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BALTIMORE – With an overwhelming positive vote, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ on Wednesday approved a much anticipated document on the Eucharist that, to the disappointment of some and joy of others, makes no reference to pro-abortion Catholic politicians who receive Communion.
After a short public discussion – that followed lengthy private talks, 222 bishops voted in favor of the document, eight against, and three abstained. The voting was electronic and secret.
The document is 30 pages long and is titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” Its drafting was approved by the bishops during their spring meeting back in June. Tasked with writing the document was the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, headed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
During the June meeting, a major focus of the bishops’ virtual discussions highlighted whether the document would address denying Communion to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.
Some bishops issued a strong rebuke of President Joe Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, because of his actions protecting and expanding abortion access. Other prelates warned that this would portray the bishops as a partisan force, further fueling the polarization in the United States.
It’s worth noting that the decision to make the Eucharist the focus of the conference’s 2021-2024 strategic plan was decided long before Biden ran for president. The strategic plan is titled “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ, Source of Our Healing and Hope,” and it was provisionally approved by the full body of bishops at the June 2019 general meeting, with drafts written that year, and the plan formally accepted at the 2020 fall plenary.
However, once Biden got elected many of the bishops themselves attempted to turn the document into a rebuttal of the president.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Bishops Conference, announced at the end of the 2020 fall meeting that Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit was going to head up a special working group to address issues surrounding the election of a Catholic president and policies that may come about that would be in conflict with Catholic teaching.
“We are facing a unique moment in the history of our country” with the election of only the second Catholic as president, Gomez said soon after the 2020 election. “This presents certain opportunities but also certain challenges.”
The document voted on by the bishops on Wednesday did not specifically call out Catholic political leaders. Instead, it more generally points out the seriousness of the sacrament, warning that “one is not to celebrate Mass or receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin without having sought the Sacrament of Reconciliation and received absolution.”
There was, however, a brief mention of politicians – none by name – in the comments that preceded Wednesday’s vote. Archbishop Joseph Naumann spoke of the importance of engaging Catholic politicians in areas of both agreement and disagreement.
“I think it was good to reiterate in this document what we have said before about our responsibility to have dialogue and conversation with those who are Catholic but who act in a way contrary to our faith in this basic moral teaching,” Naumann, the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-life Activities said. “I’m not sure we’ve taken that seriously as bishops, our responsibility for the care of the souls of these politicians to really enter into a dialogue.”
Bishop Donald DeGrood of Sioux Falls followed Naumann, and said that it’s important for bishops to be united in the implementation of the document.
“It’s really how we will be united as bishops and how we move forward is not just focusing on one aspect of the document, but really both,” DeGrood said. “Addressing the beauty and all of the teachings we have in the faith, but then taking the next steps where there needs to be a deeper dialogue so there’s unity in how we handle the sacred mysteries.”
Based on the committee’s responses and rationale for the approval and rejection of the amendments suggested by the bishops – 28 in total, with 9 approved, 19 rejected –the document is not intended to be a “comprehensive treatise on the Eucharist,” it’s intended as a theological and not disciplinary document and the focus of it is “on the return to the Mass.”
National Eucharistic Congress
The document on the Eucharist was presented by the bishops as the launching pad for a National Eucharistic Congress, part of the three-annual eucharistic revival initiative, to be held in Indianapolis in July 17-21, 2024, with an expected attendance of some 80,000 to 100,000 participants. The proposal was presented by Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who is the bishop-designate of Crookston.
“It will have a World Youth Day like spirit,” said Cozzens, the chairman USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis said..
The eucharistic revival initiative will be formally launched at the diocesan level in June.
The estimated “completely inclusive budget” that includes renting venues, insurance, security, registration, management, food and beverages, is of a little over 28 million dollars. Fundraising goal for the event is estimated at $12 million. Our Sunday Visitor has already donated $1 million for the Congress and the Knights of Columbus have also promised their support.
During the discussions of the proposal, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, was the first one to question the cost of the event, saying that “it’s a lot of money,” particularly seeing other things for which the Church already must pay, including Catholic schools. The budget for the congress, he said, is that of his diocese for four years.
“I’m sure that the spiritual fruits of the event will be worth the investment,” Cozzens answered.
The proposal to hold the congress also received overwhelming support, with 201 voting in favor, 17 against and 5 abstaining.
Modifying the charter on abuse prevention
The nation’s bishops voted overwhelmingly to move the review of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People – last amended in 2018 – to as early as next summer, after the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People chair made the case that the slated 2025 review “is simply too long to wait.”
Bishop James Johnson, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the committee chair, cited the legislative and procedural changes Pope Francis Made in Vos Estis Lux Mundi, and the Holy Father’s more recent promulgation of Book Six of the Code of Canon Law.
Johnson mentioned the review will also consider learnings from last year’s report on ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and “other events in the life of the church and societal trends that present challenges for maintaining a safe environment.”
The proposal passed by a 230-5 vote. Johnson said the review could begin as early as next summer or fall, following the June 2022 plenary.
Bishops weighed in with suggestions and support before the vote.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn urged that the review begin as quickly as possible, with an added focus on the “urgent” issue of priests being taken out of ministry “because they are actually considered guilty until proven innocent.”
“That is a real problem especially in dioceses where we cannot even investigate because the attorneys for the plaintiffs will not allow any investigation,” DiMarzio said. “So we have people who could be out of ministry for years with actually no proof of it.”
Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha commented on the recent investigation findings into Nebraska’s three dioceses from the state’s attorney general. Lucas noted the attorney general commented on the considerable difference of instances of abuse, and the handling of abuse allegations since the implementation of the charter.
“I think it’s really important we acknowledge the effectiveness of the charter and that we do everything we can to keep it current,” Lucas said.
Last to comment was Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, who is a leader in the global church’s fight against clergy sex abuse. He called the charter an “extraordinary” contribution from the Church in the United States to the global church before highlighting the fact that there are “some issues that need to urgently be addressed,” particularly on the matter of protection of young adults and the implementation on changes in canon law that have been approved by Pope Francis with a series of laws published after the charter’s last revision.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg