Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lunchtime Came, Documents Followed: The Second Day

And (we hope!) God saw that it was good.

Our second dispatch from the USCCB’s Fall meeting in Baltimore from Leon Suprenant:

The afternoon of the second day was mostly spent debating and (finally) voting on several documents. The bishops approved final drafts (known as "Gray Books," as opposed to earlier "Green Book" drafts) of five elements of the English translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, namely:

Proper of Saints

Roman Missal Supplement

Commons

U.S Propers

U.S adaptations

All that may sound off-putting, but in essence these "propers" and "commons" refer to prayers said at Mass at different times, which vary because of liturgical season, special feast days, and so forth.

The translation work of the USCCB is now complete. The next step is Vatican approval (called "recognitio"), after which this new translation will be published, disseminated, and implemented throughout the country. That's still a ways off, but all the bishops I spoke with concur that it's not too early to begin to instruct priests and laity alike regarding the changes, with a view to fostering the authentic revival of liturgical life that Vatican II envisioned. So this could be a very significant, hope-filled moment for the Church in the United States. The USCCB Committee on Divine Worship has an excellent website that provides very important liturgical catechesis (learning from mistakes made in the 1960s and 70s). Check it out .

The bishops also approved a new pastoral letter on marriage entitled "Life and Love in the Divine Plan." This document has been praised for its orthodoxy by many episcopal and lay leaders (and criticized for the same reasons in dissident Catholic publications).

The key, as pretty much all the bishops recognize, is how effective of a pastoral tool it becomes. Many an orthodox Church document has collected dust rather than serve as a catalyst for positive change. For that reason, the bishops have a variety of follow-up projects planned, included a significant upgrading of the "For Your Marriage" website, which I criticized early on, but which subsequently has taken more positive steps. I think there is a lot of promise here, and Archbishop Kurtz and other bishops on the committee that deals with marriage and family issues are to be heartily commended for their efforts.

Next the bishops approved part five of Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, dealing with the obligation to provide medically assisted nutrition and hydration to those who can't take food orally. This directive needed to be revised to provide further clarity, drawing from recent statements of the Holy See.

One of the topics of debate was the use of the term "permanent" instead of "persistent" in the phrase "persistent vegetative state." Bishop Vasa, episcopal advisor to the Catholic Medical Association, made an excellent clarification, noting that "persistent" is a diagnosis, while "permanent" is more of a prognosis, the truth of which will only be known after the person dies. For this and other reasons, the document retained the "persistent" language initially proposed by the doctrine committee.

Last but not least, the bishops approved a document entitled "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology." Obviously such a document is important given the various, evolving technologies, as some of them (e.g., in-vitro fertilization, cloning, embryo donation, etc.) are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. This document is very pastoral, as the committee worked closely with couples that have experienced infertility, and they strove to encourage, guide, and offer alternatives rather than simply condemn the condemnable.

Two items concerning this document on married love and reproductive technology that I thought were particularly significant:

(a) its following the recent Vatican document Dignitas Personae in raising serious moral concerns about "embryo adoption" without definitively ruling it out as a legitimate option for infertile couples; and

(b)  Cardinal Rigali's assurance to the conference that the Pro-Life committee's website would be regularly updated in terms of its moral assessment of emerging reproductive therapies, so that Catholic couples and others will have access to the Church's authoritative stance on these new technologies as they develop.

But the second day wasn't quite over. Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi gave an impassioned pitch at the end of the day's session in support of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which has its national collection this weekend in parishes throughout the country. The CCHD has had a controversial history, most recently in connection with its funding of ACORN.

Bishop Morin's address, given his leadership role with the CCHD, was understandable, and surely many worthwhile projects have been funded through the years. At the same time, I thought some of his rhetoric was unduly inflammatory. He suggested that at least some who raise concerns about CCHD "don't accept the social teachings of the Church" and are motivated by ideological or even political motives to make "outrageous" claims and espouse "untruths" that "cause hurt."

What do we make of all this? Well, this is a topic that the bishops are going to discuss behind closed doors (which doesn't do the rest of us who are asked to open our checkbooks this weekend for this controversial collection amidst a still-weak economy a lot of good).

In Kansas City we're truly blessed to have Bishop Finn, who carefully reviews requests for CCHD funding within the diocese to ensure its compatibility with the Church's faith and mission. Bishop Finn identified a few local recipients of CCHD funds that are indeed worthy beneficiaries of this collection.

That still leaves as an open question how the funds are being used in other dioceses and even more on the national level. One bishop told me simply that his diocese no longer does the CCHD collection. Other prominent bishops explained that Catholics just need to be prudent. If we're concerned about how the CCHD funds are being used, then we should give elsewhere. Another archbishop added that the faithful have raised honest questions about the CCHD, and they deserve a response. The idea of a CCHD is a good one, but many bishops do recognize a need for an internal purification so that it achieves more fully the noble ends for which it was created.

For now, I'd simply like to be a fly on the wall when the bishops discuss this behind closed doors.

After the day's session ended, I sat down briefly with Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis. I mentioned yesterday what a fine selection he was for the chairmanship of the committee on clergy (including permanent deacons), consecrated life, and vocations. I asked him what motivated him to run for this office. He simply responded, "It's about service." His brother bishops asked him to throw his hat in the ring, and he saw in this a special call to serve the People of God. Right there we see the beautiful mindset he brings to vocation work.

Also, since becoming Archbishop of St. Louis, he has had weekly open houses at the Archbishop's residence on Fridays for his priests to come for fellowship. Already dozens of priests take part in these, as he builds a strong fraternity with his priests. It's hard not to walk away from a meeting with him without feeling a little bit better about our Church.