By CNS | Published November 20, 2008
Fears about laws and changes in regulations on abortion that might advance under a new Democratic-run Congress and White House are the central focus of a statement approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 12 during its annual fall meeting.
The majority of the 830-word, untitled statement focuses on concerns about the possible passage of the Freedom of Choice Act, calling it “an evil law that would further divide our country” and adding that the church “should be intent on opposing evil.”
It warns against interpreting the outcome of the Nov. 4 elections as “a referendum on abortion” and says “aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans.”
The statement was crafted during the bishops’ meeting in Baltimore and involved a total of nearly three hours of discussion during executive and public sessions Nov. 11. Under USCCB policies, statements drafted outside the usual committee approval process may be issued by the conference president on behalf of the bishops.
The final product was written under the supervision of Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, USCCB president, after the bishops weighed in with recommendations about its content, tone and writing style. After an overnight writing session, the statement was read by Cardinal George to the body of bishops, who greeted it with applause.
The statement elaborated a range of concerns about the proposed Freedom of Choice Act, including concerns that it would “deprive the American people in all 50 states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry.” It said the bill “would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars,” and would counteract any efforts to reduce the number of abortions in the country.
Statutes requiring parental notification when minors receive abortions, informed-consent provisions and bans on procedures such as partial-birth abortion would also be prohibited, the statement said. It raised concern that abortion clinics would no longer be regulated, that a current ban on federal funding of abortion would end and that it would “have lethal consequences for prenatal human life.”
Catholic health care institutions and Catholic Charities would be threatened, it said, because the bill would have a “destructive effect on the freedom of conscience of doctors, nurses and health care workers whose personal convictions do not permit them to cooperate in the private killing of unborn children.”
The Freedom of Choice Act has been introduced in at least the last four sessions of Congress without any action.
In a January 2008 statement, President-elect Barack Obama said he would support passage of the Freedom of Choice Act. The latest version introduced in April 2007 would establish federal protection of abortion, regardless of what state laws might exist.
Among other meeting actions, the bishops approved a statement on the economy, a blessing for children in the womb and a second section of the Roman Missal translation. They gave five task forces the authority to develop church priorities up to 2011 on issues ranging from strengthening marriage to addressing cultural diversity in the church.
They also approved a budget of $144 million, a 2.25 percent increase from 2008, and they elected a conference secretary-elect and chairmen-elect for five committees: pro-life activities, cultural diversity, communications, doctrine and national collections.
In their statement on the economic crisis, approved Nov. 11, they reminded people that “we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We are all in this together.”
Adopted in a voice vote, the brief statement released by Cardinal George on behalf of the bishops noted that “hard times can isolate us or they can bring us together.”
“As pastors and bishops, we see the many human and moral consequences of this crisis,” the statement said. Though the impact of the crisis is greater in some regions of the country, families all across the nation are losing their homes, workers are losing their jobs and health care coverage, retirement savings are threatened and people are losing the sense of hope and security, it continued.
But the church will continue to “reach out to those in need, stand with those who are hurt, and work for policies that bring greater compassion, accountability and justice to economic life,” the statement said. The bishops concluded by offering prayers for anyone who is “hurting, anxious or discouraged in these difficult times.”
Despite some continued criticism that the latest English translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal is plagued by obscure wording and sentences that are too long, the U.S. bishops approved another lengthy section of the translation Nov. 11.
Needing affirmation by two-thirds of the 264 Latin-rite U.S. bishops, or 176 bishops, the heavily amended translation of the Proper of the Seasons—made up of the proper prayers for Sundays and feast days during the liturgical year—received 189 votes in favor and 30 against. During the bishops’ meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June, the document failed to get the required two-thirds majority.
Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, called the translation “a step forward in the continual renewal of the liturgy” and said no document was ever likely to receive the unanimous support of the bishops.
The translation now goes to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for “recognitio,” or confirmation. The first section of the missal came before the bishops in 2006 and was confirmed by the Vatican earlier this year.
To fill a gap in existing prayer books, the U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved a liturgical service in English and Spanish for blessing children in the womb.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., praised the new blessing as “a tangible way to witness pastorally and sacramentally to the life of the unborn child” and said it could also serve as an opportunity for parishes to bring together expectant couples for mutual support.
The document also must be sent to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for “recognitio,” or confirmation. The English-language version was approved 223-1 and the Spanish-language version 224-0.
The U.S. bishops later chose the Revised Grail Psalter produced by the monks of Conception Abbey in Missouri for liturgical use in the U.S.
The Nov. 12 vote was 203-5 in favor of accepting a recommendation of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship to adopt the Grail Psalter for use in all liturgical settings. The decision also must be confirmed by the Vatican.
There was little debate before the vote and no amendments could be made to the translated psalms.
In a report to the bishops Nov. 11, Auxiliary Bishop Roger P. Morin of New Orleans explained that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development cut off funding earlier this year to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, for reasons unrelated to the organization’s current troubles over voter registration and partisan politics.
Bishop Morin, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ subcommittee on the CCHD, said the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program which supports community groups in June suspended $1.13 million in previously authorized grants to ACORN affiliates. No new applications from ACORN for the coming year were approved, he added.
Bishop Morin explained that the CCHD action followed the revelation June 2 that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled nearly $1 million from the organization and its affiliates in 1999 and 2000. Dale Rathke stepped down from his position with the national organization in June when the matter became public; no charges were filed against him.
That revelation “raised questions about transparency and governance of ACORN,” Bishop Morin told the bishops. CCHD commissioned a forensic audit to determine whether any of the church’s funds had been stolen or used inappropriately. A final report is pending, but he said the work so far has concluded that “our funds were not involved with those embezzled at the national office.”
In an action related to key priorities established earlier by the bishops, the prelates agreed to grant five task forces the authority to tackle issues ranging from strengthening marriage to addressing cultural diversity in the church through 2011 and approved a host of goals for each task force for the next year.
The task forces are on faith formation and sacramental practice; strengthening marriage; the life and dignity of the human person; cultural diversity in the church; and the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
The task forces are expected to come back to the 2009 fall general assembly with detailed reports about meeting the American church’s agenda on these issues, said Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., conference vice president.
“It’s a tremendous investment for the conference,” Bishop Kicanas said. “These are more than goals and objectives. These are lifelong challenges.”
Several U.S. bishops who attended the Oct. 5-26 world Synod of Bishops on the Bible in Rome discussed the moving experience they had and their rediscovery of the beauty of the word of God. They also said Pope Benedict XVI was present during much of the synod and was attentive to what was being said.
Almost lost in the busy Nov. 11 afternoon session was the 2009 USCCB budget. The bishops approved a budget of $144 million, a 2.25 percent increase from 2008.
In one of the few votes on the meeting’s first day, Nov. 10, the bishops agreed to a revised process for submitting “varia”—new issues that an individual bishop or group of bishops would like to see considered by the full body. The new process was designed to allow for flexibility but conform to criteria established under the USCCB reorganization last year.
The bishops also decided by voice vote to review the USCCB regulations on statements and publications in light of the reorganization. Revised regulations were expected to be submitted to the full body in June.
Contributing to this roundup were Chaz Muth, Nancy Frazier O’Brien and Patricia Zapor.