By NANCY FRAZIER O’BRIEN, CNS | Published November 24, 2005
After selecting a new general secretary for the next five years and taking a series of votes on major documents Nov. 15, members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops moved into executive session for the second half of their Nov. 14-17 annual meeting in Washington.
But before they did, they debated and approved documents reaffirming their opposition to the death penalty, revising the book of Scripture readings for children’s Masses and offering guidelines for lay ecclesial ministers in the U.S.
Msgr. David J. Malloy, USCCB associate general secretary since 2001, was elected to succeed Msgr. William P. Fay as general secretary in February. A 49-year-old priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Msgr. Malloy has served in the Vatican diplomatic corps and in the Prefecture of the Papal Household, which organizes public and private papal audiences and ceremonies.
No vote tally was announced in the election of Msgr. Malloy over Msgr. John J. Strynkowski, pastor of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a former executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices.
In earlier voice votes, the bishops had agreed to designate May 22 each year as a Day of Remembrance and Prayer for Mariners and People of the Sea; authorized a rewrite of their 1982 preaching manual in light of “current liturgical understanding and practice”; unanimously accepted revised guidelines for retired bishops; and approved a budget of $131.2 million for 2006 that could result in up to $1.8 million in deficit spending.
Also approved Nov. 14 on a 222-2 vote was a proposal to seek Vatican approval to retain current dollar levels at which different controls kick in for the disposal of church property. The current levels for disposal of church property will be cut in half next March unless the Vatican approves the bishops’ request.
But the fate of some major agenda items remained up in the air until late Nov. 15, when the vote tallies were made public.
A new statement calling for an end to the use of the death penalty in the United States, approved on a 237-4 vote with one abstention, says the bishops seek “to seize a new moment and new momentum” in their campaign against capital punishment, which they have opposed for more than 25 years.
“It is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life,” says the statement titled “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.” “Ending the use of the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death toward building a culture of life.”
The guidelines on lay ecclesial ministry passed with a 190-49 vote; there were five abstentions. The initial presentation of the guidelines Nov. 14 brought a lively discussion on terminology, with some bishops asking whether the term “lay ecclesial ministry” might lead to confusion with the ministry proper only to those who are ordained.
Called “Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” the document containing the guidelines is a response to one of the most significant phenomena to emerge in the church since the Second Vatican Council—the rapid growth of lay ministerial leaders collaborating with the priests and deacons as an integral part of parish and diocesan life.
The document is the result of several regional and national consultations and had gone through seven drafts over the past year and a half.
The proposed new Lectionary for Masses With Children, adapted to the simpler vocabulary and shorter attention span of preadolescent children, is intended to replace the experimental Lectionary that has been in use since 1993.
Approved on a 203-17 vote by more than two-thirds of the nation’s Latin-rite bishops, it must be confirmed by the Vatican before it can be used.
The meeting opened with encouragement for the nation’s priests from the USCCB president, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., who called priests “the treasures who safeguard the church as a eucharistic community.”
Attention stemming from publicity about sexual abuse cases and how the church has handled them was not about the “wonder, commitment, dedication and perseverance” of priests, but about “the darkness and sin which overwhelmed some,” he said. “It has been a personally painful time for the vast majority of priests who did nothing to deserve that pain.”
Bishop Skylstad’s request that the bishops show their appreciation for priests by applauding was met with a standing ovation that lasted nearly a minute.
The bishops heard special presentations Nov. 15 by Cardinal Ignace Moussa Daoud, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches and former patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church, and by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec, where the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress is to be held.
Reporting on the work of the bishops’ hurricane relief task force, Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston said church officials got the “runaround” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency when they wanted to know what federal plans were for helping the regions devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
“The task force believes strongly that we must continue to put strong pressure on the White House and Congress so that we get the needed answers,” he said.
Other bishops reported on the efforts of the Ad Hoc Committee on Africa, the bishops’ immigration reform campaign, the Religious Alliance Against Pornography and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Contributing to this roundup were Jerry Filteau, Patricia Zapor, Agostino Bono and Mark Pattison.