United States: Meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference

Source: FSSPX News


Msgr. William S. Skylstad, bishop of Spokane, was chosen to be the new president of the conference of American bishops on November 15. He succeeds Msgr. Wilton D. Gregory, bishop of Belleville. The Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis E. George was elected vice-president of the bishops’ conference. Msgr. Skylstad was criticized for his leadership in the sexual-abuse affair, which led to his diocese declaring bankruptcy.

The network of victims accuses the bishop, not only of having been insensitive to their needs, but also of covering up for the guilty members of his clergy. Because of the depositions of more than 125 people concerning sexual abuse, the Catholic diocese of Spokane in the state of Washington will have to declare bankruptcy at the end of November. The claims of the victims in fact come to a total of tens of millions of dollars.

On this point, the bishops have defended their decision in favor of Msgr. William Skylstad, arguing he was not responsible for the bankruptcy and that many other American dioceses are facing financial crises. In fact, Spokane is the third American diocese to go into bankruptcy, after Tucson, Arizona and Portland, Oregon. Msgr. Skylstad declared following his election that his principal challenge would be “to work for the healing and reconciliation of those who have suffered sexual abuse, as well as to provide a safe environment in youth and children’s ministries”.

During this meeting, the American bishops took the decision to join the new national ecumenical forum, Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. (CCT). It’s the first time that the Catholic Church of the United States will join a national organization of this type. But in 70 other countries of the world, the Catholic Church has membership in such ecumenical councils of churches, according to the American Catholic agency CNS (Catholic News Service).

The bishops approved the proposition to join CCT by a vote of 153 to 73. Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, of Stockton, California, president of the Committee for ecumenical and interreligious affairs, presented the proposition to the American Catholic bishops and urged its adoption. He dubbed the new organization “a forum for participation” through which the Christian churches can pray together, increase mutual comprehension and witness together”. Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox and Catholic Christians are represented in the CCT.

During the same meeting, a majority of bishops decided against refusing communion to politicians considered to be “too liberal”. According to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, a large part of his colleagues, like the Vatican, thinks that the differences of opinion in the matter of abortion should not be dealt with in front of the altar.

The Doctrinal Commission, with the help of the Commission for pastoral practice, dealt with the subject of the Church’s teaching on the dispositions for receiving communion. These positions concern everyone and not only politicians. The bishops’ task force drew up a “manual” for Catholics in public life. It contains position statements of the pope, the Council and the American conference of bishops on the responsibility of Catholics in this domain.

This work will be at the disposition of bishops, as a basis for “teaching, dialog and persuasion”. The bishops affirm that the community and Catholic institutions should not be honoring those who work against “ our fundamental moral principals”. The members of the task force rejoiced that the “culture of life” was discussed during the recent election campaign and that the election polls showed an emphasis on “moral values” as a motivating factor in voting. “We can only hope that this will lead to real action in protecting pre-born children, in defending marriage and in protecting life and the dignity of the poor and vulnerable, and in promoting peace in a violent world.

But the American bishops gave up the idea of strengthening their common position following the electoral victory of George Bush. Last June, they had affirmed that Catholic politicians favorable to abortion were “collaborating with evil” and must not be invited by organizations and institutions of Catholic formation.

Some bishops had announced during the election campaign that they would refuse communion to the partisans of abortion, thus alluding explicitly to candidate John Kerry, who also holds liberal positions on embryonic stem-cell research and homosexual unions. Among these so-called hard-liners, there was notably Msgr. Raymond Burke, archbishop of St. Louis. In his last pastoral letter published shortly before the American elections, Msgr. Burke exhorted Catholics to vote in accord with the doctrine of the Church. For him, in fact, there is no question of compromise when it comes to the value of life. Without explicitly saying so, Msgr. Burke was asking people to vote for the Protestant George W. Bush rather than the Catholic John Kerry.