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‘I just wanted to be a priest’: Archbishop Gomez elected president of USCCB

Washington D.C., Nov 12, 2019 / 07:25 am (CNA).- When he became a priest four decades ago, Archbishop Jose Gomez did not expect that he would one day lead the largest archdiocese in the U.S., or the country’s bishops’ conference.

“I just wanted to be a priest,” Gomez told CNA with a laugh, speaking about his election.

“Somehow God wanted me to do what I am doing, and I’m just counting on the grace of God to be able to be faithful to what God is asking me to do.”

“And also on intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he added, explaining that he has entrusted all of his ministry as a bishop to the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Gomez, 67, was elected Nov. 12 as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The archbishop, born in Monterey, Mexico, and ordained a priest in Spain, is the first Latino to lead the bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant to head the conference.

His election is historic, but it was no surprise. Gomez became vice president of the conference, a central organizing body of almost 200 Catholic bishops with more than 300 employees, in 2016. The vice president is traditionally elected to the top job, so Gomez knew his election was likely.

But, he told CNA, the real surprise was becoming vice president three years ago.

“I was not expecting to be the president. Some people put my name forward for election as vice president [in 2016].”

“To my surprise I was elected vice president, then once you are the vice president, it is more likely that they elect you president. The whole process was a surprise to me, but I see that God is asking me to do it, and I just pray that with the grace of God I can do a good job.”

Gomez laughed, noting that he had never expected to become a Denver auxiliary bishop in in 2001, the Archbishop of San Antonio in 2004, or in 2010 head of the Los Angeles archdiocese, the largest local Church in the country.

The archbishop told CNA that his goal is to “try to live what I preach, and then, also, my ministry to the people — that’s the most important thing.”

His ministry, he said, includes serving “my brother bishops, priests, deacons, and also the lay faithful. Because really my vocation started with ministry to lay faithful.”

Gomez acknowledged that he spends a great deal of time on administrative responsibilities, and will have more of them as his term as president begins. But he said that even amid those responsibilities, and even while exercising them, he has time to build the pastoral relationships he finds so fulfilling.

“The fact that I am the Archbishop of Los Angeles gives me a beautiful opportunity to be with the people, because there are so many people active in the Church in Los Angeles. And also in the conference of bishops, really what’s its all about it serving the people, so I hope that I can have the opportunity to be with people, in events where people are, and that I can continue to be a pastor which is, I believe, my vocation.”

Gomez is the first bishop elected to lead the conference to be associated with Opus Dei, a Church group, founded in Spain and supported by Pope St. John Paul, that focuses on finding holiness in everyday life, and on the call to holiness of lay Catholics. The archbishop became affiliated with Opus Dei as a college student, and was a priest in the organization, formally called a personal prelature.

The archbishop’s vision of the Church, focused on collaboration and friendship between laity and clerics, and on the idea that everyone should be a saint, is informed by his experience in Opus Dei.

“The spirituality of Opus Dei,” he told CNA, “basically is to strive for holiness— personal sanctification — and ministry. Sharing our faith with everybody else.”

“Most of the members of Opus Dei are lay faithful living their lives and working and trying to share the faith and to be holy.”

“Everybody, starting with the pope and going through every single bishop, and priest, and deacon, we all are called to strive for holiness, with the universal call to holiness, provided to us by the Second Vatican Council, and also, as Pope Francis is insisting that we should be missionary disciples, so that means sharing our faith with everybody else,” he added.

Gomez told CNA that groups like Opus Dei, along with other Church movements like the NeoCatechumenal Way and Communion and Liberation that have gained popularity in recent decades, emphasize “the universal call to holiness making a reality in the life of the Church.”

“All of those different institutions that are promoting the vocation of the lay faithful are a blessing for the Church.”

“By the work of the Holy Spirit there have been in the universal Church many groups of people working as a movement just to bring the beauty of the Chirstian life to the presence of the lay faithful all over the world,” Gomez added, comparing Church movements to the diversity of ministries and apostolates in parishes, which he called “the center of Christian life in the United States.”

The archbishop said that in his own ministry as a bishop, he looks to the example of Pope St. John Paul II, and, that among American bishops, he has been influenced and inspired by a number of bishops.

“Obviously in the United States I had the blessing of working together with Archbishop Chaput because I was his auxiliary bishop, so he has been a wonderful example to me. But I have been influenced by many other bishops: Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Patrick Flores, and then Cardinal William Leveda, who just passed away, he was a good friend.”

Levada, Gomez told CNA, “asked me, when I was a young auxiliary bishop, to be a member of the doctrine committee of the USCCB. So that helped me to get to know the workings of the USCCB.”

Gomez takes the helm of the bishops’ conference in a difficult time.

The sexual scandals that emerged in June 2018, with revelations of abuse on the part of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, have preoccupied bishops and lay Catholics.

The ecclesiastical landscape has shifted too; the pontificate of Pope Francis is different in emphasis, tone, and style from those of his predecessors. Some U.S. bishops have been accused of resistance to Francis, and bishops have responded to his leadership in different ways.

“The reality of the bishops in the United States is that we all are faithful to Pope Francis,” Gomez told CNA.

“I think we all are united. There is some perception that we are not. But the reality— what I see— is that we are united in our ministry and in our Church.”

“Every pope brings some different aspects in the life of the Church that he, by the grace of God, believes are important. And we, the bishops of the United States, are trying to be more aware of what those things are, and try to make it happen in our ministry.”

Gomez acknowledged that Pope Francis’ leadership is not similar to that of his predecessors.

“I think it takes time for people to really understand the spirituality of Pope Francis.”

“I think there are many, many aspects that are different. They are cultural and spiritual; it’s the first time in the history of the Church that there is a pope from Latin America. And some of us, who have that experience, know that it is different from the culture in Europe, or in the United States, or in Asia,” Gomez said. 

“It’s also the first time there is a Jesuit who is the pope. So every religious community, and the diocesan priesthood, have different spiritualities.”

“So I think we the bishops of the United States, and I personally, are learning how to appreciate the different aspects of the spirituality and the culture of Pope Francis.”

Gomez added that “every bishop has his own spirituality, and his own ministry in the diocese, according to the needs of the people in the diocese,” he said, noting the difference in his experiences while serving in Denver, San Antonio, and Los Angeles.

“San Antonio was basically a community of two cultures: Hispanic culture and the Anglo-Saxon culture. Now in Los Angeles we have people from all over the world. So my ministry is different.”

“One thing Pope Francis insists a lot is to respect the cultures of people, different ways of worshipping. People in Peru, or in Mexico, or people from Vietnam have different ways of worshipping and living. So the Church in the United States is learning how to address the needs of people from around the world,” Gomez added.

As he begins his term as president, Gomez told CNA he hopes to help the Church “to really understand the cultural realities of the people in the United States. I think it’s important for all of us to be more open to that.”

“With immigrants, what I talk about is not assimilation, but integration: that they be integrated into the life of the United States and the life of the Church.”

As Gomez discussed the importance of understanding the diversity of cultures in the Church, he also emphasized the source of the Church’s unity.

“Obviously I have the same truths as we all have, the teachings of Jesus Christ, in the Catholic Church.”

Ukrainian archbishop: No amount of world progress can replace friendship

South Bend, Ind., Nov 12, 2019 / 02:48 am (CNA).- Are the times these days good or bad?

That depends, in part, on how one reads the times.

On the one hand, technological advances have brought illiteracy levels throughout the world from 90% to only 10%. Advances in science and medicine are allowing people to live longer and healthier lives.

“These are some of the good things that are happening. I think a lot of it is done out of friendship, out of good intention,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparch of Philadelphia, and the Metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S., said November 7. Gudziak was one of the keynote speakers for the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture 21st annual fall conference, which this year had the theme: “I have called you friends.”

“I don't canonize our times and I don't canonize longevity, but we do appreciate these things,” he said.

“And yet the times are not so good,” Gudziak added.

“In fact, they're similar to...what it was in 1914 when the Western world was convinced that progress would lead us to great happiness. Then the massacres began. World wars. The genocides,” Gudziak said.

He noted that for all of our technological and social progress, Americans are lonelier, more depressed and more stressed than ever. In Pennsylvania, one of the states where he serves, the opioid crisis has left people sick, dying, lonely and without hope.

“It's important to focus on friendship because no amount of material, educational, technological, industrial welfare can compensate for the relationships that we are called to,” he said.

Gudziak said some of the most profound friendships he’s seen are those he witnessed in Soviet Russia before it fell, and those he continues to witness in countries controlled by communism, although these friendships are not easy or without cost.

“In all of these countries that were or continue to be communist, where millions of people were killed, where the system killed systematically, people over generations developed a reflex to put on a mask, put up a facade, build a wall because the outside world is dangerous,” Gudziak said.

Families are encouraged to inform authorities against each other in communist countries, “so people in the family don't say things, because you can't trust. It becomes like a radiation.”

“You can't taste it, has no smell, no color, but it mutates the genes. There's an extra fear chromosome. It's a reflex. You can't control it. Two billion people have an added obstacle to cultivate profound friendship.”

And yet it was in these oppressive conditions in Soviet Russia that the Ukrainian Catholic Church, while it lost many members, grew deep roots and bonds of friendship among those that remained.

“(T)he Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which had about 4 million members in 1939, with 3,000 priests, was totally - on a visible level - liquidated,” Gudziak said.

“In 1945-46 all the bishops were arrested, hundreds of priests with their families were deported to Siberia. The church was rendered illegal and it remained the biggest illegal church in the world for 43 years until 1989. And it was very reduced. By 1989 there were only 300 priests left,” he said.

“But what a community it was! Forged in that fire of persecution,” he added.

When he met the underground Church, Gudziak said everything was stripped to the bare minimum - bishops had jobs as ambulance drivers or coal workers, there were no schools or churches or official institutions of any kind. The bishops didn’t even know one another’s names, because it was too dangerous to tell someone your name in underground seminary.

“And yet they were profoundly friends of Christ, and it was an incredible, intense relationship of those in the underground,” Gudziak said.

“The friendship was not just kind of a nice thing, it cost profoundly to be a friend of Christ in an atheist totalitarian system,” he said. “It cost to pass down the faith to your children. But the fruits are amazing.”

The Ukranian Catholic Church now again has 3,000 priests, 5 million members and 800 seminarians.

The story of the Ukranian Catholic Church is important because “it's the story of the cross,” Gudziak told CNA in an interview.

“I think the story of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its persecution, its underground life, its survival...it's not a philosophy, it's a story of human faithfulness to God...the faithfulness of concrete people to God and to each other.”

From the beginning of humanity, God has been teaching human beings about true friendship, Gudziak noted in his talk.

“From the scriptures we know from our faith, we experience that the Lord so yearns to make us his friends. Moses had a special privilege to see face-to-face. Abraham was called a friend. The value of friendship was modeled by David and Jonathan,” he said.

“Then, Jesus came to us. Our faith, our church, our theology, our civilization is based on this incredible gesture that God comes to be close, to convey his divinity. He sits next to us,” he said.

“What a God, what a Lord, and what is He conveying? He's conveying the divine life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Friendship...motivates the Father to send his Son into (the world’s) grime, into our anxiety, our sin, the pitch blackness that we can create, into our hell, into our death, to create relationship, to create trust, intimacy, to establish an alliance.”

“Friendship,” he said, “is the school of the spiritual life which reflects the gift of relationship that we have, by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God. God is triune. He's personal and there's relationship. We as persons are called to relationship. We're called to friendship.”

Besides his appointments in the U.S., Gudziak also serves as the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. In striving to teach their students about true friendship, the university invites academics as well as students with disabilities into its classes and campus, he said.

“Not because they need us, because they need our social handout, but because the children of God with special needs have special gifts. They don't care where you got your Ph.D. or how many publications you have. They don't notice how rich or poor you are or, which title you carry,” he said.

“They have one basic question: Can you love?...There's no more important pedagogical question.”

In a world increasingly divided along political, religious and other ideological lines, Gudziak told CNA it is all the more important that Christians reflect on God’s friendship to us, and in turn our friendship with him and with others.

“I think ever since The Enlightenment, when we've really been focusing a lot on ideas, there's a tendency for ideas to become ideologies. And our consciousness in the Western world is very intellectualized, and our relationships can become abstract. They can be categorized according to different positions, world views, and they're in our head,” he said.

“If we look carefully at the Gospels and listen to Jesus, he doesn't speak about grand ideas. He talks about the Father, the Holy Spirit. He talks about relationships,” he added. “He talks about persons and interaction among persons, and he uses very personal, very concrete examples and stories to teach about life. He doesn't start from ideas and systems and ideologies and systems.”

In his talk at the conference, Gudziak noted that Jesus became friends with “very concrete people, Peter and John and Nathaniel. It's not an ideology, it's not a system. There weren't too many buildings there in Jesus's time, nor in Paul's or for 300 years.”

“So maybe if we lose the buildings and the endowments and the properties, maybe that's not the end of things, if we can recover or develop more profoundly our friendship.”

Blessed Sacrament stolen from Texas Catholic parish

El Paso, Texas, Nov 12, 2019 / 12:18 am (CNA).- The pastor of a Catholic parish in El Paso, Texas is calling for prayer and reparation after a tabernacle containing the Eucharist was stolen from the church.

On Oct. 28, Holy Spirit Parish in Horizon City was broken into by unknown individuals.

“It is with a very saddened heart that I write these words to you,” said Father Jose Morales, pastor of the parish, in a Nov. 1 letter. “Sunday night into Monday morning we had some intruders in the church that caused damages and stole items including the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament.”

The incident resulted in minor property damage and stolen items equal to a few thousand dollars, the priest said. He stressed that the worst aspect of the attack was the theft of the Eucharist, the value of which cannot be estimated. Catholic teaching holds that the consecrated Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ.

“The desecration of the greatest gift possessed by the Church, the Most Blessed Sacrament, is a very serious matter,” he said.

He encouraged anyone with any information on the crime to contact the Horizon Police Department. He also asked parishioners to respond to the theft with acts of penance.

“Due to the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament I join our Bishop Mark Seitz in inviting you to make reparation for this violation by visiting the Blessed Sacrament and participating in any act of reparation,” he said.

“The indifference of the world towards God in the holiness Most Blessed Sacrament needs to be overcome with the devotion, love and the holiness of His children. Let us remain united and strong in the Lord and manifest that we are his faithful followers regardless of the violations that some express.”

Roberto Ceballos, a parishioner of 20 years, told KVIA that the theft made him feel unsafe in the neighborhood.

“When we heard the news about it, we felt bad...We couldn’t believe that it had happened here, of course, in the neighborhood and of course in a Catholic church,” said Ceballos.

“I don’t feel secure now... It's just a half-block away from my house,” he added.

Morales said it is difficult to understand the reasons behind the theft, but he urged the perpetrators to come forward and return the tabernacle.

“I don’t see the reason for something like this being done. We know God is merciful and if they would return what they took and repent it would be greatly appreciated, not just by us, but God will take that into account,” he told KVIA.

The priest encouraged his congregation to pray that the thieves repent and change their ways, and he asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to intercede for the parish.

“May our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who witnessed the acts of hatred and indifference towards her beloved Son, bring us consolation and guide us closer to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit protect us always,” he said in his letter to parishioners.

Archbishop Naumann: Know the pregnancy resources available in your community

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas announced Monday at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting an initiative meant to help parishes assist pregnant women in need at the local level.

Everyone needs to know what pregnancy resources there are available in the community, Naumann said Nov. 11, adding that he hopes Catholics can move from “partisan divide into pastoral unity” on the topic of abortion and the Church’s response.

Naumann, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, announced that from March 25, 2020 to March 25, 2021 the bishops will support an initiative called “Walking With Moms in Need: A Year of Service.”

The program, Naumann said, will include resources for parish use, tools for creating an inventory of resources available to help women in the community, prayers for building a culture of life, reflections on encyclicals related to life, homily help, pulpit announcements, communications and outreach suggestions, and more.

He said all the resources related to the initiative will be online in English and Spanish, along with a timeline for putting them out.

Naumann noted that March 25, 2020 is the 25th anniversary of the encyclical Evangelium vitae, in which St. John Paul II expanded on the term “culture of life,” which he first used in the encyclical Centesimus annus four years earlier.

In Evangelium vitae, Naumann noted, St. John Paul II asked the faithful to assess the efforts in assisting pregnant mothers in need, especially at the local level.

“Pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and neighborhoods,” Naumann said, noting that there are 17,000 parishes in the United States and each parish is best equipped to help women at the local level.

“We have done little to help women in difficult situations,” when abortion seems like a quick solution to their problems, Naumann lamented.

Our parishes need to be, in the words of Pope Francis, “islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.”

Bishops reject funding hike for USCCB, for now

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- A proposed increase in diocesan payments to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has failed to attract sufficient support among the bishops on Monday, the first day of their annual general assembly in Baltimore.

Diocesan and eparchial bishops voted 111 to 55 on a measure that would have approve a requested three percent increase to the annual diocesan assessment that will be sent to the USCCB in 2021. The measure failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass, though its defeat is not yet definitive. 

The bishops, gathered for their four-day meeting Nov. 11-14, were told by conference treasurer Archbishop Dennis Schnurr that a number of economic factors in, and out of the Church had impacted the finances of the USCCB. Concerns over the cost of clergy sex abuse settlements in U.S. Catholic dioceses was particularly highlighted.

Although the proposed rate increase did not pass, the vote was declared inconclusive because 28 eligible bishops were not present on Monday. The conference hall was told that once their votes are counted, the final outcome will then be announced. The bishops from New York state are currently in Rome for their scheduled ad limina visit with Pope Francis but are reportedly following the proceedings in Baltimore and able to vote remotely.

“It caused me no surprise,” Schnurr of Cincinnati told CNA of the inconclusive vote. As a longtime staffer and member of the budget and finance committee, he said that “this is nothing new under the sun.”

The diocesan assessment goes to fund administrative, pastoral, and public policy programs at the USCCB, and a regular increase is necessary to maintain the reserves of the conference, Schnurr said.

The archbishop acknowledged the financial challenges of some dioceses facing a resurgence in clergy sex abuse claims from new openings in state statutes of limitations.

“There are a lot of dioceses in this country that are looking at bankruptcy,” Schnurr said.

The bishops voted on the first day their fall general assembly in Baltimore on Monday. In attendance were active and retired bishops from around the U.S. including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis late in 2018 after persistent questions were raised over the extent of Wuerl’s knowledge of his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick’s, history of sexual abuse of minors and adults.

The bishops will also consider a slate of other action items, including election of a new president and vice president of the conference, approval of a letter and short video presentation of the bishops’ document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and presentations on gun violence and evangelization.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the outgoing president of the conference, delivered his final presidential address to brother bishops on Monday morning, emphasizing the need to overcome deepening divisions and polarization in society, to promote a renewed evangelization, and to practice solidarity with migrants and immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Archbishop Schnurr addressed the bishops on the proposed 2020 budget for the conference as well as a proposed three percent increase in the annual diocesan assessment to the USCCB.

The three percent increase was last approved by the bishops in November of 2017, for the 2019 diocesan assessment. However, in November of 2018, no increase was approved for the 2020 assessment, largely due to the costs dioceses were facing from a surge of new clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Schnurr noted other problems facing the national conference’s budget including stricter federal immigration and refugee policies that have reduced the number of cases handled by Catholic organizations, and the trade war between the U.S. and China which could affect the overall U.S. economy and thus the amount of donations coming in to the conference.

The archbishop said that it is not “sustainable” to withhold increases to the annual assessment to meet the conference’s estimated $25 million budget.

“We’re just kicking the can down the road,” he said. “The expenses are there.”

However, while the proposal fell 18 votes short of passage, Schnurr said, he expected the votes of absent bishops to push it over the finish line.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stated his opposition to the assessment increase, saying that his archdiocese’s assessment amounts to $257,000 per year which, when paired with a matching donation to the Holy See, totals more than half a million dollars annually.

“I don’t have this kind of money to keep increasing it [the assessment],” Chaput said. “We have huge expenses because of the sexual abuse issue and related circumstances.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had to pay more than $32 million in settlements to abuse victims, WHYY reported, after a window for new abuse claims closed on Sept. 30 in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse that was released in August of 2018.

Chaput said that the USCCB also has more savings and investments in reserve than the archdiocese does.

“I don’t think that some of the work of the USCCB is essential to the mission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich noted that a three percent increase for 2021 would arrive three years since the last increase to the assessment had been made. The requested increases would not even keep up with the rate of inflation, he said.

On Monday morning, the bishops also voted on “revised strategic priorities” for the conference’s Strategic Plan for the years 2021 through 2024. The priorities included evangelization to “form a joyful band of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ,” promoting “life and dignity of the human person,” working to “protect and heal God’s children,” and promoting vocations to marriage, priesthood and the religious life.

The priorities are all coequal, “much like bishops in the episcopal conference,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, who gave the presentation on the priorities, said.

The bishops voted 214 to 4 to pass the revised strategic priorities, with two abstentions.

Cardinal DiNardo notes search for justice in last USCCB presidential address

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 11:35 am (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, outgoing president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlighted Monday his experience leading the conference and detailing his personal growth over the last three years as his presidential term comes to an end.

“My service as president has been a continual reminder that, indeed, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,’” DiNardo said at the US bishops' autumn general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 11. While “our present culture can seem overtaken by various ideological or political divisions,” bishops and other followers of Christ need to be different, he affirmed.

“Follow a simple truth: ‘God is always courteous,’” said DiNardo. “Let us be courteous.”

DiNardo remarked that while his tenure was during the “difficult times within our own Church,” that the bishops must continue to seek justice and to work for “relationships that are ordered in the right way--that is, towards the salvation of souls, including our own.”

DiNardo presided over the USCCB after it came to light that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused minors and seminarians on many occasions, as well as during the release of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania. Other states have since begun grand jury investigations.

Properly ordered relationships, said the cardinal, exclude any trace of clericalism. An ordained man cannot act “as if he is a lord and master” over others, he said.

“The privilege of a cleric is to be a humble servant to all,” he said. “Justice demands that those who are shepherds should lead from in front, as courage requires, and from behind, as humility requires, going to those who are lost.”

The cardinal said that his experience meeting with victims of sexual abuse as president of the conference was one that “forever changed” his life.

“When too many within the Church sought to keep them in the darkness, they refused to be relegated to the shadows,” said DiNardo. “Their witness brought help to countless fellow survivors. It fueled the resolve of my brother bishops to respond with pastoral support and prevention programs.”

Sexual abuse victims empowered the bishops “with the knowledge needed to respond,” said DiNardo.

“We must never stop striving for justice and working unceasingly to prevent any future abuse from happening,” he said. “The measures we approved last June are a beginning of this renewed striving, but they are only a beginning – more needs to and will be done.”

“Traveling on your behalf these past three years, it was a privilege to learn from so many people along the way,” said DiNardo.

He spoke about his time visiting the border detention centers, and witnessing the faith of the children who were detained and separated from their parents, as well as his experience with other bishops visiting refugees and volunteers at respite centers.

“I met dozens of children who called upon their Catholic faith and the firm knowledge that Christ and His Church would be present with them. Along with my brother bishops, we went because Jesus was already there. We followed our shepherd,” said DiNardo. He extended an invitation to all present to “share our journey of solidarity with migrants and refugees.”

DiNardo said that workers at respite centers, who provided medical care and other needs for people at the border, were “doing God’s work,” as were people who worked at pregnancy centers. He praised the work of pregnancy centers, as well as public policy advocates seeking to change the country’s healthcare system.

“The continued fight to defend unborn children is one of the most significant things we do,” said DiNardo. “And it will remain so as long as the most innocent lives are left unprotected.”

The cardinal's successor as USCCB president will be elected Nov. 12. The bishops are almost certain to choose Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who is currently vice president of the conference.

US nuncio: Francis' 'pastoral thrust' must reach Americans

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- The apostolic nuncio to the United States told the nation’s bishops that their commitment to evangelization is the measure of their communion with Pope Francis.

Archbishop Christoph Pierre addressed the bishops during the opening session of the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore Monday morning.

Pierre told the bishops Nov. 11 that he would propose “some topics for reflection” which he hoped would inform the conference sessions. The central theme of his reflections was the commitment of the bishops to a state of constant missionary engagement.

“As often as we speak of the ‘new evangelization,’ serious reflection is necessary on the outcomes of our efforts,” Pierre said.

“Do you feel that we and our collaborators have been far-sighted and proactive in efforts at evangelization, anticipating cultural, philosophical, and political trends,” Pierre asked, “or do we find ourselves in the position of having been reactive?”

“Do pastoral priorities we have chosen truly touch the reality of the life of our people?”

The nuncio said that the extent to which the bishops themselves received and were able to transmit Pope Francis’ missionary and pastoral priorities, especially in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, was the barometer of their own communion with the pope.

Pierre said that adopting the missionary impulse of the pope’s own writings “and being in a permanent state of mission might represent tangible signs of communion with the Holy Father, for it would show the reception and implementation of his teaching.”

“The pope has emphasized certain themes: mercy, closeness to the people, discernment, accompaniment, a spirit of hospitality towards migrants, and dialogue with those of other cultures and religions,” Pierre said, while asking bishops to consider if these themes were reflected in their clergy and people.

“It is an interesting question to ask,” Pierre said, “because while there has been a strong emphasis on mercy by the Holy Father, at times – paradoxically – people are becoming more and more judgemental and less willing to forgive, as witnessed by the polarization gripping this nation.”

“The pastoral thrust of this pontificate must reach the American people,” the nuncio insisted, “especially as families continue to demand of dioceses and parishes the accompaniment envisioned by Amoris laetitia.”

Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, called for better pastoral provision and accompaniment for families and couples in irregular marriages. Whether the document can be interpreted as authorizing a change in Church teaching, or permitting the admittance of the divorced-and-civilly-remarried to Holy Communion, has been the subject of debate in dioceses and countries across the world.

The nuncio did point to some positive signs of life in American dioceses, specifically singling out the defense of human life and religious liberty and the generosity of Catholics in welcoming migrants to the country.

“The generosity and willingness of Catholics to sacrifice is witnessed in the charitable works during times of national disasters or through Catholic Relief Services,” he said, adding that signs of hope are present in the Church “even as many of us worry about the lasting impact of the sexual abuse crisis.”

The archbishop acknowledged that the Church in the U.S. faces “many challenges,” highlighting the demographic changes and the need to engage better with young people.

Pierre also highlighted a series of priorities and concerns about the welfare of the priesthood, acknowledging a shortage of clergy had led to strained circumstances in many dioceses. He urged to make “communion with the presbyterate” a key priority.

“Establishing communion within the presbyterate is becoming increasingly challenging, and not just because of differences in age, theology, or liturgical practices.” He noted the increasing numbers of priests from other countries serving in American dioceses.

“Although we are grateful for the sacramental and pastoral care provided by these priests, we must investigate how this has affected or is affecting the presbyterate within our respective dioceses.”

In answer to the shortage of clergy, Pierre said that there is “an urgent need the bishops to foster a “culture of vocation.”

“Building a culture of vocations also means providing adequate support for and accompaniment of families, where vocations are born and nurtured even at a young age.”

Pierre concluded by saying he hoped that the American bishops would find his “reflections” useful for the coming year.

“Knowing the richness of your spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as the depth of your faith and devotion and that of your people, I am confident that the Church in the United States will discover the right path for its spiritual renewal.”

Analysis: USCCB elections and the Church's theological vision

Baltimore, Md., Nov 10, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference fall meeting is unlikely to offer any surprises to Church observers watching the assembly. In fact, while the meeting will begin Monday, its only real surprise came weeks ago, when the list of candidates for the conference presidency and vice presidency was published.

The bishops will elect a new president Tuesday, almost certain to be Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, now the conference vice president. The uncertain question is who they’ll elect as vice president, but Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese are largely considered the front-runners, and one of them is likely to win.

But the surprise of the candidates’ list, released Oct. 21, is that nearly all the bishops eligible to be elected president or vice president are  typically classified, at least by secular media, as “conservative.”

Ordinarily, candidates represent a cross-section of the theological and socio-political perspectives within the conference. But this year, each of the candidates, save for one, has been described as a “conservative,” and, to some extent, the label fits. 

The categories of political sociology are not helpful in a Church context, because the modes of thinking and acting in the Church are very different from those of political partisanship.

Rather than speaking of “conservatives” and “liberals,” it is more accurate to say that the candidates for high office in the bishops’ conference can all be seen to represent the Communio school of post-Vatican II theological formation, instead of the Concilium school represented by Cardinal Blase Cupich and Bishop Robert McElroy.

The possible exception to this categorization is Bishop Dan Flores of Brownsville, who, as a rather well-read Thomist, does not fit neatly into either category. But in the contemporary theological landscape, a Thomist like Flores is generally thought to have common cause mostly with the Communio crowd. To borrow from political language, Flores might be spoken of as an “independent” who usually caucuses with the Communio school.

In short, though, the nominees are more uniform in theological perspective than is typical for slates of conference candidates.

Candidates are selected by nomination; each bishop is asked during the summer months of an election year to nominate candidates for office, and those who get the most nominations are in the running. The nominees they selected could be taken as a sign that most bishops hold to the Communio theological approach that defined the papacies of the St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, rather than the Concilium approach, which has enjoyed a resurgence in some quarters during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

It could also mean that any of the Concilium bishops who got a nomination declined it. There are, indeed, rumors that at least one archbishop who fits Concilium mold turned down the nod. But the idea that the U.S. bishops are mostly cut from the cloth of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and tend to think like those men, is hardly radical, and it makes sense they would mostly nominate bishops of a similar vein.

But the nominees’ slate does signify that a one-time tradition in conference elections is probably over, for good. It has long been customary that the conference elect its vice president as president, and it was once customary that the top job alternated between “conservative” and “progressive” bishops.

Both customs were interrupted in 2010. In that year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was then considered to be a “conservative,” was elected president in a coup that saw the “progressive” vice president, Bishop Gerarld Kicanas, left out in the cold. Since Dolan’s election, two more mostly-conservative, Communio school bishops have been elected president of the conference.

Gomez, though naturally a bridge-builder and a man of modest temperament, falls rather squarely in the Communio school, and his successor is sure to as well. That will make five bishops of mostly similar theological orientation elected to lead the conference in a row. The unspoken custom of alternating between theological viewpoints seems to be dead.

Still, if the nomination of very similar bishops as candidates for the 2019 election signifies that the John Paul II Communio approach is the predominant viewpoint among the U.S. bishops, it’s not certain how long that will last.

There are two Americans on the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, which plays a heavy role in nominating candidates to the episcopacy. One is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is 78 and will depart from the congregation in two years. Wuerl, leaving aside the personal disgrace in which he now finds himself, is regarding theologically as a moderate Communio bishop. The other is Cardinal Blase Cupich, who, with his language of “paradigm shifts,” is regarded most definitively as a Concilium figure.

If Cupich plays a principal role in the nomination of U.S. bishops, the American episcopacy will likely tend toward the Concilium school, even as the Communio crowd takes leadership posts at the conference. If the Concilium bishops eventually occupy 51% of the American episcopate, however, the tides will turn.

That future possibility, in fact, may well be the reason why no Concilium bishops are running to be conference president. If they expect that the composition of the conference might undergo significant change in the next decade, they might judge it better simply to bide their time.

The real difference of opinion between Communio and Concilium bishops concerns the interpretive lens through which the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and indeed the Magisterium of the Church more broadly, should be read. That theological debate will have implications for decades, and perhaps centuries. For a sense of how the debate is going, the leadership and composition of the U.S. bishops' conference may prove to be a pretty good litmus test.

 

Corpus Christi bishop donates bone marrow to save a mother's life

Corpus Christi, Texas, Nov 9, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- This week, Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi reflected on bone marrow donations and the life of the mother whom he helped save.

Before he became a bishop, Michael Mulvey joined the Be the Match Registry, the world’s largest register for bone marrow transplants (BMT), which is run by the National Marrow Donor Program.

After the organization discovered a match, South Texas Catholic reported, Mulvey, 70, traveled to San Antonio to make a peripheral stem cell donation. He had matched with a mother who had been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer.

Although Mulvey has never met the woman, he said he was humbled by the experience and expressed gratitude to be able to contribute to the well-being of this mother and her family.

“Knowing that because of the life I have been given by God – I was able to give back and make a big difference in this person’s life, in the life of her children and her family is something I have thought of quite often,” he told South Texas Catholic Nov. 5.

Mulvey said he was introduced to Be the Match in 2004, while he was a priest of the Diocese of Austin. There, he had met Leticia Mondragon, a donor development and engagement specialist with GenCure who partners with Be the Match.

“When I was assigned in Austin years ago, one of our very charitable and active parishioners was signing up people for Be the Match,” said Bishop Mulvey, according to South Texas Catholic. “I appreciated her commitment and dedication to this cause, and after hearing more about the registry, I signed up.”

BMT replaces unhealthy bone marrow with healthy marrow from an outside source. The procedure is used to cure cancers in the blood as well as diseases in the bones and immune system. Among other illnesses, BMT has been used for leukemia, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell disease.

According to South Texas Catholic, Mondragon said the process to sign up is more convenient than in the past, noting that people may apply through their smartphone.

Unlike blood donations, a match for BMT does not focus on blood type, but ethnicity. Mondragon expressed hope that the new system will add more “people of all ethnic backgrounds” to the registry.

She stressed the importance of BMT donors, stating that life-threatening disorders are discovered every few minutes, and thanked the bishop for his contribution.

“Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a life-threatening blood cancer or blood disorder, such as leukemia or lymphoma,” said Mondragon, according to South Texas Catholic.

“We are thankful Bishop Mulvey wanted to share his story because it is so important that we have leaders like him promoting our global life-saving mission,” she further added.

Bishop Mulvey described the experience not only as an opportunity for charity but as a spiritual encounter.

“St. Matthew says what you have received as a gift, give as a gift,” said Bishop Mulvey, South Texas Catholic reported. “We must always remember that everyone’s life is a gift and true gratitude is expressed when you are willing to give back and share what you have.”

The Impossible Burger: Ethics and a CNA taste test

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Food trends come and go, and the trend du jour is plant-based “meat” that is partially made in a laboratory.

Many vegans and vegetarians have rejoiced at the growing popularity and relative mainstream success of both the “Beyond” and “Impossible” brands, and there is a growing claim that eschewing meat choices in favor of these new products is a more ethical choice for consumers.

CNA spoke to Catholic moral theologians to discuss the ethics of eating meat, and the morality of eating faux meat during penitential fasts. And, lest CNA coverage of these products seem incomplete, we conducted a taste test.

According to Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America a person is not morally obligated to choose a vegan patty, like the Impossible Burger, over a beef or chicken burger.

“There’s no reason, in my opinion, to think the consumption of products so dependent upon technology are superior to the consumption of animal products,” said Capizzi.

“I do think, however, in both cases, ethically relevant issues include the production of the foods, including not merely the environmental impact, but also the ways technologies might distance the human being from creation,” he added.

Capizzi told CNA that while he does not think it is ethically superior for people to stick to eating mostly plant-based food, he does think that “people need to reflect on the ethical nature of eating.”

“Though eating is a basic human need, how we eat, what we eat, with whom we eat--including whom we exclude--are all questions that need our reflection,” said Capizzi. While these alternative products have done some work to address some of these concerns, there is much work to be done.

“One thing I’ve noticed is the lack of hospitality that can accompany over-restrictive diets,” he explained, recounting the experience of seeing a poor person offer meat to guests, presented as a luxury, only to see the meat rejected because of the guests’ vegetarianism.

Dr. Charles Camosy, a professor at Fordham University who has written extensively about veganism and vegetarianism, disagreed with Capizzi’s take. Camosy told CNA that these new products make it harder for American Catholics to justify eating meat.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists we have a moral duty not to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly,” said Camosy.

“With good-tasting protein available from so many sources now, including from new imitation meat products, the teaching of the Church would seem to indicate that the necessity of participating in the suffering of death of animals, for most of us, isn't what it might have been in the past.”

Camosy noted that the Bible states that in the new Kingdom of God that will come with Christ’s second coming, “animals are to be our companions, not our food.”

The new kingdom “will be a Peaceable Kingdom among all creatures: lambs, lions, snakes, and babies,” he said, and there will be no need to slaughter animals.

The faux hamburger market is dominated by two companies: Beyond Meat makes the Beyond Burger patty, Beyond Beef ground meat substitute, Beyond Sausage, and Beyond Beef Crumbles. Impossible Foods sells the Impossible Burger patty and the Impossible Sausage.

“Protein, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, and water are the five building blocks of meat,” says Beyond Meat’s website. Beyond uses plant-based versions of protein--including protein from peas, mung beans, fava beans, brown rice, and sunflowers--and fats to create its products. Additionally, Beyond uses beet juice to create a burger that “bleeds.”

Impossible Food uses “heme,” a protein that is found in nearly all living things, to make its plant-based burgers taste like meat. This heme also mimics a  “bleeding” effect.

“Impossible Burger gets its heme from the protein soy leghemoglobin, which is naturally found in soy roots. Impossible Foods produces soy leghemoglobin through genetic engineering and fermentation. Thanks to heme, Impossible Burger has a rich, beefy flavor that satisfies the most discerning meat-eaters — but it contains no animal products whatsoever,” the company’s website says.

Dunkin’, the restaurant once known as Dunkin’ Donuts, launched a Beyond Sausage sandwich nationwide Nov. 6 after a successful test market in Manhattan. Customers can choose to substitute a veggie egg white patty for the fried egg. CNA paid $3.99 for the Beyond Sausage sandwich.

An ordinary pork sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin from Dunkin’ costs $4.99.

CNA recruited three journalists for a blind taste test of the Beyond Sausage sandwich and pork sausage sandwich. Two out of the three testers were unable to determine at first glance if the sandwich they were eating contained Beyond or pork sausage, and one mistakenly thought the pork sausage she was eating was actually the Beyond Sausage.

Two out of the three testers said they preferred the pork sausage sandwich to the Beyond sandwich, but one said she liked that the Beyond sandwich reminded her of a falafel. This tester was the only one who said she would order the sandwich again in the future.

The sandwich was not extremely popular among testers. But some Catholics have asked whether it would be good enough to eat on a Friday, when Catholics are instructed to abstain from (actual) meat.

CNA asked Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., the academic dean and vice president of the Dominican House of Studies, to weigh in on whether or not an Impossible Burger (or similar product) would be appropriate for a day when Catholics abstain from meat.

“The Church’s universal norms say that we should abstain from meat on Fridays, especially Fridays in Lent,” explained Petri. “The Impossible Burgers are not technically meat. So, of course, someone could argue that we can eat them on Fridays.”

Still, he said that “giving up meat but having Impossible Burgers that taste like meat seems to me to be a technicality to get out of the spirit of the penance,” he said.

“We should remember the point here is to give up something in union with Christ crucified. If a person is seeking Impossible meat to skirt the penance, it’s hard to believe they’ve really understood the point of it all.”

It is important for Catholics to remember that fasting and abstinence are not done for purposes of dieting, or to respect animals, said Petri. The purpose of fasting is to “unite our offerings to the perfect offering of Christ, and so to prepare for the great feast of his coming.”

And for those who are still struggling (or hungry) on a Friday, Petri had some advice.

“If you’re craving meat on a Friday, offer it up.”