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Bishop Michael W. Warfel of Great Falls-Billings, Mont., turns in his paper ballot during the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 17.

Washington, DC

Statements on pornography, politics take center stage at USCCB meeting

By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published November 26, 2015

BALTIMORE (CNS)—The U.S. bishops approved a formal statement on pornography and additions to their quadrennial statement on political responsibility at their Nov. 16-19 fall general meeting in Baltimore.

The votes were made during the public portion of the meeting, which ran Nov. 16-17. The bishops met in executive session Nov. 18-19.

‘Faithful Citizenship’ document updated

The 2015 version of political responsibility document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” passed 210-21 with five abstentions, and a separate vote on the statement’s introductory note passed 217-16 with two abstentions; two-thirds of diocesan bishops, or 181 votes, were needed for passage.

Additions to the document were made to reflect the teachings of Pope Francis and the later encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI. But some bishops said the document does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has asked the church to do.

The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and euthanasia, that some people “outside of this room” would “misuse” the document and claim other issues did not carry the same moral weight.

Bishops’ statement calls pornography ‘gravely wrong’

The pornography statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” says that “producing or using pornography is gravely wrong” and is a “mortal sin” if committed with deliberate consent and urges Catholics to turn away from it. Approval of the statement came on a vote of 230-4 with one abstention, with 181 votes needed for passage.

Bishop Richard J. Malone, of Buffalo, New York, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, described pornography as a “dark shadow in our world today.” He added pornography is a “particularly sinister instance of consumption” where men, women and children are “consumed for the pleasure of others.”

The bishops approved a budget for the work of their national conference in 2016, but their vote was inconclusive on a proposed 3 percent increase in 2017 to the assessment on dioceses that funds the conference.

The budget was approved by the bishops by voice vote Nov. 17. But a separate written ballot on the diocesan assessment failed to gain the required two-thirds majority of bishops who head dioceses or eparchies. The vote was 123-49 in favor of the 3 percent increase, and 132 votes were needed to reach the two-thirds majority. Heads of dioceses who were not present at the Baltimore meeting will be polled by mail on the matter.

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas, USCCB treasurer and chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Budget and Finance, argued the assessment increase was necessary. The USCCB “needs to have a sustainable income” that does not rely on growth in its long-term investments, he said. “As we have seen between 2008 and 2009, we should not have our fates so heavily dependent on financial markets over which we have no control whatsoever,” he added.

Strategic plan emphasizes five important priorities

The bishops approved priorities and strategic plans for 2017-20 in a 233-4 vote Nov. 17. The document emphasizes five major areas: evangelization; family and marriage; human life and dignity; religious freedom; and vocations and ongoing formation.

As part of a series of elections, the bishops chose Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati as treasurer-elect. They also elected Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield as the new general secretary; he has been associate general secretary for five years. His term starts at the beginning of 2016. He will succeed Msgr. Ronny Jenkins.

‘Model a compassionate life’ said USCCB president

In his USCCB presidential address Nov. 16, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, called on his fellow bishops Nov. 16 to imitate the “pastor’s presence” exhibited by Pope Francis during his recent U.S. visit, “touching the hearts of the most influential, the forgotten and all of us in between.”

Noting the upcoming Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8, Archbishop Kurtz said a ministry of “presence means making time and never letting administration come between me and the person. It’s seeing the person first.”

From entering a diocesan Holy Door to undertaking the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, Catholics can model a compassionate life during the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, said the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

The jubilee period, from Dec. 8 through Nov. 13, 2016, can be observed in many different ways that allow every Catholic to be a “credible witness to mercy,” Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, said Nov. 17.

CRS Rice Bowl for families, student ambassador programs for high school and college students and a fledgling parish ambassador program can help U.S. Catholics “deepen their commitment to an essential dimension of their faith,” a Catholic Relief Services official told the U.S. bishops Nov. 17.

“I just wish that every Catholic knew about and could be proud of the wonderful works of mercy and justice they are part of” through the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, said Joan Rosenhauer, CRS executive vice president for U.S. operations.

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a Nov. 17 presentation, said 13,000 people were already registered for World Youth Day, to be held July 25-31 in Krakow, Poland, with U.S. registration expected to top 30,000.

Pope Francis, in inviting young people and young adults to the celebration, connected World Youth Day with the Year of Mercy. The event in the southern Polish city will become a “youth jubilee,” Bishop Caggiano said.

Citing young altar servers’ weak arms and older priests’ weak eyes, the U.S. bishops approved an adapted version of the Roman Missal to be used during the times at Mass when the celebrant is seated, subject to Vatican approval. The bishops endorsed “Excerpts from the Roman Missal: Book for Use at the Chair” by a 187-27 vote, with three abstentions.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta used the opportunity to ask whether there would be an opportunity “to examine the reception” by both Catholics in the pew and by priests of the new Mass translations that came into use four years ago. “There are many wonderful things in the new translation, but some inconsistencies too,” he said. He called on his fellow bishops to “look at improving, adjusting, amending the text.”

A proposal for a one-time national collection in 2017 to fund completion of the artwork in the central dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington squeaked through Nov. 17. Needing 132 votes—two-thirds of diocesan and eparchial bishops—to pass, the proposal was adopted 135-31 with four abstentions.

No cost estimate was given for the work, but Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said $4.2 million had already been raised in pledges and cash “and we are awaiting responses on an additional $3 million in requests and have identified another $1 million” in potential funding.

Upcoming pastoral plan to address marriage and family life

On Nov. 16, the bishops discussed how the U.S. Catholic Church can move forward in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage this year. To that end, the bishops are planning to develop a pastoral plan for marriage and family life. The pastoral plan, according to Bishop Malone, will seek the bishops’ input.

A 2017 convocation for Catholic leaders represents “a new way of reaching and teaching our people,” Bishop Malone said in a presentation to his fellow bishops. The national convocation, planned for July 1-4, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, will have the theme “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio painted a dire picture of “a pastoral problem that affects all of us” in a report to his fellow bishops about the “desperate” shortage of Catholic priests serving as military chaplains.

The head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said there were only 217 Catholic priests serving the 1.8 million Catholics in the U.S. armed forces around the world, and the numbers would soon decline due to retirements and medical leaves.

“Witnesses to Freedom” will be the theme of the 2016 observance of the Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, told the assembly. The two-week event will include a nationwide tour of first class relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. Archbishop Lori said details of the tour have yet to be arranged.

Contributing to this roundup were Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Dennis Sadowski and Carol Zimmermann in Baltimore, and Mark Pattison in Washington.