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In USCCB debate, Chaput defends prioritizing fight against abortion

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Catholic bishops approved a letter to supplement their voting document on Tuesday—but not without controversy during debate on the “preeminent priority” of abortion.

During discussion at the bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore on a letter to accompany the bishops’ document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops considered whether to include an entire paragraph from Pope Francis’ 2018 apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said that paragraph should be included to make clear that Pope Francis prioritizes other issues at the same level as abortion.

The U.S. bishops’ inclusion of the word “preeminent” before mention of abortion in another part of the letter, he said, “is a statement that I believe is at least discordant with the Pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent,” and one that “will be used to, in fact, undermine the point Pope Francis is making.”

“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face in the world of Catholic social teaching. It is not,” McElroy said, adding that to teach otherwise would provide “a grave disservice” to the faithful.

After McElroy spoke, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas said, “I absolutely think ‘preeminent’ needs to stay.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia rose to say that he did not oppose the inclusion of the full statement of Pope Francis, but added that teaching that abortion is a “preeminent” issue is not contrary to the magisterium of Pope Francis.

“I am certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s full statement, I think it’s a beautiful statement, I believe it,” he said.

“But I am against anyone stating that our stating it [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. That isn’t true. That sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father, which isn’t true,” Chaput said.

“I think it’s been a very clearly articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the pre-eminent issue. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity,” he said.

Many bishops in the audience applauded after Chaput finished his statement.

The U.S. bishops on Tuesday met for the second day of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, held from November 11-14. The meeting agenda included the elections of a new conference president and vice president and six committee chairs.

On Tuesday morning, the bishops elected standing vice president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as the conference’s first Hispanic president. Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit was elected as the vice president on the third ballot.

Later on Tuesday, the bishops voted to approve both a script for a short video on their voting document “Faithful Citizenship,” as well as a short letter to accompany the document, amendments to which were considered by the U.S. bishops’ Working Group on “Forming Consciences on Faithful Citizenship.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich had proposed an amendment to add the whole paragraph 101 from “Gaudete et Exsultate” into the letter.

The amendment had been accepted by the working committee with the changes that some, but not all, of the language of the paragraph would be included.

The reason the entire paragraph was not included was the need for brevity in the letter, Archbishop Gomez—the incoming president of the conference—later said, in the discussions on the language.

A footnote to the exhortation was included to draw attention to the Holy Father’s message, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco later said.

While the original discussion centered upon the inclusion of Cupich’s amendment, it triggered a debate over the inclusion of the word “preeminent” in mentioning abortion among other issues. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, had successfully included an amendment inserting the word “preeminent” before the mention of the abortion in the letter, to recognize its special gravity when considered with other issues voters are considering.

Cupich said that Pope Francis, in his exhortation on holiness, “makes sure that we do not make one issue that a political party or a group puts forward to the point where we’re going to ignore all the rest.”

The pope’s warning against the coexistence of consumerism with poverty, for instance, was not included in the voting letter, Cupich said, and the entire paragraph should be included for that reason.

Bishop Frank Dewane, who led the working group on “Faithful Citizenship,” proposed a compromise to include more language recognizing those issues Pope Francis mentioned in his exhortation, but Cupich said that he wanted the entire paragraph included.

“This is the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis put in a very succinct way, and I think we can all benefit from it as we speak to our people about the issues,” Cupich said.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego then made his intervention, with Strickland and Chaput responding.

The bishops then voted to keep the letter as is—without Cupich’s amendment to insert the entire paragraph into the text—with 143 members of the conference in support. Sixty-nine members voted in favor of Cupich’s motion, with four abstentions.

After that vote, the bishops voted on the final text of the letter, with 207 conference members voting in favor, 24 voting against, and five abstaining.

Armenian Catholic priest killed in Syria; ISIS claims responsibility

Qamishli, Syria, Nov 12, 2019 / 12:59 pm (CNA).- The Islamic State (ISIS) militant group on Monday claimed responsibility for the shooting of an Armenian Catholic priest and his father in northeastern Syria.

Father Hovsep Bedoyan was the head of the Armenian Catholic community in the the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli, near the border with Turkey.

He and his father, Abraham Bedoyan, were traveling south to the province of Deir Al-Zor when unidentified gunmen ambushed their vehicle Nov. 11, Vatican News reported.

Fati Sano, a deacon from the region, was also in the car, and was badly wounded and reported to be in critical condition.

The priest and his father were traveling to Deir ez-Zor to inspect an Armenian Catholic Church which had suffered damage in the Syrian civil war, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).

Pope Francis said Tuesday he was praying for the priest, his father and his relatives. Father Bedoyan, a married priest, reportedly is survived by a wife and children.

Dozens of mourners attended the funeral today in Qamishli for the victims.

The area that the victims were traveling from is largely controlled by Kurdish forces, against whom Turkey launched an incursion last month after the US decision to move troops from the area.

The same day as the shooting, two bombings in Qamishli, one of them close to a Chaldean Catholic church, reportedly killed at least five people and wounded 26 others.

ISIS was declared officially declared militarily defeated in Syria this past March, ICC reports. President Donald Trump announced in October the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi.

Kurdish leaders have warned of the threat Islamic State sleeper cells still pose in the area and warn that the Turkish offensive at the border would allow a jihadist resurgence in the area, Reuters reports. At least 1,000 ISIS supporters have escaped from detention during the conflict so far, according to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Bishops in Syria and Iraq have called for worldwide prayer as the fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces further destabilizes northern Syria. Aid groups working in northeastern Syria are pulling out of the area, saying that it is becoming too dangerous.

The Armenian Catholic Church is a church sui iuris and in full communion with Rome, and constitutes approximately 600,000 members.

Chaldean patriarch calls for fasting, prayer amid Iraq protests

Baghdad, Iraq, Nov 12, 2019 / 10:50 am (CNA).- The Chaldean patriarch has called for three days of fasting and prayer “for an end to the chaos and violence that are bloodying” Iraq.

For more than six weeks, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been protesting government corruption. More than 300 have been killed by security forces.

Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, has asked that Chaldeans observe Nov. 11-13 as days of fasting and prayer.

The protests, which began Oct. 1, are largely in response to government corruption and a lack of economic growth and proper public services. Protesters are calling for electoral reform and for early elections.

At least 319 people have been killed in the protests. Government forces have used tear gas and bullets against protesters.

Nearly 15,000 people have been injured in the protests, according to the Independent High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq.

“These young people went out to the streets demanding their rights because they found themselves heading to ‘no through road’, expressing their pain. Where there is a shortage in services, in electricity and water etc. The same thing applies to health and educational institutions, streets, and employability,” Sako said at an ecumenical prayer for peace in Baghdad Nov. 5, according to AsiaNews.

"What we need is a careful understanding of Iraq after the 2003 US invasion,” Sako told AsiaNews Nov. 11.

The cardinal said that the protests are “a spontaneous reaction” to the sufferings of past years. He added that the Iraqi government will need to “win the trust” of young people and be open to economic reform.

Pope Francis prayed for the people of Iraq following the deaths and injuries of many protesters, and called upon the Iraqi authorities “to listen to the cry of the population that asks for a dignified and peaceful life.”

“I urge all Iraqis, with the support of the international community, to pursue the path of dialogue and reconciliation and to seek the right solutions to the challenges and problems of the country,” Pope Francis said Oct. 31.

Christians in northern Iraq have been rebuilding their homes and churches following the Islamic State genocide that devasted their communities.

“My thoughts turn to beloved Iraq … I pray that those battered people will find peace and stability after so many years of war and violence, where they have suffered so much,” Pope Francis said Oct. 31.

US bishops elect new committee leadership 

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 09:50 am (CNA).- Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected six new chairmen on Nov. 12 at their Fall General Assembly in Baltimore. The Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services was also elected.

Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Ohio was elected chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty after a tied vote against Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. Per USCCB bylaws, in the event of a tie, the position goes to the older bishop. At nearly 71, Murry is nearly two years older than Wenski, who recently turned 69. Murry was thus declared the victor.

Unlike the other five chairs, Murry will immediately take the helm of the committee, as Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville had resigned from the position in July due to illness.

On Nov. 11, the first day of the assembly, Kurtz underwent surgery for bladder cancer. The following day, immediately before the elections, outgoing USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo informed the bishops that he had spoken to Kurtz and that he was out of surgery.

Prior to the election for the chairman of the religious liberty committee, the bishops agreed by a voice vote to limit the term of the incoming chairman to just one year, to finish Kurtz’s original term. This was done to avoid an imbalance of committee elections.

Murry is eligible to be elected to a full three-year term at next year’s Fall General Assembly.

Five other committees elected a new leader, who will assume the role of chairman at next year’s Fall General Assembly. Until then, they will be known as the chairman-elect of the committee.

Bishop James Johnston, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young people, with a vote of 167 to 77. He defeated Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Canonical Affairs, defeating Bishop Mark Bartchak of Altoona-Johnstown by a vote of 144 to 97.

Next, Bishop David Talley of Memphis was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Ecumenism, besting Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter by a vote of 123 to 114.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. He defeated Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane by a vote of 151 to 88.

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Ill., was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, garnering 140 votes to Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento’s 101.

Following the election of USCCB committee leadership, three members of the Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) were elected from a slate of seven candidates. Bishop Gregory Mansour, a Maronite bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn and outgoing chairman of the CRS, told the bishops that the board of directors should be diverse in both makeup and episcopal location of clergy.

Bishops who serve on the CRS board are requested to be open to traveling to countries served by CRS programs, said Mansour, and to develop relationships with clergy overseas.

Bishops Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, and Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock received the most votes and were elected to the board of directors.

 

Archbishops Gomez and Vigneron elected USCCB president and vice president

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 09:13 am (CNA).- The bishops of the US have elected a new president and vice president to lead the USCCB for the next three years. On Tuesday morning, the second day of their fall general session, the bishops elected Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as president and Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit as vice president of the conference.
 
As the votes were cast Nov. 12, Archbishop Gomez was serving as the USCCB vice president, and the bishops customarily elected the vice president to the presidency. From a slate of 10 candidates, Gomez was elected with 176 votes, more than double the number of the second-place candidate.
 
If Gomez’s election was a formality, the election of the vice president was more evenly contested. The bishops needed three rounds of voting to winnow down the nine remaining candidates.
 
Archbishop Vigneron led after the first ballot, with 77 votes but short of a majority. On the second round, that number rose to 106, with Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services the next placed candidate with 52 votes. The two archbishops were put forward in a run-off third ballot, in which Vigneron was elected, winning 151 out of 241 votes cast.
 
Gomez, 67, born in Monterrey, Mexico, and ordained a priest of Opus Dei in Spain, is the first Latino to lead the bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant at the conference helm.
 
Vigneron, a Michigan native, has led the Detroit archdiocese since 2009. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1975 and made an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996. In 2003 he was named co-adjutor and later ordinary of the Diocese of Oakland.
 
Vigneron is widely considered to have provided steady leadership in Detroit during the recent sexual abuse crisis, even as the dioceses of the state face an ongoing Attorney General investigation. In April, he gave a speech in which he explained the importance of lay collaboration in the ministry of bishops as they govern their dioceses.
 
“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’--others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” he said during a speech at the Catholic University of America.
 
"All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there's going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.
“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we're engaged in those challenges."
Seen as a moderate conservative, earlier this year he announced that archdiocesan sporting events and leagues would no longer play on Sundays to help encourage families to observe the day of rest.
 
Vigneron had been serving as the bishops’ conference secretary, and was elected to the vice presidency from a crowded field of candidates. Despite the long list of names on the ballot, the election was marked by the absence of any notably theologically progressive candidates.
 
One of the more thorny issues facing the newly elected leadership team will be how to deal with bishops, both active and retired, who face accusations of either negligence or abuse of office.
 
In June, the conference adopted a set of protocols on how diocesan bishops could limit the ministry of their retired or removed predecessors in the event that allegations came to light. Among those provisions was the option to “disinvite” emeritus bishops from attending future USCCB meetings.
 
Shortly before the November meeting, Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston wrote to the outgoing conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, asking him to disinvite former Wheeling Bishop Michael Bransfield, who faces numerous allegations of misconduct, both financial and sexual.
 
During a Nov. 11 press conference, CNA asked Cardinal DiNardo if similar requests to bar retired bishops from attending conference meetings would be made public.
 
“Bishop Bransfield was the first [such case] that we had, and I did a consultation with the administrative board,” DiNardo told CNA. “Not a vote taking, but a good consultation, but [the president] is the one who makes the decision.”
 
With investigations open in several dioceses, including into serving diocesan bishops in the dioceses of Crookston and Buffalo, Archbishop Gomez is likely to face several similarly sensitive decisions in the coming year.
 
Gomez and Vigneron also take the helm of the conference ahead of the release of the Vatican’s widely anticipated report on former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. On Monday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston updated the conference on the Vatican Secretariat of State’s progress on the investigation into McCarrick’s career rise through ecclesiastical ranks despite decades of alleged abuse.
 
O’Malley told the U.S. bishops that the Vatican process had uncovered “a much larger corpus of information than had been expected,” and that this had delayed the publication of a report.
 
A draft was now complete, O’Malley said, and was in the process of being translated and would be presented to Pope Francis in the near future. “The intention is to publish the Holy See’s response soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the New Year,” O’Malley said.
 
How that report is presented to and received by the faithful in the United States will likely be the most important part of the first year of the Gomez-Vigneron leadership.