National News

U.S. Bishops’ Fall Assembly Gets a ‘Boost’ From Face-to-Face Meetings

USCCB set plans for renewal, immigration, with focus on solidarity and Eucharistic love

BALTIMORE, Maryland — The annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore came and went last week without controversy and with renewed camaraderie among the nation’s Church leaders.

Bishops said the in-person nature of this year’s meeting, which had been impossible since 2019, paid dividends both for fellowship and accomplishment. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, of Brooklyn, called it a “boost.”

Cardinals Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., and Se·n P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, pray alongside organizer Jennifer Wortham before a sunrise walk to end abuse Nov. 18, 2021, outside the hotel in Baltimore where the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was held Nov. 15-18. (Photo: CNS/Bob Roller)

“Many of the bishops are by themselves, and they don’t see other bishops that often, but when we get a chance to come together, old friendships, people who were on committees together, they see one another and it’s a great time,” Bishop DiMarzio said.

For business, Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle noted that “you can’t replace face-to-face conversations for productive means of carrying on the business of the conference.”

The agenda was packed with almost 20 action items and a slew of updates and presentations — some of which are crucial to the U.S. Catholic Church for years to come.

Eucharist Document Gets Near-Unanimous Support

The nation’s body of bishops approved a much-anticipated document on the Eucharist by an overwhelming vote of 222-8, with three abstaining.

The 30-page document was entitled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” Its drafting was approved by the bishops during the spring plenary session in June. Tasked with writing the document was the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, chaired by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The controversy surrounding the document was a belief that it could have implications for pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving holy Communion, mainly President Joe Biden. The final document makes no reference to politicians, to any one person, or to any group in particular.

Bishop Rhoades made it clear in his presentation of the document ahead of the vote that it is a teaching document on the Eucharist for all Catholics.

“The goal of the [doctrinal committee] has been to produce a catechetical resource for Catholics in the United States, rooted in scripture and tradition, that emphasizes the fundamental doctrines concerning the Eucharist and its centrality in the life of the Church,” Bishop Rhoades said.

“The document is addressed to all Catholics in the United States, and endeavors to explain the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church,” he continued. “It is intended to be a theological contribution to the ongoing work of the strategic plan and the Eucharistic revival by providing the doctrinal resource for parishes, catechists, and the faithful.”

After a two-hour debate in June on whether or not the document should make a reference to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, collaboration between the bishops — including an executive session last week — led to wide agreement. The doctrinal committee had received over 100 pages of recommendations that it took into account for the final draft, Rhoades said.

“I could tell from the executive session there wasn’t going to be anything huge,” said Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe. “It was surprisingly quiet and peaceful and tranquil and all that.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami similarly used the word “serenity” to describe last week’s conversations on the document.

“It’s a well-rounded document, and it avoids getting sucked into a political debate with the president, or the speaker of the house, or something like that because that would detract from the purpose of the original document,” Archbishop Wenski said.

Bishop DiMarzio described the final document as “a good explanation theologically of the Eucharist” that could be a “foundation for the actual things we’re going to do.”

National Eucharistic Congress

The nation’s bishops approved a National Eucharistic Congress, part of their three-year eucharistic revival plan, to be held in Indianapolis on July 17-21, 2024, with an expected attendance of 80,000 to 100,000 people.

The proposal was presented by Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the bishop-designate of Crookston, who also chairs the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. His proposal to hold the congress also received overwhelming support. In total, 201 bishops voted in favor of the congress, 17 voted against it, and 5 abstained.

“It will have a World Youth Day-like spirit,” Bishop Cozzens said.

The estimated “completely inclusive budget” for the event, which includes renting venues, insurance, security, registration, management, and food and beverages, is about $28 million. The fundraising goal for the event is estimated at $12 million. The Our Sunday Visitor organization has already donated $1 million, and the Knights of Columbus has also promised support.

The full three-year Eucharistic revival plan was born out of the USCCB 2021-2024 Strategic Plan titled “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ, Source of Our Healing and Hope. That plan focuses on the Eucharist.

“The Holy Spirit is what the church needs right now and the bishops have been led to that, I think, by the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Cozzens told The Tablet. “They sense that the Church needs to focus on the gift of the Eucharist.”

The three-year Eucharistic revival plan launches in June 2022 with a diocesan focus that will include Eucharistic processions and other events of adoration and prayer nationwide. Blessed Carlo Acutis will be the patron of the first year.

In 2023, the focus will be on helping Catholics better understand the Eucharist at the parish level. The revival plan will culminate in 2024 with the National Eucharistic Congress.

Presentation on the Synod of Bishops on Synodality

One of the more fruitful discussions during the public sessions was on the 2021-2023 Synod of Bishops on Synodality. Cardinal Mario Grech, the Vatican’s secretary-general for the Synod of Bishops, kicked things off with a video message, where he reminded the body of bishops that a synod is “a spiritual journey, an event inspired and guided by the Spirit.”

“Let the pastors not be afraid to listen to the flock entrusted to them,” Cardinal Grech said.

He encouraged the U.S. bishops not to be “afraid to tell [the Vatican] frankly” what they gather from the listening sessions with their parishioners, and he reassured them that they will have the support of the Secretariat of the Synod throughout the process.

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, the chairman-elect of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, led the live discussion with a presentation on the synodal process, which was launched by Pope Francis on Oct. 10 and a week later at the local level by bishops around the world.

Bishop Flores spoke about the importance of reaching the alienated, the marginalized, and the elderly, as well as migrants and those who don’t attend church or practice the faith. He emphasized that “prayer and adoration are the sustaining force of the path forward.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark reminded his fellow bishops that “to see what people believe is important,” noting that, if they do the synodal process right as a collective, “then we’re going to have some very important resources in that sort of discernment.”

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio spoke about the impact the synod is already having across his archdiocese.

“We know the Holy Spirit is working because he’s … already bringing us to unity,” Archbishop García-Siller said.

The diocesan phase of the synod runs until Aug. 15, 2022. It’s the first phase of a two-year process that includes national and continental gatherings before the global Synod on Synodality is convened by Pope Francis in October 2023.

Immigration Advocate Highlights Bishop DiMarzio

Anna Gallagher, the executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) told the bishops they should be proud of creating the organization that has helped one of the country’s most vulnerable populations, congratulating Bishop DiMarzio in the process.

“I’m proud to say that we have grown from an organization of a handful of affiliates started by Bishop DiMarzio in the 1980s … to now over 400 affiliates,” Gallagher said. “The Catholic Church created what I call the largest poor people’s immigration law firm in the country.”

She framed the importance of the organization o work through the lens of what migrants at the southern border, and even those settled in the U.S., face.

“This is a time of particular challenge and opportunity,” Gallagher said. “Thousands of men, women, and children are living in misery at our southern border, waiting for access to justice. Thousands of Haitians have been deported from the United States and continued to be deported without access to justice.

“Millions of our brothers and sisters, our immigrant brothers and sisters, are in the United States without status, caring for our children, working in our hospitals, cleaning our homes, and providing essential services, without [legal] status.”

She also asked bishops to visit CLINIC affiliates in their localities. And expressed a hope that change is on the horizon.

“We are hopeful that legislation will happen, and it will be [for] anywhere between 3 million to 11 million [migrants],” Gallagher said. “Our great hope is that it will be 11 million.”

Bishops Walk with Child Sexual Abuse Survivors

On the morning of the last day of the fall plenary, a group of bishops gathered in the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel lobby, pinned on blue ribbons, and walked in solidarity with child sexual abuse survivors.

The walk, billed the Pathways to Prevention, Healing and Justice Inaugural Sunrise Walk, coincided with the annual day of observance for the prevention of child sexual exploitation and abuse established by the Council of Europe in 2015.

Before the group’s departure, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, led them in prayer.

“We’re here representing so many survivors, people around the world, we’re united with them in prayer and in solidarity,” O’Malley said. “Father Goodness, we invoke your blessing upon us. Heal all of the broken hearts so damaged by this terrible scourge of abuse. Help us to be ever committed to safeguarding, and bringing some reconciliation and love into our world.

“Help us repair the broken world we’re living in. This we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Cardinal O’Malley then led the group on the walk with a child sexual abuse survivor from his archdiocese by his side. One of the participants was Auxiliary Bishop Elias Lorenzo of Newark, who has worked on child sexual abuse cases for years, calling them “some of the most horrible stories” he has ever heard.

“This work still needs to be done. We are not finished,” Lorenzo told The Tablet. “We in the Church are trying to address [this problem] and walk, literally, with survivors to find hope and healing in their lives and hopefully in that common walk they will feel comfortable returning to church and into the love that God can give them.”

Auxiliary Bishop Mark Bartosic of Chicago noted that the church has a long history “of walking on pilgrimage in a sort of penitential way to do penance for our sins,” and so he was happy to participate in the walk to “show solidarity with victim-survivors and to pledge safety for the children in the Church.”

Father Gerard McGlone, a clergy sex abuse survivor and member of the Global Collaborative group that sponsored the event, also noted the significance of the walk coinciding with the USCCB meeting, saying that it “sends a clear message” that Catholic Church leaders recognize the problem of child sex abuse, within both the church and general society.

“For us to be able to preach about it, for us to be able to teach about putting survivors’ stories first, is really the point of this,” he told The Tablet.