BALTIMORE — Gathered in Baltimore for their fall general assembly Nov. 14-17, the bishops elected new leadership, heard about the crisis in Ukraine and what’s facing migrants at the southern border of the United States. They also approved several liturgical items and OK’d the advancement of the sainthood causes of three Catholic women.
The prelates also discussed whether they should update “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their document on the political responsibility of Catholics that they issue every four years for the presidential election.
By an overwhelming majority, the bishops voted to reissue the teaching document without revisions but to add supplemental materials and begin a process of reexamining the teaching document following the 2024 election.
Speaking from the floor, several bishops said it must include what Pope Francis has said on critical issues of the day in his nearly 10 years as the successor to Peter.
Beyond the business agenda the bishops must attend to every year, there was a greater emphasis on prayer throughout their four days together and changes in seating arrangements to promote “fraternal dialogue.”
In the ballroom of the hotel where the assembly takes place, round tables replaced long rows of tables and chairs focused on the stage where USCCB leaders led proceedings. Each day of the meeting ended with vespers and throughout the plenary, there also was 24-hour eucharistic adoration. There were also less formal bishop-media encounters.
“The plenaries are business meetings, but they are not just business meetings,” James Rogers, the USCCB’s chief communications officer, told Catholic News Service. “The bishops are recognizing that it’s also about discernment, about group discussion, about listening to one another, and about listening to the Holy Spirit.”
The first public session took place the afternoon of Nov. 15 and opened with an address by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio, followed by Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The nuncio told the bishops that “as we live through a time of accelerated change,” spreading the Gospel message is particularly important.
One way to determine if the Church is following its missionary role is to look at how local Churches are functioning as evangelizing communities, something he said is especially evident in the current eucharistic revival in the United States.
In his final presidential address, Archbishop Gomez described images of conflict, changes and challenges he saw during his three-year term.
He spoke of the pandemic, “a long season of unrest in our cities,” a contentious presidential election as well as “deepening political, economic and cultural divisions,” war in Europe, a refugee crisis and “the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”
He raised alarm over what he saw as a U.S. society moving “hard and fast toward an uncompromising secularism,” adding that “traditional norms and values are being tested like never before.”
But “it is not inevitable that our country will fall into secularism. The vast majority of our neighbors still believe in God,” he said. “Tens upon tens of millions of Catholics still serve God every day, and we are making a beautiful difference in the life of this country.
In their elections, the bishops chose Archbishop Gomez’s successor Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore was elected USCCB vice president. They began their three-year terms at the conclusion of the assembly.
Archbishop Broglio told reporters a few hours after he was elected that he is willing to meet with public officials, including President Joe Biden, to discuss public policy issues of concern to the Church.
“I don’t see my role as political, but if there is any way to insert the Gospel into all aspects of life in our country, I certainly will not miss any occasion to do that,” he said.
The afternoon public session ended with an acknowledgement of the 20th anniversary of the drafting and passage of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” with prayer and reflection led by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J.
The prelates also heard poignant remarks from Mark Williams, a survivor of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. He told the bishops he was “grateful and encouraged by the work you are doing to rid abuse from our beloved Church.”
During their public sessions Nov. 15 and 16, the bishops heard several reports, including on:
Preparations for the next October’s world Synod of Bishops on synodality:
Work is proceeding and quickly, according to Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chairman of the bishops’ doctrine committee. Diocesan listening sessions concluded this fall. He said dioceses “managed to host over 30,000 listening sessions and other means of coming together.” Now comes “the continental stage” of consultations.
The ongoing war in Ukraine:
Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia asked his fellow U.S. bishops Nov. 16 to pray for Ukraine, and, if possible, to go to Ukraine and pray there for its people. What Ukrainians are facing amounts to genocide, he said. He thanked the bishops and their leadership for spearheading U.S. Catholic support for a nation under attack by Russia since February.
The three-year National Eucharistic Revival, which is now under way at the diocesan level and will culminate in the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in 2024:
Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minn., chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, which is spearheading the revival, said the revival has “incredible momentum.” The ultimate goal, he said, is that “this encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist” will move Catholics who have been part of this experience to be missionary disciples who would in turn lead others to the faith.
The pro-life landscape after the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade:
Archbishop Lori, speaking as outgoing chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that in a year when abortion has been front and center in U.S. politics from the Supreme Court decision to recent state referendums the Catholic Church faces a challenge of promoting its pro-life message to its own members and society at large.
“We have more work to do,” he said, but stressed Church leaders must remain united in their efforts to “proclaim the Gospel of life and defend human life at every stage.”
Because Archbishop Lori was elected USCCB vice president, his term as pro-life chair ended. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va., was elected his successor as chairman Nov. 16.
Among liturgical action items before them, the bishops approved English and Spanish versions of “Lay Ministry to the Sick,” a collection of texts taken from other liturgical books. They also approved new Mass texts for the feasts of Our Lady of Loreto (Dec. 10) and the recently canonized St. Paul VI (May 29).
The texts now advance to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for a “recognitio” before they can be used in the U.S.
The bishops also gave their assent in voice votes to the advancement of three sainthood causes:
Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate, the first order of women religious in the state of Texas.
Cora Louise Evans, a California laywoman who was a wife, a mother and possible mystic.
North Dakota laywoman Michelle Duppong.