Faced with the migration of Christians from Syria and Iraq, Syriac Catholic bishops meeting in…
With an abortion-supporting Catholic coming to the White House, U.S. bishops hope to clear up the confusion
The biggest news of the U.S. bishops’ general meeting came at the end, when Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles made the surprise announcement that he had established a working group to develop a response to President-elect Joe Biden’s support for abortion.
Archbishop Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the new group would be headed by USCCB vice president Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit and would include chairmen of several conference committees, including the Committee on Doctrine and the Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Explaining its purpose, Archbishop Gomez said Biden, a Catholic, supports “good policies” on issues such as race and immigration but policies contrary to “what we hold dear as Catholics” on abortion, while continuing to receive Communion.
The result, he said, is “confusion” for Catholics. The working group’s job apparently will be to remove that confusion.
The announcement was a fitting conclusion to a meeting that began with Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, newly returned to his diocese after treatment for depression and anxiety, thanking the bishops for their prayers and support, urging them to maintain their own mental health, then adding, “There are lots of stresses on bishops, and it’s only going to get worse.”
Whether his brother bishops agreed things would get worse, it was clear they felt plenty of stress from the coronavirus pandemic and the Vatican report on ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s rise through the hierarchy despite his sexual abuse. The virus has been around since early in the year. The McCarrick report, which the bishops requested and which took over two years to prepare, was released less than a week before the USCCB meeting. Each in its own way taxes the bishops’ capacity to respond.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio in the United States, called for a “Samaritan Church” responsive to the poor, the sick and the marginalized. Archbishop Gomez urged the bishops to make Father Michael McGivney, newly beatified founder of the Knights of Columbus, their model in tackling “the urgent evangelical challenges” of the pandemic. “He was a pastor in a time of moral confusion and social unrest, just as we are,” he said of Father McGivney, who, besides founding the Knights, was a hardworking Connecticut pastor who died young.
The USCCB assembly was itself a sign of coronavirus-created pressures. A planned meeting last spring was canceled because of the pandemic, making this the first time in a year the bishops had met together. And now, instead of convening in Baltimore as usual, they met virtually — again, due to the pandemic.
A variety of responses to the McCarrick report marked discussion of what Archbishop Gomez called “multiple failures over many years” by people in authority whose poor judgment and concealment paved the way for McCarrick to ascend the hierarchical ladder.
Bishops suggested steps such as combing the report for personality traits to be used in screening out potential abusers before they become priests; identifying groups that received large monetary gifts from McCarrick; and toughening the vetting of candidates for bishop by publishing their names and inviting public comment. On the spiritual side, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore recommended bishops spend a daily hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and practice weekly fasting or some other penance in reparation.
In a farewell speech, Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, USCCB general secretary who is stepping down after five years in the job, expressed appreciation for the bishops as “men who have the heart of a parish priest … men who lean on Christ.”
Timely words. For as they confront a host of problems for the Church caused by the pandemic, continued fallout from the McCarrick report, and now the prospect of four years with a Catholic president who supports abortion, one thing is clear: the bishops will need all the help they can get.
Russell Shaw is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.