Bishop O'Connell: Day One of the fall meeting of the U.S. bishops
Editor's Note: Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is participating in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall meeting. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Nov. 16-17 meeting is using a virtual format.
A report from Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.
Although the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hosted a webinar Nov. 2 to demonstrate how to participate in the Nov. 16-17 online meeting of the nation’s bishops, I was not quite sure how it would all work out. Having just completed “day one,” I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and well it went. The only noticeable issues were a few glitches related to livestream computer cues here and there.
The day began at 1 p.m. with prayer and some brief introductory remarks by conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. The first hour was held in executive session and focused on the recent report released by the Holy See, “Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (1930-2017).” The report would also be considered later in the day.
After a half-hour break, the meeting resumed in public session at 2:30 p.m., again with a prayer. New members of the USCCB were introduced by Archbishop Gomez as were bishops who retired in 2019-20 and prayers were offered for bishops who died in the last year. The full assembly approved the agenda and the minutes from the last meeting.
The USCCB General Secretary Msgr. Brian Bransfield next read a letter to the Holy Father followed by the annual address given by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. This year marks his 25th and 50th anniversaries of ordinations as a bishop and a priest respectively. The Nuncio spoke of the Pope’s recent encyclical “Fratelli Tutti.” Noting that we all are facing the challenge of “healing the world,” he presented his remarks in that context. The Gospel story of the Good Samaritan is the heart of “Fratelli Tutti” and the heart of Jesus’ teaching, offering healing to a suffering world. He cited Blessed Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, as a model. We, in turn, must offer witness to compassion and mercy. Bishops must lead by example. Love is the measure of spiritual stature, recognizing the worth of every person. We must confront a broken immigration system, racism and abortion as obstacles to love and social fraternity.
As he approaches his 75th birthday in January, this was probably Archbishop Pierre’s final address to the USCCB.
Archbishop Gomez next gave his annual “Presidential Address,” beginning with a recognition of and apology to all victims of sexual abuse by clergy in light of the Holy See’s report on Theodore McCarrick. He reaffirmed the USCCB commitment to confront and eliminate such abuse. He also lifted up the example of recently beatified Father Michael J. McGivney as a model priest who ministered at a time of moral uncertainty and pandemic, not unlike our own. Archbishop Gomez expressed concern for those in society who may be losing hope. Bishops are called not only to be good administrators but also good shepherds, ordained to invite people to share in the holiness of God. Evangelization is our central mission. With so many challenges before us, especially social unrest and the pandemic, we need the Church now more than ever.
The results of USCCB leadership elections were then announced. Reports were given by Mrs. Deborah Amato, chair of the National Advisory Board, focusing upon the USCCB response to the pandemic and racism and Mrs. Suzanne Healy, chair of the National Review Board, urging bishops to never give up their efforts to confront and prevent sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults with the help and involvement of the laity. Both reports were pre-recorded prior to the Holy See’s report on Theodore McCarrick but it was clear that anticipation of its release was very much on the minds of both boards.
At this point, Archbishop Gomez introduced a public discussion of the McCarrick report. Several bishops voiced comments, questioning some of the sordid details of the publication and calling for concrete measures to prevent someone of McCarrick's background and character from ever serving as a bishop again. The bishops emphasized the importance of changing the Church’s system of vetting candidates for the episcopacy and soliciting more input from the laity. The Church’s leadership must be characterized by genuine accountability. Steps taken since the McCarrick revelations in 2017 were noted as a first step.
The day concluded with voting on the approval of the proposed USCCB Strategic Plan 2021-24, a three-year reauthorization of its committee on racism and the approval of the proposed USCCB 2021 Budget. Results would be announced on Tuesday, November 17.
The meeting adjourned with prayer shortly after 5 pm.