The U.S. bishops are meeting in-person this week for the first time since 2019, after pandemic precautions turned their general assemblies into virtual gatherings over the past two years.
In an unusual move, the fall 2021 meeting kicked off with a full day of executive session Monday. It also included an executive session on Tuesday afternoon. Typically, executive sessions are held only after the public sessions wrap up.
The first public day of the general assembly included a video presentation from esteemed canon lawyer Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta on the changes to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope Francis back in June. The bishops also heard an address from Archbishop Elpidophoros, chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States, on fostering a “dialogue of love” in order to promote ecumenical unity.
Tuesday’s public session covered a variety of other topics as well:
The bishops heard an address from apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christoph Pierre, who focused on the topic of synodality, as the Church recently kicked off the first stage of its two-year Synod on Synodality. The nuncio stressed that synodality is not about a political battle, nor is it about changing Church doctrine, but rather about finding ways to apply the Church’s teaching in current times and situations. This process, he said, involves listening, encounter, and journeying together on a path rooted in Tradition and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Pierre encouraged his fellow bishops not to shy away from the process of apostolic discernment, which involves recognizing challenges, interpreting experiences in faith, and making decisions in a spirit of service to the Church.
“It is true that the path forward is not always immediately clear; patience and discernment are necessary. Still, the path forward necessarily involves unity. A divided Church will never be able to lead others to the deeper unity desired by Christ. This is why communion is an integral to the upcoming synod.”
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, spoke about the challenges and opportunities presented by the current situation in the United States. Amid uncertainty and significant social transitions, he said, American society is “losing its ‘story,’” the Judeo-Christian narrative that had long given a common meaning and sense of value to the nation. As this narrative breaks down in contemporary secular society, many Americans are searching for a new story to give their lives meaning and perspective, Gomez said. The archbishop called the American Church to respond to this moment in history by recalling its missionary identity, in order to share the Gospel story with those who are searching. This will require a sacramental renewal that leads to renewed efforts for justice and human dignity, he said.
“It was the story of the human person created in God’s image and invested with an earthly vocation to build a society where people could live in freedom, with equality and dignity. This story underwrote America’s founding documents. It shaped the assumptions of our laws and institutions, it gave substance to our everyday ideals and actions.”
The bishops heard a report from the chair of the National Advisory Council (NAC), a group of laity, clergy and religious that offers feedback to the USCCB. The council voiced support for much of the USCCB’s work. It encouraged Catholic schools in the United States to renew their focus on management, accessibility, and faith formation. NAC members are supportive of the proposal to create a document on the Eucharist, but voiced concerns about what they perceive as a failure to address a clear audience and to discuss reasons that people do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Additionally, the report indicated that the advisory council’s members have questions about the Synod on Synodality, believing there to be a lack of clarity surrounding its goals and terminology.
A series of action items was presented to the bishops for voting. These included the long-awaited Eucharistic coherence document, a proposed update to the bishops’ 2003 guidelines for socially responsible investment, revisions to “National Statutes for the Catechumenate,” a resolution on diocesan financial reporting, a new translation of “Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Outside Mass,” and revised English and Spanish editions of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults. Most of these action items generated few questions. Voting on the action items will take place tomorrow.
The bishops elected Fr. Michael Fuller as general secretary of the USCCB. Fuller had been serving as interim general secretary after the resignation of Msgr. Jeff Burrill in July. Deputies are generally chosen to replace the general secretary, who functions similar to a CEO of the conference.
The bishops also voted on the heads of several conference committees. Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen was elected as treasurer of the Committee on Budget and Finance; Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing was picked to chair the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations; Bishop Steven Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was selected to lead the Committee on Divine Worship; Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia was chosen to head the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary of Los Angeles, was elected to be the next chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso was picked to head the Committee on Migration. (JD and Ed both had predictions about who would win these elections. Who picked more winners? Take a look.)
The bishops will continue their meeting with a public session tomorrow, which will include voting on action items, consultations on American sainthood causes, a debate and vote on the Eucharistic coherence document, and updates from several conference committees on their work.