By John Norton
If you want to know what the U.S. bishops accomplished at their fall meeting in Baltimore, Russell Shaw, longtime OSV contributing editor, provides a handy overview in this issue (see Page 4).
Shaw covered the meeting for us and may be the leading lay expert journalist on the U.S. bishops’ fall gathering. This meeting was his 41st — the first one he covered was in 1969, and he’s been back every year since.
Though he doesn’t mention it in this week’s story, Shaw has long been critical of how much of the bishops’ business is conducted behind closed doors. (He makes the case at length in his book “Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church” [Ignatius, $12.95]).
This year was no exception: Of the roughly 16 hours of general meetings Nov. 16-18, about five hours were devoted to “executive session,” meaning closed to observers and the press. (I covered the meeting, too, along with Greg Erlandson, our president and publisher, and Msgr. Owen F. Campion, our associate publisher.)
There’s a strong argument to be made for meeting “off camera,” of course. It allows the bishops to speak freely to each other without the risk that their words will be seen as playing to an audience broader than the bishops themselves.
Fair enough. But when a good third of the meeting is behind closed doors, you have to wonder if that argument isn’t being applied too generously, and in a way that undermines the transparency and communication that are necessary to further the communion of the Church in the United States. Theirs is, after all, a public ministry.
The bishops are rightly concerned about strengthening their unity (and the appearance of it, which took a blow during the election season and hasn’t fully recovered since).
One way to accomplish that — and to show themselves for the generally intelligent, thoughtful, charitable men that they are — would be to allow the public and their flocks to see the core of these meetings, and which issues they disagree on and how they disagree.
It would take some courage, but I think, ultimately, it would strengthen the bishops’ image of integrity, openness and attentiveness. They shouldn’t underestimate themselves (or overestimate the inevitable hyper-simplification and distortion of their debates by the media).
But I don’t want to leave you the wrong impression. Even if the journalist in me found room for criticism, the Catholic in me came away optimistic for the future of the Church. We are blessed to have a number of exceptional leaders.
As the Church’s message — especially on life issues and sexual morality — becomes more and more countercul-tural, it will only get harder to be a good bishop. Keep them in your prayers.
Let me know your thoughts at the address below or at email@example.com.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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