I just returned from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Annual Plenary Meeting in Baltimore. I would say it was uneventful, without too many substantive topics on the agenda. The format of the meeting was the same as had been initiated last year:
First day: Prayer, reflection and an opportunity for Confession. The reflection was given by Archbishop Peter Sartain, archbishop emeritus of Seattle. His topic was “Apostolic Boldness in the model of St. Frances Cabrini.”
Concelebrated Mass followed in the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore with USCCB president, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, as presider and homilist. The Mass was a Votive Mass for Peace and the homily was a reflection on praying and working for peace.
Regional meetings (NJ/PA are Region III). The topics this year were: (a) what type of content should be included in future strategic planning of USCCB, (b) the institution of lay catechists and (c) what information about dismissed seminarians should be communicated by a diocese when a man applies to another diocese.
Second day: Letter to the Holy Father from USCCB, address by the Papal Nuncio Cardinal, Christophe Pierre, on “The Connection between Eucharist and Synodality” and an address by USCCB president Archbishop Broglio on “Reflections on the current state of the Catholic Church in the U.S.” Some Catholic media reported sensing tension between and in the remarks of the nuncio and USCCB president. I didn’t get that impression at all. Two different talks addressed to the same audience! What’s so tense about that?
Following the talks, elections were held for various USCCB positions and committee chairmen. You can read a summary of other discussion and action items for the rest of the meeting on www.usccb.org.
Contrary to the prediction of some Catholic media, consideration of the Synod was not a major focus although updates were given, nor was there reference about the removal of Bishop Joseph Strickland from his diocese (Tyler) in Texas. I didn’t’ hear much said even in coffee breaks. The bishop was present in Baltimore but confined his activities to praying the Rosary with a few dozen supporters outside the hotel.
There wasn’t much attention given to the revision of the USCCB’s voter guide “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and its identification and inclusion of abortion as a “preeminent priority” for the bishops. Again, Catholic media made more out of this than actually happened. We need to remember that being “pro-life” also includes being “pro-life” after birth!
The Eucharistic Revival was addressed in detail. There was minimal reference to Pope Francis’ recent letter “Laudate Deum” or the topic of climate change in general.
Other than the Mass for Peace and the Archbishop’s homily, there was not much discussion about the wars in Israel and Ukraine, I did find the presentation on the USCCB’s new initiative on mental health awareness interesting and important. I am eager to see how this initiative develops.
The meeting concluded in executive session. I must admit, I did not miss the unrelenting presence of the media from previous years. Their diminished presence does cut down on the grandstanding that used to occur and allows the bishops to speak more freely.
Reading some Catholic as well as secular news reports about the meeting, I ask myself, “Where did they get their information? Was that the same meeting I just attended?”