Bishops to debate Catholic teaching on Communion, contraception, homosexuals
By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service
Washington When the U.S. bishops meet in November, they will debate and vote on statements about Catholic teaching on marriage and family planning, who is worthy to receive Communion and the pastoral care of those who are homosexually oriented.
They also will decide on a directory on liturgical music.
Also on the agenda are the texts of liturgical readings for Advent, proposals for restructuring and downsizing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a funding proposal for research on the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse of minors.
For the first time since 1989, the USCCB will hold its fall general assembly outside Washington. The bishops will meet Nov. 13-16 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel overlooking that city’s Inner Harbor.
They will gather in Baltimore Nov. 12 to celebrate Sunday evening Mass together at the newly restored Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The concelebrated Mass will cap a week of events marking the reopening of the shrine following its two-year restoration and celebrating the 200th anniversary of the church’s 1806 dedication as the first Catholic cathedral in the United States.
The proposed statement “Married Love and the Gift of Life” marks the first time since “Human Life in Our Day” in 1968 that the U.S. bishops have prepared a statement devoted specifically to the church’s teaching that every conjugal act must be open to new human life. Several statements the bishops have issued in intervening years have reaffirmed that teaching, but none of those were devoted primarily to that question.
The 11-page statement, proposed by the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, affirms the joy and importance of married love and the blessing of children, and it supports the notion of responsible family planning when it is done by natural means.
“Some argue that if a husband and wife remain open to children throughout their marriage, they need not worry about using contraception occasionally,” the statement says. “But practicing what is good most of the time does not justify doing what is wrong some of the time.”
The document on worthiness to receive Communion stems from a debate in Catholic circles, peaking during the 2004 national elections, on whether bishops should publicly bar some Catholic political leaders from receiving Communion because of their public policy stands on abortion.
The proposed statement, “‘Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper’: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,” seeks to address the fundamental issues of church teaching and theology.
Drawn up by the Committee on Doctrine, the 22-page statement discusses what Catholics believe about the Eucharist and reception of Communion, what is meant by communion with the church and assent to its teachings, the need for sanctifying grace and how it is lost through grave violations of God’s commandments.
“The statement is not intended to be a technical document for bishops, pastors or ministers, but is addressed to all the faithful and is designed to aid them in personally preparing for reception of holy Communion,” says the committee’s introductory note to the bishops about the statement. It says the proposed document is intended as a resource for individual study or for use in parish study groups or other education programs.
“Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” was also drafted by the doctrine committee.
It cites problems created by efforts in society to “promote a view of sexuality in general, and of homosexuality in particular, not in accord with God’s purpose and plan for human sexuality.”
It notes that while the church teaches that homosexual acts are wrong, the church also condemns acts of violence or malice toward those with a homosexual inclination and teaches that they “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
The 23-page document includes guidelines on participation of those with homosexual inclinations in church life and appropriate pastoral support, principles for catechesis about sexuality, and guidelines for sacraments and worship.
In its discussion of sacraments, it notes that the church recognizes marriage as exclusively reserved to a man and a woman. It also notes that the church does not support adoption by same-sex couples, but it says such adopted children should not be refused baptism if there is “a well-founded hope” that they will be raised as Catholics.
The proposed “Directory for Music and the Liturgy” was developed by the Committee on the Liturgy in response to a 2001 Vatican mandate to bishops’ conferences to “provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing.”
A proposed norm at the end of the directory orders the development within three years of a national “core” or “common” repertoire of songs and calls for that common repertoire to be “included in all worship aids used in the dioceses of the United States.” It says songs not included in the core could still be used as well, provided they meet the standards of doctrinal integrity and basis in Scripture and liturgy.
The liturgy committee has also submitted revised texts of some Advent Mass readings for the bishops to review and approve. Those texts mark the beginning of a much larger project for the bishops to review all the Scripture readings in the Lectionary, improving translations that are seen as not suitable for liturgical proclamation for reasons of grammar, vocabulary, poetic expression or simply oral delivery.
For example, in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent in the A cycle, a proposal calls for the somewhat stilted phrase “so will it be also” to be changed to the more fluid “so too will it be.” Where Jesus is talking to his disciples in the Gospel reading for the first Tuesday in Advent, the text would be changed from “in private he said” to “he said to them privately.”
In the restructuring of the USCCB, the bishops will be asked to cast votes this November on drastically reducing the number of bishops’ committees, adopting a strategic plan for 2008-2011 that commits them to five top priorities in conference work, and reducing the diocesan assessment for USCCB funding by 16 percent in 2008.
Diocesan assessments make up $11.9 million of this year’s $131 million USCCB budget. If the bishops cut the 2008 assessment, it means that next November the 2008 budget they adopt will be pared down. According to current proposals, of 260 national staff positions under review in the reorganization process, 63 that are authorized in the current budget will be eliminated in the 2008 budget.
The bishops will be asked this November to adopt a 2007 budget of $139.5 million that includes a $1.5 million deficit. The actual deficit is expected to be lower, however, because in anticipation of the 2008 staff cuts a number of staff positions in that budget exist only in theory. They have been left vacant over the past year or so as employees have left or retired, and they will remain unfilled in 2007.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York has been commissioned by the bishops to undertake a massive study on the causes and context of sexual abuse of minors by priests, and the bishops are being asked to authorize release of $335,000 for the next stages of research to continue over the coming year while the college goes through the necessary grant-seeking processes to obtain outside funding for future parts of the study. The money is to come from a commitment of up to $1 million the bishops approved for the study in 2005; if the proposed funding is released, $532,000 of the original $1 million commitment will remain.
The bishops are also slated to elect new chairmen-elect of several committees and a new USCCB secretary.