Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., participates in the annual Fall assembly of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops which, for the first time, is completely virtual given restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy photo
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., participates in the annual Fall assembly of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops which, for the first time, is completely virtual given restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy photo

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., participated in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall meeting Nov. 16-17.  Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting was conducted using a virtual format. Bishop O’Connell’s report from Nov. 17 follows:

The second day of the annual USCCB Fall Meeting began with the bishops of New Jersey and Pennsylvania gathering virtually as Region III of the nation’s prelates.  The last time the group had been together was last year’s Thanksgiving week meeting with the Holy Father and officials of Vatican offices in Rome during the Ad Limina visit.

Bishop James F. Checchio, Diocese of Metuchen, this year’s chairman of the regional group, convened the livestream meeting at 9 a.m.  After prayer, the bishops discussed questions posed by the USCCB Administrative Committee for their consideration:

• A proposal to recommend the Holy See’s assigning St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as “co-patroness” of the United States along with the Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception; Region III bishops were not in favor of this proposal, indicating that they saw no need for introducing a second patroness at this time.

• A proposal for a national “Eucharistic Revival Project 2021-2024” to re-present to the faithful of the United States the Church’s authentic teaching on the Holy Eucharist. Region III bishops were in favor of doing “something” to foster and promote the Eucharist; there was mixed reaction about a “national” event; they expressed the importance of reaching out to the young and unchurched or alienated Catholic.

• A discussion of the pressing need for better catechesis with an emphasis on “encountering” Jesus;  we know Psalm 23 but we don’t know the shepherd.

• The election of a new chairman for Region III; and regional representatives for various USCCB committees.  Bishop Al Schlert of Allentown was elected.

The meeting adjourned at 10:05 a.m.

The full virtual meeting of the USCCB began its public session with prayer at 1 p.m.

The bishops heard and responded to reports from the chairs of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the Ad Hoc Committee on Racism.  

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development’s comments to the bishops re: the pastoral experience of the clergy, religious and faithful in their dioceses during the pandemic were truly edifying.  Their care for one another was enhanced by diocesan and parish efforts to reach out in faith.  Parishioners truly longed for the Eucharist throughout this time.  It was particularly difficult to respond to people who consider COVID a hoax and who reject all diocesan efforts to keep the faithful safe through required COVID restrictions.  The bishops expressed the hope that the pandemic made us all more humble, more hopeful and more dependent upon one another.  Perhaps the absence of Holy Communion during this time will make our hearts fonder and more desirous of returning and receiving him again.

After some great introductory remarks by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Racism, several bishops challenged the full body to develop, strengthen and support efforts to address, confront and overcome the ugly sin of systemic racism in all its forms.

The outgoing General Secretary, Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, next gave a moving farewell address to the assembly of bishops, having completed five years in his position and 13 years working at the USCCB.

In an unexpected announcement, Archbishop Gomez spoke on behalf of the bishops regarding the election of Joseph R. Biden as 46th President of the United States.  While he acknowledged the Catholic president-elect’s profession of his faith and the many social and political issues he supports that give witness to it, he also noted those areas in Biden’s political agenda that run seriously counter to the Church’s teaching, among them his support for abortion, the “preeminent issue” of the USCCB.

Archbishop Gomez said, “When politicians who profess the Catholic faith support [abortion rights], there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Catholic Church actually teaches on these questions." The Archbishop announced the formation of a working group to dialogue with President-elect Biden’s administration on these issues.  No doubt, this announcement will garner great attention.

After a short break, the USCCB entered into executive session at 3:20 p.m.

The meeting concluded with prayer shortly after 5 p.m.

A video of the concluding public session can be viewed HERE.