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U.S. Bishops Chart Path Forward in Florida Spring Meeting

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services gestures during a Nov. 15, 2022, news conference after being elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during the fall general assembly of the bishops in Baltimore. (OSV News photo)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Out of a relatively sparse agenda, the main actions taken by the U.S. bishops at their spring general assembly were the decisions to revise the directives and ethical guidelines for Catholic heath care providers and to approve a new 10-year national pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry in the United States. 

Held June 14-16 in Orlando, Fla. the spring general assembly also included addresses from Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre, who encouraged the bishops to embrace synodality, and Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who urged the bishops to always be “slaves to the truth.” 

By a voice vote June 16, the bishops decided to proceed with revisions on their Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, to specifically address if Catholic hospitals can provide gender-affirming medical treatment to transgender patients. 

In a discussion on the floor just prior to the vote, several bishops emphasized the need for wide consultation in this work and to ultimately provide clear direction with care and sensitivity.

The bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, often called ERDs, offer moral guidance for Catholic health care providers based on the Church’s theological and moral teachings. 

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, head of the U.S. bishops’ Doctrine Committee, who presented the topic to the bishops, said that although the revisions to the document would be minor, they would require in-depth consultation with bishops, theologians, ethicists, physicians, and other stakeholders in Catholic health care. The drafted revision would be subject to review and discussion and ultimately a vote by the body of bishops.

He pointed out that the section to be revised, on professional patient relationships, has not changed since 1994. At that time, he said, “it was not envisioned that it might be necessary to include specific guidance concerning radical modifications of the human body such as are widely advocated in practice today for the treatment of those suffering gender dysphoria.”

A revision of the directives, he said, would incorporate the guidance issued this March by the bishops’ Doctrine Committee in its document, “Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body,” that addressed hormone therapies and procedures related to gender.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said consultation for this revision should include “people who are from the trans community” and be presented in “language people will understand.”

And Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego said one of the areas of focus in the update would be to look at, “How do we help people who are wrestling with dysphoria?”

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, said he hoped the revision would clarify the distinction between gender dysphoria and gender ideology, and said that after the document is revised, the bishops should issue a pastoral letter further addressing this issue.

Contrary to the lengthy discussion ahead of the vote on the directives and ethical guidelines for Catholic healthcare services, not one U.S. bishop commented on the new 10-year pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry, and it was approved almost unanimously. 

The plan contains 10 pastoral priorities for implementation at the national, diocesan, and parish levels over the next decade: evangelization and mission, faith formation and catechesis, pastoral accompaniment of Hispanic/Latino families, youth and young adult ministries, immigration and advocacy, formation for ministry in a culturally diverse church, pastoral care for those in the periphery, liturgy and spirituality, promotion of vocations, and Catholic education.

Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, the assistant director for Hispanic affairs at the USCCB, said he wasn’t surprised at the overwhelming approval of the plan, given that the development of the plan was a very consultative process in which 12 USCCB committees were involved. 

If the plan succeeds, Aguilera-Titus envisions a U.S. Catholic Church in 2033 alive with Hispanic participation and influence as both lay and ordained leaders.

“My hope [in 10 years] would be a church in which Hispanic/Latino Catholic leaders have a very strong presence in all aspects of the Church,” Aguilera-Titus told The Tablet. “More bishops, more priests, more religious men and women, more deacons, more religious ministers, more children in Catholic schools, more teachers.

“To this point Hispanics/Latinos are underrepresented in [most] every aspect of the Church,” Aguilera-Titus continued. “The idea is to really, significantly increase the number of Hispanic/Latino lay and ordained leaders in service of the Church … so they can then inspire a new generation of leaders.” 

Before any votes were taken, the first day of the conference was marked by the addresses from Archbishop Pierre and Archbishop Broglio, who spoke for the first time as USCCB president. 

Encouraging his fellow bishops to be “slaves to the truth,” Archbishop Broglio touched on immigration reform, support for Haiti and Ukraine, and what he called the “disrespect for the truth and traditions” of the faith by a group the Los Angeles Dodgers chose to honor June 16 as part of Pride month. He also applauded the fruits of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival and Pope Francis’ global Synod on Synodality. 

Overall, Archbishop Broglio’s address was straightforward and on-script. 

Addressing the nation’s immigration crisis, he emphasized the need for lawmakers to work for effective and humane border management in the framework of comprehensive immigration reform, saying “we cannot fail to see the face of Christ in all of those who need our assistance.”

The other national issue Archbishop Broglio discussed was the Los Angeles Dodgers decision to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the organization’s Pride Night on June 16, which has drawn the ire of Catholic leaders, groups, and politicians for weeks. 

The group — self-described as a “leading-edge order of queer and trans nuns” — is made up of LGBTQ+ activists who dress in drag as religious nuns, and who have often, over the years, mocked the Catholic faith. 

“The disrespect for truth and traditions of our faith, for the legendary commitment of religious women to building up society, and tarnishing of what has so often been called the national sport, harkens back to the Know-Nothings of the 19th century,” Archbishop Broglio said.

On the international front, Archbishop Broglio said the U.S. bishops continue to “pray and act in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.” He also addressed the turmoil in Haiti. 

“Perhaps we can find ways to see if there are possibilities to lift these good people from chaos to a more modern government state,” Archbishop Broglio said. “At the very least, I recommend the people of this sister nation to the charity of our prayers.”

Archbishop Pierre reminded the bishops of the importance of the work of the synod as a guide to the future direction of the Catholic Church. 

The nuncio stressed that the synod was not another program but instead is “more about a way of being Church,” or put another way, he described it as “more like a compass” than a GPS.

He also said many of the questions raised so far should be in the process of being answered — such as where are we as a Church and where are we headed.

Archbishop Pierre said that a goal of the synod was to reach the peripheries, not necessarily to “fill the churches” but to go “where Christ is not already known and loved … [and] put him there by our own presence!”

Another goal was to unite people, not divide them, stressing: “To overcome polarization, we must learn to listen to one another, work together, and walk together.”

The work of the synod is a three-year effort in the Catholic Church involving listening to Catholics and compiling their views to submit to the pope and determine future steps. It began in Rome in 2021 and has continued on the diocesan level for the past year in preparation for Synods of Bishops in 2023 and 2024.

Bishop Flores, who has been coordinating the synod process for the bishops of the United States and was appointed to be one of seven members of a preparatory commission for the general assembly of the Synod of Bishop, gave the bishops an update on the synodal process.

He said that throughout the process of consulting with Catholics, Church leaders have “heard and learned many things.”

Some of the themes that have emerged from the listening sessions were a love for the Church coupled with frustration and pain. This input from Catholics, he said, complements the work of the bishops by helping them to see where the Church is and the direction it is going.

“There is much yet we must do,” he concluded.

Later in the June 15 public session, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, said that a year out from the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis the bishops are about two-thirds of the way to their $28 million fundraising goal, and he “doesn’t anticipate difficulty getting to the end.”

Bishop Cozzens, chair of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, who is leading the bishops’ three-year Eucharistic Revival initiative, said there are about 25,000 people signed up for the event so far, and he envisions reaching the 75,000 needed to fill Lucas Oil Stadium, where the congress will be held.

The National Eucharistic Congress is the culmination of the U.S. bishops’ three-year National Eucharistic Revival initiative that launched in 2021. The first year focused on the diocesan level, and has now moved into the parish phase, which Bishop Cozzens said is a “pivotal moment” to go much deeper into the grassroots with small group, parish-based sessions — akin to those completed for the Synod on Synodality.

More broadly, Bishop Cozzens said that the revival, and the congress in particular, is a “generational moment” for the U.S. church that the bishops need to embrace.

“For this event to be a success, it’s got to be seen as our event. Only the bishops can call people from every parish,” Bishop Cozzens explained. “Only us as a group can really call the United States Church together, and we have an incredible opportunity to do that.”

In the lone vote taken on day one of the spring general assembly, the bishops gave overwhelming support in advancing the local beatification and canonization cause of five Louisiana priests who ministered during the 1873 yellow fever epidemic in Shreveport.

The five priests — Fathers Jean Pierre, Isidore A. Quémerais, Jean-Marie Biler, Louis Gergaud and François Le Vézouët — became Servants of God in December 2020. The five priests are all from Brittany, France. They were recruited to come to the United States by Bishop Auguste Marie Martin, the founding bishop of what is now the Diocese of Shreveport.

Bishop Francis Malone of Shreveport said the heroic efforts of the five priests is important for both the Catholic and secular world.

“This is a story which resounds powerfully even beyond the Catholic world,” Bishop Malone said. “There’s also a beautiful and inspirational reminder that even in dark times and dark places as we’ve experienced, human beings are spiritual beings who can sacrifice themselves for the common good and to imitate God’s love.”

Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and chair of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, reminded the bishops of the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal Aug. 1-6 that will be attended by more than 26,000 U.S. pilgrims and 59 U.S. bishops.

He urged his fellow bishops to view the gathering as not just an event but the start of a movement in the Church rekindling the faith of young people. He said when these young people return they will be ready to begin a new journey.

“Let’s use this moment to point young people toward their vocation and mission,” he said.