By John Norton
I’m writing this from Baltimore during the annual meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Hundreds of bishops from across the country are meeting in full session to discuss and vote on a variety of topics, from liturgical translations to new ethical guidelines on assisted nutrition and hydration. And they’ve added further support, by acclamation, of a statement from their president, Chicago Cardinal Francis George, urging Congress not to provide for taxpayer-subsidized abortions in a health care reform bill.
These meetings are a great opportunity to get a sense of the concerns of Church leadership in the United States.
In that vein, I was struck by Cardinal George’s opening address to the assembly, which was an appeal for Church unity, particularly around the ministerial priesthood and the bishop. He acknowledged a disconnect with some Catholic universities, media and service organizations.
Here are key sections from his speech, which your own bishops are likely to be thinking and talking about in coming months:
“If there is a loosening of relationship between ourselves and those whom Christ has given us to govern in love, it is for us to reach out and re-establish connections necessary for all to remain in communion. As you know, we have recently begun discussions on how we might strengthen our relationship to Catholic universities, to media claiming the right to be a voice in the Church, and to organizations that direct various works under Catholic auspices.
“Since everything and everyone in Catholic communion is truly interrelated, and the visible nexus of these relations is the bishop, an insistence on complete independence from the bishop renders a person or institution sectarian, less than fully Catholic. The purpose of our reflections, therefore, is to clarify questions of truth or faith and of accountability or community among all those who claim to be part of Catholic communion.
“Our pastoral concern for ecclesial unity does not diminish our awareness of our own mistakes and sins. There are some who would like to trap the Church in historical events of ages long past and there are others who would keep the bishops permanently imprisoned in the clerical sexual abuse scandal of recent years. The proper response to a crisis of governance, however, is not no governance but effective governance. Loss of trust, we know, weakens relationships and will continue to affect our ministry, even though clerical ranks have been purged of priests and bishops known to have abused children and the entire Church has taken unprecedented means to protect children and to reach out to victims. In any case, the sinfulness of churchmen can not be allowed to discredit the truth of Catholic teaching or to destroy the relationships that create ecclesial communion.”
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