USCCB votes to draft document on the Eucharist

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday friends,

The voting results of the USCCB’s June meeting are in, and the bishops have voted to approve the drafting of a teaching document on the Eucharist. The bishops voted on a range of agenda items; results on several items were announced at the opening of their final day of meetings this afternoon. 

Most notably, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to approve the drafting of a document on the Eucharist. After nearly three hours of debate yesterday, many bishops privately said that they expected the motion to pass but with a simple majority.

Instead, some 75% of the bishops voted to approve the drafting of a text for consideration at their next meeting.

Only 55 bishops voted against the motion, fewer than signed a letter to the conference president Archbishop Gomez last month, calling for the vote to be dropped from the agenda altogether.

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Here are the results in full

  • The motion to approve the committee on doctrine’s request to draft a document on the Eucharist passed: 168 bishops voted in favor, 55 against, with 6 abstentions.

  • The bishops also voted to approve the draft pastoral framework on marriage and family life, Called to the Joy of Love: 212 in favor, 13 opposed, 4 abstaining.

  • A motion in favor of drafting a national pastoral framework on youth and young adults for future consideration passed with 222 votes in favor, and 7 against.

  • The proposal to draft a new formal statement on and comprehensive vision for Native American and Alaskan Native ministry was approved 223-6.

The bishops were also asked to approve various new translations from the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, each needs a two-thirds majority and subsequent approval from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship:

  • Asked to approve the ICEL Gray Book of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church for use in the dioceses of the United States of America, the bishops approved 188-2.

  • Asked to approve the ICEL Gray Book of the Liturgy of the Hours: Additional Intercessions and Psalter Concluding Prayers for use in the dioceses of the United States, the bishops said yes, 186-3 with 1 abstention.

  • Asked to approve the ICEL Gray Book of the Order of Penance for use in the dioceses of the United States, the bishops approved, voting 182 in favor, 6 opposed, 2 abstaining.

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After two afternoons of extensive, some might say exhaustive, certainly exhausting, public exchanges (which JD live-tweeted, in an act of either heroic dedication or demented enthusiasm), the bishops will have a few more presentations, and then head into their private executive session, at which they can tell each other what they really think.

Away from public eyes, perhaps the tone of the conversation will become a little less formal, and the exchanges between bishops may well become a little more pointed. 

There are certainly divisions among the bishops, and they are serious enough that both the conference president, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, used their opening addresses to make a plea for unity.

Their theme was well chosen. Just before the two archbishops spoke, there was a nearly hour-long debate among the bishops over approving the meeting’s agenda, which is usually a pro forma voice vote. 

In a rather interesting shift, several bishops who signed a letter last month calling for no debate at this week’s meeting on drafting a document on the Eucharist changed tack completely. They moved on Wednesday for a discussion of the subject with no time limits. Other bishops called that an attempt to “filibuster” a vote on allowing the doctrinal committee to get on with its work.

During that debate, the parliamentary maneuvering of some bishops, I thought, stood in stark contrast to the nuncio’s call for bishops to consider if they were really addressing the needs of their people, and rooting their priorities in the announcement of Christ. 

Looking back across the procedural wrangling and circular debate of the last two days, it’s hard not to conclude the meeting has been, at least at times, more Senate than Cenacle. I wrote about that, and you can read it here.  

Blink and you’ll miss it

Apart from the headline discussion on Eucharistic coherence, there was a lot going on this week for the bishops, and it’s possible you might have missed some things.

Today, Friday, Bishop Andrew Cozzens will present the conference with a plan for a “Eucharistic revival”, aiming to increase devotion, love, and belief in the Eucharist. 

Just before the meeting started, Bishop Cozzens sat down with JD for a long talk about what a Catholic “revival” means, and what it might look like.

The bishop said he hopes the revival will “light a fire” in the Church.

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Also, did you know that the bishops voted to advance the causes for sainthood of two sea-faring Americans? 

Or that they discussed a new pastoral plan for caring for indigenous communities? 

And that they got an update from the National Review Board, the lay advisory body on the prevention of clerical sexual abuse?

Well, they did.

What the ff?

Yesterday, the bishops discussed approving a new pastoral framework for marriage and family life, titled Called to the Joy of Love. The document looked set to generate a serious debate about Amoris Laetitia (remember that?) and how to “integrate” couples in irregular marriages into the life of the Church.

Instead, what we got was less than 15 minutes’ discussion on the inclusion of “ff” in a footnote citation of Pope Francis’ exhortation. The debate, which didn’t mention the words “marriage,” “divorce,” or “family,” ended in a knife-edge vote, passing with 52%.

The irony of a debate about the most controversial parts of Amoris Laetitia being collapsed into a single footnote is, I admit, deeply funny. What is really interesting, though, is that while the subject still has the power to divide the bishops almost straight down the middle, they can’t even seem to bring themselves to talk about the issue openly.

Infinite debate

The main event of the meeting was, of course, a measure to approve the drafting of a teaching document on the Eucharist, which the bishops affirmed by 168-55. 

While the vote was more than expected, and far more than enough to move the process along, the bishops will need another two-thirds majority to pass an eventual draft in November, so there is still real work to be done.

The most likely way forward is that the conference’s doctrinal committee will carry on with the first two points of their outline for a draft, which focus on the Eucharist as “A Mystery to be Believed” and “A Mystery to be Celebrated,” and which appear to enjoy near-unanimous support.

The more contentions third part, “A Mystery to be Lived,” which includes discussion of “Eucharistic consistency,” and when and who should receive Communion, will likely be handed off to regional meetings among the bishops in the coming months, which could then feedback to the committee just ahead of the next USCCB session in November. 

It will involve some extra logistics and some quick work by the committee, but it seems like their best hope of producing a document that the necessary majority will be minded to support when it comes up for a vote.

JD wrote about the path to a document here.

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A matter of faith

And although his name was hardly mentioned during the nearly three hour debate yesterday, the subtext of the bishops’ discussion was whether the document would treat President Biden and other Catholic politicians who present themselves for Communion, while seemingly in an objective state of manifest grave sin. 

Several bishops made clear their view that even coming near the subject of politicians like Biden in a teaching document would hopelessly compromise the conference and import partisan divisions across American dioceses and parishes. 

The reality is, as was made clear in the subsequent press conference, that the Biden question isn’t going anywhere. In a question to Bishop Kevin Rhoades yesterday, the New York Times called Biden “clearly the most [religiously] observant president in almost fifty years,” but concluded that “it seems that he’s just not observant in ways that work for some of the conference.”

“Clearly, there’s a political message here, it’s undeniable,” The Times’ correspondent reasoned. “So what does that mean for a generation of Catholics that say ‘A Church that has no place for President Joe Biden has no place for me’?”

The question was instructive, in a way. Biden is a totemic representative of a class of Catholics for whom ritual practice and cultural aesthetic are the most important aspects of religion, rather than belief in the Church’s theological and moral teachings.

As several bishops noted yesterday, polling suggests belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist among American Catholics is a minority position. If that’s the case, it underlines the urgency for both a devotional Eucharistic revival and some remedial catechesis for the Church in this country. 

It also explains the heart of the Biden conundrum, and the disconnect between the two sides of the debate: If you don’t happen to believe that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ, ritual participation and theatre is all you’re left with —  and why should anyone be denied that, or fear spiritual consequences for taking it in a state of grave sin?

As one bishop told The Pillar yesterday, “without getting the theology right, and actually believing it ourselves, our Eucharistic revival is just bread and circuses.” 

Similarly, if you don’t happen to believe abortion is the deliberate taking of an innocent human life, it’s hard to envision a bishop’s pastoral concern for Biden’s soul as anything but a political message.

Communion with the Catholic Church consists of three essential aspects - of authority, of sacraments, and of faith. Among many American Catholics, the growing opinion seems to be that any two out of the three should be enough. That is the real challenge facing the bishops, and it is a crisis of communion no pastoral framework or draft document is likely to overcome. 

Meeting that challenge will require the bishops to lead by example and, as the nuncio told them on Wednesday, to begin again with Christ.

In other news

Something that may have fallen through the cracks this week was a key development in the ongoing Vatican financial scandal. An Italian court doubled down on its sanctions against Gianluigi Torzi, the man at the center of the now famous London property deal.

In doing so, the judges supported the Vatican’s charges of fraud and extortion against Torzi, and highlighted his reliance on insider help for his scheme — of course, no cardinals or archbishops are believed to be responsible, it was the lay people that tricked them into it. 

Semper idem.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the USCCB conference was the be-all-and-end-all of life in the Church in America this week. Of course, it wasn’t. The reality is that documents produced by the conference don’t often make it into the daily lives of many Catholics in the pews. 

Even when they generate controversy, statements on issues like politicians and the reception of Communion tend to have a short practical shelf-life, so much so that the bishops’ whole agenda was swamped by the issue this week, despite them having treated the same issue as recently as 2006.

Away from the Zoom sessions, life goes on, and so does the faith of millions. 

Consider the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which celebrates its bicentennial this week. Catholics in the archdiocese have celebrated the anniversary with the longest Marian pilgrimage in the country. Thousands of local faithful have taken part in the more than 300 mile procession, which ends tomorrow. 

That’s the kind of faith which, as Archbishop Pierre would say, “walks together, toward our common goal, which is heaven.”

Set that next to a three day Zoom meeting, and I can tell you which one I would rather be at.

See you next week, and keep the faith.

Ed. Condon

Editor

The Pillar