Tag Archives: United States Conference Of Catholic Bishops

Full Text: USCCB President Tim Dolan’s “State of the Union” Message to U.S. Congress


Dear Member of Congress,

As a new Congress begins, I write to congratulate you and to outline principles and priorities that guide the public policy efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As President of the Bishops’ Conference, I assure you of our prayers and hopes that this newly elected Congress will advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all, especially vulnerable and poor persons whose needs are critical in this time of difficult economic and policy choices. We continue to seek ways to work constructively with the Administration and the new Congress and others of good will to pursue policies which respect the dignity of all human life and bring greater justice to our nation and peace to our world.

As bishops, of course we approach public policy not as politicians but as pastors and teachers. Our moral principles have always guided our everyday experience in caring for the hungry and homeless, offering health care and housing, educating children and reaching out to those in need. We lead the largest community of faith in the United States, one that serves every part of our nation and is present in almost every place on earth. From our experience and our tradition, we offer a distinctive, constructive and principled contribution to the national dialogue on how to defend human life and dignity, promote and protect marriage and family life, lift up those who experience economic turmoil and suffering, and promote peace in a world troubled by war and violence.

Most fundamentally, we will work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and voiceless members of the human family, especiallyunborn children and those who are disabled or terminally ill. We will consistently defend the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death. Opposed to abortion as the direct killing of innocent human life, we will encourage one and all to seek common ground, reducing the number of abortions by providing compassionate and morally sound care for pregnant women and their unborn children. We will oppose legislative and other measures to expand abortion. We will work to retain essential, widely supported policies which show respect for unborn life, protect the conscience rights of health care providers and other Americans, and prevent government funding and promotion of abortion. The Hyde amendment and other provisions which for many years have prevented federal funding of abortion have a proven record of reducing abortions, and should be codified in permanent law. Efforts to force Americans to fund abortions with their tax dollars pose a serious moral challenge, and Congress should act to ensure that health care reform does not become a vehicle for such funding.

In close connection with our defense of all human life and particularly the most vulnerable among us, we stand firm in oursupport for marriage which is and can only be a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of one man and one woman. There is good reason why the law has always recognized this, and why it should continue to do so. In a manner unlike any other relationship, marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children. Children need, deserve and yearn for a mother and a father. All human societies in every era of history, differing greatly among themselves in many other ways, have understood this simple wisdom. No other kinds of personal relationships can be justly made equivalent or analogous to the commitment of a husband and a wife in marriage, because no other relationship can connect children to the two people who brought them into the world. For this reason, we will continue to vigorously support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and strongly oppose legislative or executive measures that seek to redefine or erode the meaning of marriage. We suggest Congressional oversight of executive actions that have the effect of undermining DOMA, such as the expansion of spousal benefits to two persons of the same sex, and the weak defense of DOMA in court against constitutional challenge. We will seek to reflect respect for the family in every policy and program, to protect the rights of children, and to uphold the rights and responsibilities of mothers and fathers to care for their children. We will also continue to monitor legislation and federal regulations that protect our children and families from the destructive repercussions of pornography, which degrades human sexuality and marital commitment.

Our nation faces continuing economic challenges with serious human consequences and significant moral dimensions. We will work with the Administration and Congress for budget, tax and entitlement policies that reflect the moral imperative to protect poor and vulnerable people. We advocate a clear priority for poor families and vulnerable workers in the development and implementation of economic recovery measures, including appropriate new investments, finding ways to offer opportunity and strengthening the national safety net. Poor families and low-income and jobless workers have been hurt most of all in the economic crisis. The difficult choices ahead on how to balance needs and resources, and how to proportionately allocate the burdens and sacrifices need to take into account the vulnerability and capacity of all, especially those most affected by poverty, joblessness and economic injustice. We urge the Administration and Congress to seek the common good of our nation and people above partisan politics and the demands of powerful or narrow interests.

With regard to the education of children, we call for a return to the equitable participation of students and teachers in private schools in programs funded through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. When students in private schools are counted in order to determine the total amount of federal education funds a public school district receives, the funds generated by these students should benefit them and their teachers, not be used for programs in which only public school students and personnel can participate. We also continue to support initiatives, such as tax credits and scholarship programs, which provide resources for all parents, especially those of modest means, to choose education which best addresses the needs of their children.

We welcome continuing commitments to empower faith-based groups as effective partners in overcoming poverty and other threats to human dignity. We will continue to work with the Administration and Congress to strengthen these partnerships in ways that do not encourage government to abandon its responsibilities, and do not require religious groups to abandon their identity or mission.

As the Internet continues to grow in its influence and prominence in Americans’ lives, we support legislation and federal regulations that ensure equal access to the Internet for all, including religious and non-profit agencies, as well as those in more sparsely populated or economically distressed areas. True net neutrality is necessary for people to flourish in a democratic society.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States have worked for nearly a century to assure health care for all, insisting that access to health care is a basic human right and a requirement of human dignity. Basic health care for all is a moral imperative, not yet completely achieved. We remain committed to our three moral criteria: 1) Ensure access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all; 2) Retain longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protect conscience rights; and 3) Protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access. We will continue to devote our efforts to improving and correcting serious moral problems in the current law, so health care reform can truly be universal and life-affirming.

We will work with the Administration and the new Congress to fix a broken immigration system which harms both immigrants and our entire nation. Comprehensive reform is needed to deal with the economic and human realities of millions of immigrants in our midst. We realize that reform must be based on respect for and implementation of the law and for the legitimate and timely question of national security. Equally, however, it must defend the rights and dignity of all peoples, recognizing that human dignity comes from God and does not depend on where people were born or how they came to our nation. Truly comprehensive immigration reform will include a path to earned citizenship, with attention to the fact that international trade and development policies influence economic opportunities in the countries from which immigrants come. It also must foster family reunification, the bedrock principle upon which our national immigration system has been based for decades. Immigration enforcement policies should honor basic human rights and uphold basic due process protections.

On international affairs, we will work with our leaders to seek responsible transitions to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and promote religious freedom for all, acting against religious repression of our fellow Christians and others. The recent attacks against Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria and the assassination of a Pakistani governor who opposed blasphemy laws highlight an appalling trend of increased violence aimed at vulnerable minority communities. In all foreign policy deliberations, we urge a greater emphasis on human rights, especially religious freedom, which we view as an essential good so intricately tied to other human rights and to the promotion of peace. We especially urge continued and persistent leadership to bring a just peace to the Holy Land, to promote peaceful change in Sudan, and to rebuild Haiti. We will continue to support essential U.S. investments to overcome global poverty, hunger and disease through increased and reformed international assistance. Continued U.S. leadership in the fight against HIV-AIDS and other diseases in ways that are both effective and morally appropriate have our enthusiastic backing. Recognizing the complexity of climate change, we wish to be a voice for the poor and vulnerable in our country and around the world who will be the most adversely affected by threats to the environment.

This outline of USCCB policies and priorities is not complete. There are many other areas of concern and advocacy for the Church and the USCCB. For a more detailed description of our concerns please see Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship(USCCB 2007), pages 19-30.

Nonetheless, we offer this outline as an agenda for dialogue and action. We hope to offer a constructive and principled contribution to national discussion about the values and policies that will shape our nation’s future. We seek to work together with our nation’s leaders to advance the common good of our society, while disagreeing respectfully and civilly where necessary in order to preserve that common good. I am enclosing a brochure from our Office of Government Relations, directed by Nancy Wisdo, for your future contacts with the Conference.

In closing, I thank you for responding to the noble call of public service and I renew our expression of hope and our offer of cooperation as you begin this new period of service to our nation in these challenging times. We promise our prayers for all of you, and in a special way for your colleague Gabrielle Giffords and all those killed or injured in the horrific attack in Tucson. We hope that the days ahead will be a time of renewal and progress for our nation as we defend human life and dignity, seek greater justice for all God’s children, and bring peace to a suffering world.

With prayerful best wishes, I am

Faithfully and respectfully yours,

Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President, USCCB


Catholic campaign for human what and how? (via Blithe Spirit)

Another reason to boycott the Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection this year… This from the Blithe Spirit blog….

Catholic campaign for human what and how?   The annual Campaign for Human Development collection is coming up for Catholics Nov. 20–21: WHY WAIT UNTIL NOVEMBER? – DONATE TODAY! Your tax-deductible contributions can always be mailed directly to our office at anytime. This method guarantees that you will receive a tax-deduction letter mailed directly to you right away. Make checks payable to “The Chic … Read More

via Blithe Spirit


CCHD’s new moral theologian?

Star rise, star fall…

According to the USCCB”s recent review and renewal pledge to reform the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, new structures will help assist CCHD in applying prohibitions on funding groups which act in conflict with Catholic social and moral teachings… A new staff position on CCHD mission and identity will be added, including an ongoing consulting relationship with a moral theologian, and a CCHD Review Board to advise the bishops and the CCHD…

NOTE: Recent reports say Nancy Pelosi, Girl Theologian, may well be available following November 2nd. 



Same as it ever was? — USCCB “Review and Renewal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development” betrays utter lack of reform

I’ve downloaded and read the CCHD “Review and Renewal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development as Accepted and Affirmed by the USCCB Administrative Committee,” – promulgated on September 15, 2010 – and can only cry in absolute frustration, that nothing has changed. The new, improved CCHD is still all about funding Alinskyian organizing (organizing based on the organizational theories of the late, great Saul Alinsky)….which is still all about progressive politics…which is still all about killing babies.

Yes, CCHD grants will go to progressive organizations that are also concerned with decriminalizing undocumented immigrants, socializing medicine, and nationalizing public education, as it always has, but those are issues good men and women can disagree about. Good organizations, on the other hand, don’t support politicians and policies that kill babies. Since CCHD continues to fund organizations that support pro-abortion politicians and policies, nothing has changed.

There has been no reform of CCHD.

There has been no renewal of CCHD.

CCHD has intractably set its course. It was founded to fund Alinskyian organizing and it will, if this document of “review and renewal” is any indication, go down funding Alinskyian organizing.

The document’s Introduction, for instance, after a whole lot of pious rhetoric, lists 4 examples of “CCHD’s remarkable work.” Two of those examples are Alinskyian organizations: Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), an affiliate of Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation network, and the Federation of Congregations United to Serve (FOCUS), an affiliate of PICO, a network founded in the IAF-style by an IAF-trained organizer. This is “CCHD’s remarkable work.”

Pro-life groups around the US, under the banner of Reform CCHD Now, have demonstrated that dozens of CCHD grantees have been directly engaged in activities that violate Church teachings. According to “Review and Renewal,” CCHD has withdrawn funding from only five of them. If this is the best CCHD can manage, despite overwhelming evidence against the others, CCHD assurances that it will be putting into place “stronger policies and clearer mechanisms to screen and monitor grants and groups” is very un-reassuring.

And while it has verbally distanced itself from groups that are also indirectly engaged in activities that violate Church teachings, the money pours from Catholics, who think their donations are “for the poor,” straight into progressive coffers. So while CCHD states it “will not fund groups that are members of coalitions which have as part of their organizational purpose or coalition agenda, positions or actions that contradict fundamental Catholic moral and social teaching,” it continues to fund the Alinskyian organizing networks and their affiliates. The two “model” grantees give us a very nice picture of how this plays.

Democrat pro-choice politician Henry Cisneros of San Antonio owed his successful mayoral bid directly to the IAF. “IAF’s most successful projects have been based in Texas, where Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) in San Antonio helped elect Henry Cisneros as the city’s first Hispanic mayor.” [David Walls, “Power to the People: Thirty-five Years of Community Organizing,” The Workbook, summer 1994. Cisneros served as mayor of San Antonio from 1981 to 1987.]

As for the Federation of Congregations United to Serve, it recently became a partner with Public Allies Central Florida. Public Allies, whose founding advisory board included President Obama and whose Chicago chapter was run by Michelle Obama from 1993-1996, was one of the original AmeriCorps programs. Its mission is to “advance new leadership” and, in that capacity frequently has “partnered” with Planned Parenthood (e.g. Milwaukee and Pittsburgh). In fact, Public Allies’ national head of finance and administration is Tim Hosch, previously the Controller at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. What an interesting partner for a CCHD-funded organization.

Guilt by association? You betcha. These associations marry Alinskyian community organizations to the progressive policies and persons of the Democrat Party – and Alinskyian community organizations are the groups that receive the bulk of CCHD grants.

With that in mind, consider CCHD’s new “commitments,” detailed in “Review and Renewal.” Many of them involve plastering statements of intention here and there (“Add introductory statement on CCHD mission foundations and identity on all forms, applications, materials,” “Revise CCHD Grant Agreement to more clearly state prohibited activities,” “…add more specific language to the CCHD Grant Agreement,” “…revise and refine the CCHD Grant Agreement for greater clarity”) that will mean absolutely NOTHING unless there is a fundamental restructuring of the collection.

Similarly, creating “a new position to focus on promoting, safeguarding and monitoring the Catholic identity of CCHD and compliance with CCHD requirements” will accomplish NOTHING if the person who fills that position thinks – as CCHD has argued for 40 years – that Alinskyian community organizing and its political shenanigans are perfectly compliant with CCHD requirements.

It’s all doublespeak unless there’s a change of direction – a metanoia – a conversion. Doing what CCHD has always done will produce what CCHD has always produced.

Stop trying to “Share the Good News of CCHD” (could “Review and Renewal” have crafted a more offensive statement?) and start sharing the good news of Jesus. Stop trying to “empower the poor” and help them, instead. Stop worrying about the bad PR (“CCHD will develop more timely, consistent and effective ways to monitor and respond to coverage of CCHD in both new and traditional media”) and worry instead about bad programs. For heaven’s sake, don’t try to persuade us that “enlarge[ing] the range of grant amounts ($25,000 – $75,000)” to organizations whose progressive fellowships – that’s “dead babies” when you come out of the bureaucratic and into the real world – is positive.

Way toward the end of “Review and Renewal,” there’s a little item that “CCHD will seek appropriate ways to integrate its activities to protect the life and dignity of those who are poor or suffering from economic injustice into the broader USCCB “life and dignity” priority…The connection between family (broken families, absent fathers, domestic violence, unwed pregnancies, etc.) and economic (joblessness, low wages, discrimination, globalization, etc.) aspects of poverty should be an area of continuing focus for CCHD.” It’s the best part of this sorry 15-page document.

However, one would like to know why, in the one spot in the US where this very connection was attempted – the Archdiocese of Chicago – the CCHD director was “let go.”

For 40 years, the Catholic bishops and the Catholic community in the United States have been duped. They have been unwitting partners in a serious and sustained commitment to manipulate low-income people and poor communities into supporting a progressive agenda that has included dead babies. That isn’t how we serve the poor – and it doesn’t make their lives better.

But it does insure that the reviewed and renewed CCHD is pretty much the same creature as it’s always been.

Stephanie Block is a member of the Catholic Media Coalition and the editor of the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper.

Info: http://www.usccb.org/cchd/

Respect Life Sunday set for October 3

For More Information, Contact:
Bud Bunce (503) 233-8373

Respect Life Sunday set for October 3

        Catholic parishes in western Oregon will celebrate Respect Life Sunday on October 3. That Sunday will mark the beginning of a month long observance of promoting respect for life from conception to natural death. The theme for this year is “The measure of love is to love without measure.” Archbishop John G. Vlazny will mark the occasion with a Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Sunday, October 3 at 11:00 am.

        The Respect Life Program was adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1972. It promotes the Church’s teaching on the value and dignity of human life to the Catholic community and to the wider community. It combines education, prayer, service and advocacy. The topics addressed this year include:

* the death penalty and Divine Mercy
* end of life care
* infertility treatments in line with church teaching
* sexual trafficking
* population control
* depression and suicide among youth
* the promise of pro-life youth

        At the request of Pope Benedict XVI, all bishops around the world will join with their parishioners in the Advent season to pray for respect of human life. Archbishop Vlazny will celebrate Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral on December 5, 2010 at 11:00 am. The Mass will join with others around the globe to witness that we are a “people of life.”

Bishop Vasa on the USCCB: Sacred Duties, Episcopal Ministry

We are all familiar with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and I suspect most of us accept it as a fact of life. I further suspect that most of us have never really considered the who, what, why, or wherefore of such conferences in the Church. This does not mean that the Church has not given serious consideration to the topic. The concept was not new to the Church in 1965, when the Vatican Council issued Christus Dominus, the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church. It is there, in paragraph 38, where the concept is given definition:

An episcopal conference is a form of assembly in which the bishops of a certain country or region exercise their pastoral office jointly in order to enhance the Church’s beneficial influence on all men, especially by devising forms of the apostolate and apostolic methods suitably adapted to the circumstances of the times. (Christus Dominus, 38)

There is no doubt that such a unified exercise of a pastoral office is both practical and desirable. There are certain things in our country, for instance, that are made possible only because the bishops have joined together in cooperative effort. The work on the revised translations of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal could not be done independently by each bishop. This would be chaotic. The Haitian hurricane relief efforts of Catholic Relief Services is beyond the scope or capacity of any single bishop or diocese. Pouring through, evaluating, and making recommendations on the reform of health care in America requires resources simply not possessed by most dioceses — certainly not mine. It seems to me that a conference, in some form, is nearly essential.

There was a time in the fairly recent past when the conference, and especially its committees, had much more of a life of its own, seemingly independent of the body of bishops; but the revised structures have mitigated this significantly. There is a possibility that there may have been a concerted effort on the part of a segment of bishops in the past to foster a higher degree of autonomy on the part of the conference, but any comment by me would be entirely speculative. In general, I think the conference does a very good job of helping to identify issues, conduct research, and even influence national debates.

In doing this, however, it is sometimes easy for the conference to revert to stronger patterns of autonomy and even to be perceived as possessing types of authority that it neither claims nor possesses. It is easy to forget that the conference is the vehicle to assist bishops in cooperating with each other and not a separate regulatory commission. Undoubtedly, the conference has a place and an important role to play. In general, I find that the existence of the conference provides an avenue for me, as an individual bishop, to interact with my brother bishops, to share ideas, and to participate in national discussions in a way that would largely be impossible without the conference.

There is, however, room for concern about the tendency of the conference to take on a life of its own and to begin to replace or displace the proper role of individual bishops, even in their own dioceses. There may also be an unfortunate tendency on the part of bishops to abdicate to the conference a portion of their episcopal role and duty. For instance, there is a Doctrine Committee that is available for bishops to present questions and problems for a doctrinal opinion. The availability of such a committee is a great service, but if a bishop simply brings every question in his diocese to the Doctrine Committee and then reports to his faithful that the Doctrine Committee of the USCCB has decided X, Y or Z, he is failing to take hold of a responsibility that is uniquely his. It is much more appropriate for him to consult this Committee and then say: “After consultation with the Committee of Doctrine, I have decided X, Y or Z for my diocese.” A response such as this preserves the proper role of both the bishop and the conference. It is, however, much easier and safer to pass the responsibility to the Committee.

Despite the fact that the idea of a conference of bishops is included in the latter portion of the Document Christus Dominus, this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the primary focus of that document. After all, its title is “The Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church,” not “The Role and Place of Episcopal Conferences in the Church.” In reality, Christus Dominus was rather revolutionary because of its strong insistence on the extent of the authority of the diocesan bishop. More than 30 years after Christus Dominus, Pope John Paul II in May of 1998 issued an Apostolic Letter, Apostolos Suos, on the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences. I would surmise that this was done, in part, because of a concern about conferences exceeding the boundaries of their legitimate authority and infringing on the legitimate authority of bishops as taught in Christus Dominus. There, citing the 1985 Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father wrote:

The Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held in 1985, acknowledged the pastoral usefulness, indeed the need, in the present circumstances of Episcopal Conferences. It also observed that in their manner of proceeding, Episcopal Conferences must keep in mind the good of the Church, that is, the service of unity and the inalienable responsibility of each bishop in relation to the universal Church and to his particular Church. (Apostolos Suos, 7)

Cardinal Ratzinger (to be Pope Benedict XVI) in The Ratzinger Report, on the State of the Church, was a little more direct.

The decisive new emphasis on the role of the bishops is in reality restrained or actually risks being smothered by the insertion of bishops into episcopal conferences that are ever more organized, often with burdensome bureaucratic structures. We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)

This is confirmed in the Code of Canon Law, which delimits the extent of the authority of the conference, noting that the competence of each diocesan bishop remains intact, nor is a conference or its president able to act in the name of all the bishops unless each and every bishop has given consent (canon 455, ß4). Clearly, the conference cannot, on its own authority, substitute for the persons of the bishops, who are, according to Canon 753, “authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.” In his interview, Cardinal Ratzinger confirmed: “No episcopal conference, as such, has a teaching mission: its documents have no weight of their own save that of the consent given to them by the individual bishops.” As far as I know, the cardinal did not have a change of heart after his papal election.

John Paul II’s apostolic letter contains the same thought:

Certainly the individual bishops, as teachers of the faith, do not address the universal community of the faithful except through the action of the entire College of Bishops. In fact, only the faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of a particular bishop are required to accept his judgment given in the name of Christ in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. (Apostolos Suos, 11)

The recognition of the preeminent role of individual bishops is not a creation of the Second Vatican Council. In his second letter to Timothy, who was a bishop, St. Paul writes:

In the presence of God and of Jesus Christ, who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingly power, I charge you to preach the word, to stay with the task, whether convenient or inconvenient — correcting, reproving, appealing — constantly teaching and never losing patience. (2 Tim 4:1-2)

This admonition is given to individual bishops and, as the cardinal points out, it does not extend to the episcopal conferences.

Cardinal Ratzinger insists that clarity about the distinctive role of the bishop is critical:

Because it is a matter of safeguarding the very nature of the Catholic Church, which is based on an episcopal structure and not on a kind of federation of national churches. The national level is not an ecclesial dimension. It must once again become clear that in each diocese there is only one shepherd and teacher of the faith in communion with the other pastors and teachers and with the Vicar of Christ. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)

If you recall, some time ago, a local bishop offered his own interpretation of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” telling the faithful entrusted to his care that the conference did not speak for him. This is entirely in line with what the Cardinal had written. Individual bishops are free to adopt such statements and reaffirm them in their own names for their dioceses, but no bishop has an obligation to do so; and such documents do not become normative for a particular diocese unless the bishop, either explicitly or implicitly, recommends them. Thus, if the faithful suggest to a bishop that he is acting contrary to a pastoral document issued by the conference, the bishop’s legitimate response is that he and the people of his diocese are not bound by conference statements unless he so determines.

Concerning such conference statements, Cardinal Ratzinger had something quite prophetic to offer:

It happens that with some bishops there is a certain lack of a sense of individual responsibility, and the delegation of his inalienable powers as shepherd and teacher to the structures of the local conference leads to letting what should remain very personal lapse into anonymity. The group of bishops united in the conferences depends in their decisions upon other groups, upon commissions that have been established to prepare draft proposals. It happens then that the search for agreement between the different tendencies and the effort at mediation often yield flattened documents in which decisive positions (where they might be necessary) are weakened. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)

His eminence then cites a very poignant example from his own native land. He recalls an episcopal conference that had been held in his country in the thirties:

Well, the really powerful documents against National Socialism were those that came from individual courageous bishops. The documents of the conference, on the contrary, were often rather wan and too weak with respect to what the tragedy called for. (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)

In the case mentioned above, the bishop was publicly criticized by his people for his failure to accept and adopt not only a document from the conference but, perhaps more significantly, their own particular interpretation of that document. This is not the same scenario envisioned by Cardinal Ratzinger, but it certainly stands as a corollary to it. There is an understandable confusion on the part of the faithful, who — whether with pure motives or not — read or interpret one thing in a conference document and hear something different from their own bishop.

The future Holy Father makes another point, which is certainly a real danger with documents produced by a committee. He points out that the search for consensus can result in a flattened document — or, as one bishop put it, documents that have found their least common denominator. Thus, when individual bishops — and there are more than a few — make personal statements about certain situations, those statements are often stronger, bolder, more decisive, and thus more likely to be criticized as harsh and insensitive. I fear that there has been such a steady diet of such flattened documents that anything issued by individual bishops that contains some element of strength is readily and roundly condemned or simply dismissed as being out of touch with the conference or in conflict with what other bishops might do.

In fairness to the conference, I have to say that I have never seen or heard the conference, either as a whole or as a committee, make any remarks critical of what individual bishops might have done or failed to do in their own dioceses. I think the conference fully understands the limits of its jurisdiction; I could not say the same about the faithful at large. It is quite possible that the faithful, and perhaps our national government, see in the conference a type of intermediate magisterium to which each bishop owes obedience and respect, and which is always empowered to speak for the bishops. This is not the case at all. In fact, quite the opposite has been strongly confirmed in Apostolos Suos. While recognizing the legitimate aims of episcopal conferences, Pope John Paul II wrote:

Such aims, however, require that an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary sessions be avoided. The essential fact must be kept in mind that the Episcopal Conferences with their commissions and offices exist to be of help to the bishops and not to substitute for them. (Apostolos Suos, 18)

In the same document, we find other affirmations of the value of episcopal conferences, but there is often a corresponding word of caution:

Their importance is seen in the fact that they contribute effectively to unity between the bishops, and thus to the unity of the Church, since they are a most helpful means of strengthening ecclesial communion. Even so, the growing extent of their activities has raised some questions of a theological and pastoral nature, especially with regard to their relationship to the individual Diocesan bishops. (Apostolos Suos, 6)

The conference has been quite clear that it prepares pastoral documents and has no authority, on its own, to issue edicts or binding legislation. Since these pastoral documents lack legislative force, they are often couched in what could be described as softer or less rigoristic language. This is appropriate, because they are intended to be pastoral rather than legislative. One need only look at the difference between the documents of Vatican II and the Code of Canon Law. One is pastoral, while the other translates the intent of the pastoral document into concrete legislation. Legislation is up to the local bishop. The diocesan bishop has broad discretion in terms of legislative or disciplinary actions in his own diocese.

St. Paul advised Timothy of possible ways to deal with error, pointing out the need for “correcting, reproving, appealing — constantly teaching, and never losing patience.” The necessary tone of pastoral documents tends more toward appeal than toward reproof or correction. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is certainly pertinent:

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but, following their own desires, will surround themselves with teachers who tickle their ears. They will stop listening to the truth and will wander off to fables. As for you, be steady and self-possessed; put up with hardship, perform your work as an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5)

Pastoral documents, recognizing that people have lost a tolerance for sound teaching, tend to appeal without necessarily being too direct or critical. The obvious goal is to offer gentle invitations to conversion in a way that might attract those who prefer ear-tickling messages. Unfortunately, since they are pastoral in nature, such documents are open to a broad range of interpretation and misinterpretation. A charge could be brought that such documents are intentionally vague and misleading; and while I have had an occasional suspicion of this myself, it would be a serious defect of charity on my part to speculate about whether this is actually the case. I would say that the vagueness, whether intentional or not, has occasionally been a cause of concern and even consternation.

Sadly, since sound teaching is often rejected out of hand, the teachers who advocate a popular, ear tickling message are more likely to be admired and warmly received and accepted by our secular age. This contributes to an even further flattening of the message. St. Gregory the Great warns that a failure to be bold in speech can be caused by a fear of reproach. This is a very real danger in our present times. It may well be that a reliance on pastoral documents may stem from a two-fold fear: A fear of reproaching others and a fear of being reproached for having done so. It is sadly forgotten that such an approach may lull the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. There is prudent silence, but there is also imprudent silence. There is indiscreet speech, but there is also discreet and bold speech.

It is quite easy for bishops and priests to operate out of the mistaken notion that, if we preach the gospel in its fullness, we will be warmly greeted, accepted, admired, and acclaimed. This was not the case with Timothy or with Paul or with our Lord. Bishops should not anticipate that it will be so with us. I can assure you that events like this are very much the exception for bishops like me. The message of the gospel, with its call to conversion, is not necessarily easy. The secularity of the age in which we live makes it all the more challenging to preach properly the fullness of the gospel message and to put it into practice in our own lives.

Some teachings of the Church are certainly countercultural, and Paul predicted that they would not be tolerated and would be rejected. It is no news to you that we are very much influenced by cultural attitudes not necessarily informed by the gospel. To the more secular-minded, the teachings of the Church can seem to be behind the times, harsh, judgmental, or insensitive. As a result, some teachings of the Church have been allowed to fall by the wayside through what could be called, charitably, a kind of benign pastoral neglect. For many, in our politically correct world, this is identified with compassion. In truth, it often entails a complicity or a compromise with evil. The harder and less popular teachings are left largely unspoken, thereby implicitly giving tacit approval to erroneous or misleading theological opinions. Gregory, in his Pastoral Guide, writes about this pastoral approach:

A spiritual guide should be silent when discretion requires and speak when words are of service. Otherwise he may say what he should not or be silent when he should speak. Indiscreet speech may lead men into error and an imprudent silence may leave in error those who could have been taught. Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. As the voice of truth tells us, such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who take refuge in silence when the wolf appears. The Lord reproaches them through the prophet: They are like dumb dogs that cannot bark. On another occasion he complains: You did not advance against the foe or set up a wall in front of the house of Israel, so that you might stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord. To advance against the foe involves bold resistance to the powers of the world in defense of the flock. To stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord means to oppose the wicked enemy out of love for what is right. When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has he not turned his back and fled by remaining silent? Whereas if he intervenes on behalf of the flock, he sets up a wall against the enemy in front of the house of Israel.

Individual bishops, in their own diocese, have the primary pastoral responsibility for discerning between indiscreet speech and imprudent silence. This does involve a particular judgment, and in this there is great diversity and even disparity from one bishop to another. There is practically no disparity among bishops about the sinfulness of abortion, artificial contraception, homosexual acts, embryonic stem cell research, or the plethora of offenses against purity; but there is great diversity about how to address these evils, or how to deal with those who boast of or even openly endorse them. In this, Archbishop Charles Chaput makes reference to a unity of doctrine but a diversity of strategy.

This diversity of strategy, this prudential decision to be silent or to speak, rests squarely on the shoulders of individual bishops. Thus, while many may think this to be the duty of the conference, it is really the role of the individual bishop. It is their inalienable duty; it cannot be delegated to the conference. In my view, Paul’s words to Timothy need to be a very serious part of the discernment: “I charge you to preach the word, to stay with the task, whether convenient or inconvenient — correcting, reproving, appealing — constantly teaching and never losing patience.”

Some bishops perhaps lean more strongly by temperament to reproving and correcting, while others favor the kinder, gentler approach of appealing. In my view, appealing has its place, but when constant appeal produces absolutely no movement toward self-correction, reform or conversion, then reproving and correcting, become necessary. At some point, there needs to be a bold resistance to the powers of the world in defense of the flock. The fear of offending one contemptuously dissident member of the flock often redounds to a failure to defend the flock. It can redound to a failure to teach the truth. In Saint Gregory’s words: “They hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men but the men and women whose favor may be in jeopardy are often not nearly as favorable as they imagine.”

Unfortunately, the desire to rely almost exclusively on appeal may be indicative of a fear of reproach. This is not new. I mentioned above Saint Gregory’s acknowledgment of this reality. He chastised those who were afraid to reproach men for their faults, and thereby lulled the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Not only the evildoer but all the members of the flock who see the evildoers carry on with impunity begin to doubt and question their own moral assessments. I hear from many laity that their perception of a lack of courage on the part of episcopal leaders redounds to a discouragement of the faithful.

Fortunately, courage is contagious. Those of you congregated here have undoubtedly been encouraged, literally made more courageous, as a result of Archbishop Raymond Burke’s courage. You have undoubtedly admired Bishop Joseph Martino and Bishop Thomas Tobin for their courage in confronting dissident groups in their dioceses. You are allowed to stand a bit taller as you see Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix boldly confront medical moral evils. You know well, appreciate, and are emboldened by the courage of a Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who unflinchingly speaks an often unpopular truth. These men all encourage you, and they encourage me as well. I am humbled to think that some of you might even be encouraged by me.

What is most notable about each of these courageous men is that they are acting not as members of a congress of bishops, but as individual bishops in their own dioceses. They have each shown a very serious determination to avoid indiscreet speech, while overcoming what would otherwise be an imprudent silence. In the evaluation of a secular media, any strong speech against moral evil is most often labeled as indiscreet; while imprudent silence, even in the face of very serious moral evils, is praised as the epitome of Christ-like compassion. Appealing is praised, while correcting or reproving is deemed to be too harsh.

You need to be aware, also, that episcopal courage is often linked to suffering. For those who have come to be viewed unfavorably in illuminati circles, there is the spreading of defamatory half lies, print and blog ridicule, rumor, gossip, and character assassination. Often real assassination may seem preferable. Then there is the harm to the solid faithful of the diocese who see and hear these things and begin to wonder whether they are being duped for their trust in their bishop. Finally, there is the ever-present threat and reality of economic boycott, which likewise takes a heavy toll, especially in a poor and sparsely populated diocese such as mine. When a bishop recognizes that his preference is to speak boldly but that doing so could redound to the economic crippling of his diocese, then he realizes that reactions to him not only touch him but have potential negative ramifications for the people and parishes under his pastoral leadership. Thus, when faced with the possibility of issuing a very kind pastoral letter or something a little more direct, a bishop may choose kindness — not out of conviction and not out of fear but out of perceived necessity. I sometimes wonder what bishops would say if this consideration was no longer a factor in their dioceses.

While my assignment was to discuss the concept of conferences of bishops, I have found that, in reality, it is only possible to talk about the ministry and mission of each bishop. While this ministry is exercised in communion with his brother bishops, it is not necessarily capable of being exercised in conformity with them. The things that St. Paul wrote to Timothy apply in a unique way to individual bishops, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to apply them to a conference of bishops as a whole. Every baptized person is given that three-fold dignity of priest, prophet, and king corresponding to three Christ-like roles: offering sacrifice, teaching, and leading. This dignity adheres to a person and, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, it adheres in a preeminent and inalienable way to individual bishops. Individual bishops, if they rely too strongly on simply following the lead of the conference, do so at great spiritual peril.

St. Thomas More had it exactly correct when approached by the Duke of Norfolk to join him in signing the Oath of Succession. The duke points to all who have already signed and says: “Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?” Thomas More replies, “And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?” Bishops may not simply go along with the conference for the sake of fellowship.

In closing, I again turn to Apostolos Suos, which is wonderfully clear about the duties and responsibilities of the individual bishop:

Bishops, whether individually or united in conference, cannot autonomously limit their own sacred power in favor of the Episcopal Conference, and even less can they do so in favor of one of its parts, whether the permanent council or a commission or the president. (Apostolos Suos, 20)

* * *

This article was based on remarks Bishop Vasa delivered at the 2010 InsideCatholic Partnership Award Dinner on Thursday, September 16. The title of his address was “Sacred Duties, Episcopal Ministry.”

[Catholic Culture Exclusive] CCHD facing key test of support among US bishops

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is facing a critical test of support among the US bishops this week, CWN has learned.

All members of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have been asked to respond by Friday, August 27, to a confidential report on the CCHD. The document—“The Review and Renewal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Deveopment”—was prepared in response to bishops’ concerns that the CCHD has strayed from its original and become too closely involved with radical political movements.

Although the “Review and Renewal” document has gone through 5 successive drafts, a number of bishops within the USCCB appear unsatisfied with the document, and supporters of the CHD are fearful that at their November meeting, the US bishops may call for sweeping changes in the program.

“CCHD is being closely examined and its mission questioned,” one ardent advocate for the program wrote in a letter to the heads of diocesan social agencies. Robert Gorman, the executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, urged allies to contact their bishops and urge them to express their satisfaction with the “Review and Renewal” document, thus giving their support to the current direction and leadership of the CCHD.

The urgency with which CCHD supporters are lobbying the American bishops suggests that they expect a showdown with the program’s critics in coming weeks. So Catholics who hope for a fundamental change in the CCHD approach might also be inclined contact their bishops this week, to express their own concerns before the Friday deadline for comments on the “Review and Renewal” document.

The CCHD was established by the US bishops in 1970 to attack the root causes of poverty in America. For years the program has been troubled by critics who have said the CCHD has become too closely aligned with radical activist groups. Last year that criticism reached a crescendo, as lay Catholic groups exposed CCHD funding for organizations that promote causes inimical to Catholic teaching, such as legal abortion and same-sex marriage. While the CCHD leadership said that such grants accounted for only a small percentage of the organization’s funding for self-help groups, several American bishops announced that they were withdrawing their dioceses from the nationwide campaign to support the CCHD.

The “Review and Renewal” document, which is currently available only to bishops and their staff members, is an effort to reassure the USSCB members that CCHD grants will go only to organizations whose purposes and activities are compatible with Catholic social teaching.

But critics of the current CCHD approach have called for more definitive reform of the organization’s activities. Rather than forming alliances with groups that promote radical social change, they say, the CCHD should recognize the underlying causes of poverty as seen through the eyes of Church social teaching: the breakdown of marriage and family life and the lack of access to quality education.