer the beauty of Catholic teaching about marriage and the family with
confidence and a spirit of invitation to every person of good will. That is the
heart of our theme: ‘Love is our mission; the family fully alive.’” The
archbishop mentioned that Pope Francis has been invited to attend, and he
introduced Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for
the Family, who has overall responsibility for the World Meeting of Families.
“We must globalize family love,” Archbishop Paglia urged in his
message to the bishops, so that “all in the world [will] see in marriage, and
in the family it produces, the perfection of our humanity and of society.”
Concerning the Philadelphia meeting, Archbishop Paglia stressed,
“I also want our meeting to include Eastern Catholic and Orthodox families, and
all communities of Christiansevangelical, Protestant, and unaffiliatedas well
as families from the world’s other religions: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus,
and nonreligious families of good will. My brother bishops, please make that
Archbishop Paglia’s message continued:
The moment, my brothers, is ripe, not because
the joy of the Gospel comes easy, but because the Gospel is always the only
answer to the crying need, all over the world, for love.
The Gospel of Jesus, and of the Family, must
overcome the loneliness that excludes real love and that is suffocating
humanity today. Please believe, and preach to your flocks, that it is most
surely in the family that we see that our destiny is not loneliness but rather
love, mutually sustaining and fruitful growth, hopeful and wise, and joy,
earthly and eternal.
My hope for Philadelphia 2015 is not only that
the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia will ring out a new spring for families, but
also that in nearby New York the United Nations will hear that sound and
realize that lasting peace will be found only if nations believe that all
peoples of the world truly are one human family.
On religious liberty and faithful citizenship
Three agenda items required the
bishops’ vote; all of these quickly passed by unanimous voice vote at the
Wednesday afternoon session:
1) Renewal for
another five years of the conference’s directory for formation for the
diaconate, proposed by Raleigh Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Committee on
Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations;
of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, headed by Baltimore Archbishop
William Lori, for another three years;
3) Updating the
bishops’ Faithful Citizenship document, which highlights issues that involve
core Church teachings that Catholics are obliged to uphold in political
In his explanation of the Ad Hoc
Committee on Religious Freedom, Archbishop Lori commented on the origins of the
committee, appointed in 2011 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then-president of the
USCCB, in response to the unanticipated promotion by the US government of civil
laws that would force Catholics to violate conscience or face large penalties.
A more formal structure was needed to defend religious liberty, Archbishop Lori
noted, adding that the renewal of the committee is “at least as great as when
it was started.” Misunderstanding of the meaning of religious freedom as
outlined 50 years ago in the Vatican Council’s document Dignitatis Humanae has continued and intensified. (The archbishop noted that the Supreme
Court’s review of the Hobby Lobby case would occur during the upcoming Fortnight
After the bishops’ unanimous
voice vote to continue the religious freedom committee for another three years,
Archbishop Lori suggested that the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae
provides an excellent opportunity for more intense catechesis and formation on
Closely related to the religious
freedom issue, and also unanimously approved by the bishops, was the proposal
to revise and update the Faithful Citizenship document.
Originally published in 2007
before the 2008 presidential election, the document outlines fundamental moral
teachings that must be observed by Catholic voters. Updating is needed to
include in the document recent changes and the later teachings of Pope Benedict
and Pope Francis.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of
Galveston-Houston is the vice-president of the USCCB and heads the working
group of bishops that will produce the revised version. He said that the new
Faithful Citizenship document will be presented for approval of the bishops at
their November meeting, with the intention of publication in 2015 in order to
be useful for the 2016 election.
At the press conference following
the bishops’ meeting, a reporter asked Cardinal DiNardo if the new version of
Faithful Citizenship would downplay controversial life issues like abortion and
contraception, and highlight poverty, as Pope Francis has stressed.
“We want to make sure that we
speak very insistently about the role of poverty, about the economy,” Cardinal
DiNardo said. “But they would not take away from our very significant
commitment to human personal life. This
is non-negotiable,” he said emphatically.
Addresses reflect bishops’ unity
Two addresses on Thursday morning
emphasized the unity of the bishops’ focus on faith, freedom, family, and
evangelization at this meeting. These topics are not only interrelated, but
are, in fact, inseparable. Both addresses at the final public session of the
spring meeting were presented by lay Catholics who have particular professional
and academic expertise on these topicsfrom the perspective of both law and
The first address, “Poverty and
the New Evangelization,” was by Helen Alvaré, a professor at George Mason
University School of Law and a former spokesman for the USCCB’s Pro-Life
Committee who recently began a political initiative, Women Speak for Themselves.
She is also a nationally known author of articles on women and family issues and
editor of a recent book, Breaking Through:
Catholic Women Speak for Themselves.
In her talk, Professor Alvaréfrequently
quoting both Pope Benedict and Pope Francisaddressed the necessity to “marry”
the Gospel of Life with the “charity, essential to our mission, [the] bond
between faith and service to the poor.” Essential to our evangelical effort is
to convey effectively to people the truth and love of Jesus and that the Gospel
The second speaker was Bradford
Wilcox, a sociologist and director of the National Marriage Project at the
University of Virginia, scholar at the American Enterprises Institute, and a
senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, who has authored books and
many articles on family life. Dr. Wilcox’s presentation, “Marriage, Separate
and Unequal,” focused on the effect of different levels of education or class
on economic status and family stability.
Both addresses and other
conference presentations are accessible on
the USCCB web page for the June meeting (“Speeches and Documents” section, in
the right-hand column).
Each of the two addresses was
followed by a period of discussion by the bishops, with questions and
suggestions about how to promote Catholic teaching on marriage.
It was most
encouraging to see the unity among the bishops on key topics of concern to
Catholics, particularly in the face of today’s serious challenges to the
Christian faithand to living
faiththat people encounter in daily life. Our bishops’ focus on the way
forward to overcome these challenges, in prayer and in action, is a positive
sign of hope.