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Bishops OK documents on penance and better preaching, vote down document on economy

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By the Catholic News Service

And Catholic Telegraph Staff


During their annual fall general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 12-15, the U.S. bishops voted down a document on the troubled U.S. economy, passed documents on penance and better preaching, approved a reorganization of their Communications Department and endorsed the sainthood cause of Dorothy Day.

The bishops were to meet in executive session Nov. 14 and 15, which were not open to the media.

On the assembly’s opening day, the bishops discussed on the nation’s troubled economy and what their response to it should be, but a day later their proposed document “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Times: A Pastoral Message on Work, Poverty and the Economy” did not gain the two-thirds vote required for passage.

When it was introduced Nov. 12, some bishops criticized the document for being too long to be practical and for failing to include a variety of points and historical references.

The bishops also overwhelmingly approved — in a 236-1 vote –an exhortation encouraging Catholics to take advantage of the sacrament of penance, or reconciliation.

The bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, chaired by Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wis, prepared the text. The exhortation, to be made available in pamphlet form, will aim to ease the fears of Catholics who have not gone to confession for some time.

It will be made public in time to allow for dioceses to prepare for Lent 2013.

On a voice vote, the bishops endorsed the sainthood cause of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, USCCB president, is promoting Day’s cause; her Catholic Worker ministry was based in New York City. The cause was first undertaken by one of Cardinal Dolan’s predecessors in New York, Cardinal John O’Connor.

Cardinal Dolan and other bishops who spoke Nov. 13, including some who had met Day, called her sainthood cause an opportune moment in the life of the U.S. church.

The bishops also approved expanding the memorial for Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a German-born Redemptorist priest who ministered throughout antebellum-era America for more than 20 years. Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala., noted that Blessed Seelos ministered at a time when “immigrants were not welcomed well in many circumstances,” which he said has contemporary significance.

A year after U.S. Catholics began using a new translation of the missal at Masses, the bishops agreed to begin revising the Liturgy of the Hours — updating hymns, psalms, various canticles, psalm prayers, some antiphons, biblical readings and other components of the liturgical prayers used at various parts of the day.

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, said the work would probably take three to five years to complete and the aim would be to more accurately reflect the original Latin texts.

The bishops were also urged to broaden their support for their national collections. In a Nov. 13 report, they heard that a decline in diocesan participation in these collections since 2009 has been a loss of $8.7 million to Catholic programs that benefit from the collection.

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas, chairman of the Committee on National Collections, described the collections as “an important mechanism for mobilizing collective action in the church universal and a way for all the faithful to participate in solidarity with the rest of the church.”

The bishops voted for a strategic plan that will guide the USCCB’s work for the next four years, a “road map” to shape conference programs and activities to strengthen the faith of Catholics and help them actively live out their faith.

During the first year, the focus will be on faith and activities closely tied to the Year of Faith. In 2014 and 2015, initiatives will strengthen parish life and worship. The final year calls for Catholics to be witnesses to the wider world.

The bishops also approved a 2013 budget of $220.4 million and agreed to add a national collection for the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. The budget for 2013 represents a 1.3 percent increase from 2012.

The new collection for the military archdiocese would begin in 2013. Under the plan, it would be taken voluntarily in parishes every three years. Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., USCCB treasurer, said the 2013 budget includes a surplus totaling more than $749,000. He also told the bishops that there was a projected surplus of $250,000 for 2014, meaning there was no need to seek an increase in the annual diocesan assessment for USCCB operations.

In his presidential address to open the assembly, Cardinal Dolan Nov. 12 told the bishops they couldn’t engage culture, dialogue with others or confront challenges unless they first recognize their own sins and experience the grace of repentance.

The cardinal also said the sacrament of penance was something the USCCB planned to stress for all Catholics year-round with reflections on re-embracing Friday as a day of penance, including the possible reinstitution of abstinence on all Fridays.

The bishops’ assembly, which opened nearly a week after Election Day, also included discussions about religious liberty and marriage.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said Nov. 12 the work of defending religious liberty would continue despite “setbacks or challenges.”

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said Election Day was “a disappointing day for marriage,” which points to the need to “redouble our efforts.”

The chairmen of four U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees will begin work soon on drafting a document that reiterates the teaching authority of local bishops while urging them to use new technologies to share Catholic theology. The end result is expected to complement a 20-year-old document on the teaching authority of diocesan bishops, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

The bishops Nov. 12 agreed in a voice vote to the appointment of a working group that includes the chairmen of the committees on doctrine, evangelization and catechesis, and canonical affairs and church governance to draft the document. No timeline for development of the document was announced. Originally, the bishops were to consider a document titled “Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities for the Exercise of the Teaching Ministry of the Diocesan Bishop,” which was developed by the Committee on Doctrine. It called upon bishops to take advantage of new technologies — including social media, blogging and cellphone technology — to respond and explain church teaching when an aspect of church teaching is portrayed inaccurately, particularly by theologians.

In an effort to strengthen its communications and public relations efforts, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the hiring of a director of public affairs as efforts begin to reorganize the conference’s Communications Department. The position would work to unify messages on the activities and stances of the USCCB — not individual dioceses or bishops — and better carry out church campaigns related to the new evangelization, said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, USCCB president. The Nov. 13 vote on hiring the director of public affairs was 202-25 with four abstentions during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore. Cardinal Dolan told the assembly that whoever fills the position also would likely speak on behalf of the USCCB to the media and provide background on church teaching to public officials and in other venues. The person appointed to the position would be responsible for developing a “more intentional, focused, comprehensive and unified communications strategy” based on church teaching and focused on promoting the new evangelization, according to a supporting document distributed a day before the vote.

“The strategy,” the document said, “should create strong and powerful messages that result in a higher level of understanding and acceptance by Catholics and other audiences.” Auxiliary Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Indianapolis cautioned that when hiring someone who may speak on behalf of the USCCB, it should be clear that the person only represents the conference. He also urged that the new director of public affairs to be well versed in church teaching, structure and ecclesiology and be able to talk about such topics authoritatively. He also said that any bishop who might publicly question or refute a response from the public affairs director would undermine the USCCB’s communications effort. In response, Cardinal Dolan said the director’s role as spokesperson “would not be his or her full-time major occupation, but it would be part of it.” During those times when speaking on behalf of the conference, the person would be restating positions taken by the USCCB as a whole rather than staking out new positions or engaging in debates in the media, he said.

The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration joined the broadening chorus calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to “seize the moment” and pass comprehensive immigration reform next year. In a statement issued Nov. 13 during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, committee chair, called on Obama and congressional leaders to work together on a bipartisan immigration reform bill.

He also encouraged people to make their voices heard in support of an immigration system “which upholds the rule of law, preserves family unity and protects the human rights and dignity of the person.” With the strong turnout of Latino voters in support of Obama’s re-election Nov. 6, politicians from both parties have said they are willing to revive and follow through on the long-stagnant efforts to fix the problematic U.S. immigration system. An estimated 11 million people in the U.S. lack legal immigration status. Most of them have no path to legalization that does not involve returning to their home countries to wait in lines that can take decades to clear. Many of those people live in families in which some members are U.S. citizens and others have legal immigration status

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