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Bishops Focus on Abuse, Immigration, and Eucharistic Revival as Spring Assembly Closes

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, gestures June 13, 2024, during a news conference at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Spring Plenary Assembly in Louisville, Ky. At right is Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Service. (Photo: OSV News/Bob Roller)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — While highlighting substantial progress the American Church has made to address the abuse of minors, the chair of the board created to monitor the implementation of Catholic bishops’ measures on the issue has called for even greater buy-in from the bishops, and warned against complacency. 

“We must keep the child of today, the child of tomorrow, and especially that child of yesterday, at the center of all of our decision making,” Suzanne Healy, chair of the National Review Board, said in an address to the American bishops on June 14. 

“I am in awe of the many examples of compassionate, radical accompaniment occurring across the U.S,” Healy said. “Again, we cannot become complacent, and we must remain vigilant in ongoing support of these important ministries and their departments.” 

Healy made the comments at the U.S. Bishops’ Conference spring general assembly. 

Other than Healy’s address, the gathering’s second public session included a vote to pass a new pastoral framework for Indigenous ministry, the contents of which include an apology to Indigenous Catholics from the American bishops for their past failures. 

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, the U.S. bishops’ conference Migration Committee chair, also presented on the challenges clergy and dioceses face because of significant visa backlogs, and announced the creation of a new parish education program intended to counter “adverse” immigration narratives. 

The June 14 public session of the spring general assembly, which ran until about noon, marked the end of this year’s spring general assembly, which was held in Louisville, Kentucky, and began on June 12. 

Healy began her address to the bishops by commending the culture of safety they are creating. 

“It is no longer responding to a crisis, but rather, it has become and continues to be ingrained in the fabric of our everyday Church culture,” Healy said. “We have much to be proud of. As a result of the commitments you and your brother bishops made in 2002, with the adoption of the Dallas Charter, we are creating a culture of safety far beyond what was envisioned nearly 25 years ago.” 

Healy, however, highlighted areas of needed improvement. 

Healy said that this year’s audit into the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, commonly known as the Dallas Charter, found that there are still a small number of dioceses and eparchies that have yet to participate in a live on-site audit themselves, which the firm that conducts the audit said prevents them from saying the charter has been fully implemented. 

Further, Healy also highlighted that only 70% of dioceses and eparchies conduct their own parish audits that need to be done or “we are at the risk for possible breakdowns and potential abuse.” Healy also said there are instances of noncompliance both in the composition of diocesan review boards and in the regularity of diocesan review board meetings. 

As the charter is in the process of revision, Healy highlighted the “growing expectation and hope” that a similar document will be created to establish a framework for the pastoral response to adult allegations of abuse, which she said is important to implement at this time. 

“It is a fact and public sentiment that abuse hurts at every age. If we don’t respond compassionately to these cases it diminishes the trust we are working so hard to restore in our Church,” Healy said. “The institutional response to these allegations appears to be lacking.” 

Prior to Healy’s address, the bishops voted on multiple pastoral frameworks. Notably, they passed “Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry” with 181 bishops voting in favor of the framework, two voting against it, and three abstaining. 

The framework itself spans 52 pages and contains five parts: A Call for Healing, A Call to Mission, A Call for Reconciliation, A Call to Holiness, A Call of Transformation. An introductory portion of the framework states that the American bishops “hope to begin a new journey of mutual accompaniment” with indigenous Catholics. 

It also includes an apology, and a commitment to accompaniment. 

“We apologize for the failure to nurture, strengthen, honor, recognize, and appreciate those entrusted to our pastoral care. We resolve now to prioritize our pastoral ministry with indigenous Catholics,” the document states. “We seek to accompany the indigenous peoples of this land in their faith through praying, listening, and seeking healing and reconciliation along the way, so that we can journey together toward the house of the heavenly Father.” 

Another pastoral framework, “Listen, Teach, Send: A National Pastoral Framework for Ministries with Youth and Young Adults” also got significant support in a vote, with 178 bishops voting in favor of the framework, four voting against it, and four abstaining. However, because a significant number of bishops were not present for the vote, it did not reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass, and will now be sent separately to those who weren’t present for their votes. 

Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, who leads the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth that developed the framework, said on June 13 that it is a summons to the Church to “renew her engagement with youth and young adults in imitation of Jesus Christ on the journey to Emmaus. 

“Like the Lord in that familiar story, we’re called deeply to listen to the realities facing young people with pastoral care and compassion to teach in a new way, that shares the light of Christ with young people and brings about a conversion of heart, and finally, to send youth and young adults forth so that they eagerly choose to follow God’s call and their mission to transform the world,” Bishop Barron said.

Toward the end of the June 14 public session, Bishop Seitz gave an update from the Committee on Migration, in which he highlighted that the present visa backlogs for religious are “unsustainable.” A priest applying for a green card today will be forced to wait an estimated 15 years before a resident visa becomes available to him, Bishop Seitz said. 

The maximum time allowed in the country for the temporary visa category used by religious workers, known as the R-1, is five years. However, at the end of each of those five years the religious worker must spend a year outside of the country before returning on a new R-1 visa. 

Bishop Seitz said the committee has been working with federal authorities to get this changed, and in December they got word that pursuant to a forthcoming regulation, a religious worker will only have to be outside of the country for a period of 30 days before returning on a new R-1 visa. He noted that the first step in this new rule isn’t expected until at least October. 

In his address, Bishop Seitz denounced the current civil and political discourse on immigration, especially the attempts by some to villainize Church ministries for their efforts to assist those in need. To combat misinformation and create moments of encounter between immigrants and American citizens, Bishop Seitz and the committee have developed the parish education program. 

“The program seeks to align U.S. Catholics’ understanding and engagement on this issue with the Church’s teaching on migration, which offers a more balanced and nuanced approach, at the heart of which is our respect for the sanctity of human life, the God-given dignity of every person, and the well-being of families, native born and immigrant alike,” Bishop Seitz said. 

The June 14 public session closed with an update on the National Eucharistic Revival and Congress from Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, who is chair of the revival. He said that at least 50,000 people have participated in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage so far at their approximate halfway points. 

Bishop Cozzens announced that congress registrations have now surpassed 40,000 five day passes, and 2,000-plus day passes, with capacity for the congress being 50,000. He also reminded the bishops that the congress itself marks a beginning, not an end, and they’re already looking to hold another in 2033 to coincide with and honor the year of redemption. 

“With all of the excitement about the Eucharistic Congress, it’s easy to forget that the Eucharistic Revival is only two-thirds over,” Bishop Cozzens said. “We have a whole year of mission, and always a goal from the beginning of this has been that the Eucharistic Congress would not be the end, but it would actually launch this year of mission.”