Bishops approve marriage pastoral

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BALTIMORE (CNS) - The U.S. bishops voted Nov. 17 to approve a pastoral letter on marriage, despite the concern voiced by some bishops about the document's pastoral tone and content.

Nearly 100 changes in two rounds of amendments preceded the 180-45 vote in favor of "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan" on the second day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fall general assembly in Baltimore.

Two-thirds of the USCCB membership, or 175 votes, were required for passage of the document. There were three abstentions. Final approval came after an effort to remand the document to committee failed 56 to 169.

In other action the bishops approved the English translation and U.S. adaptations of five final sections of the Roman Missal; passed a $144.5 million budget for 2010 for their bishops' conference; and heard a preliminary report on a study on causes and context of sexual abuse.

Their 57-page pastoral on marriage offers support to married couples and affirms true marriage can involve only a man and a woman. It is another component in the bishops' National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage, which began in November 2004.

With overwhelming majority votes, the bishops approved translations of the proper of the saints, specific prayers to each saint in the universal liturgical calendar; the commons, general prayers for celebrating saints listed in the "Roman Martyrology"; the Roman Missal supplement; the U.S. propers, a collection of orations and formularies for feasts and memorials particular to the U.S. liturgical calendar; and U.S. adaptations to the Roman Missal.

Earlier in the day the bishops heard a preliminary report on a study of the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse of minors being conducted by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Karen Terry, the principal researcher, told the bishops that early findings confirm "a steep decline" in sexual abuse cases after 1985. The findings also show diocesan response to incidents of sex abuse have changed substantially over a 50-year-period, with an increase in administrative leave for accused abusers and a decrease in the number accused abusers reinstated.

The full study, commissioned by the bishops, is expected to be released in December.

In other action Nov. 17, the bishops approved a $144.5 million budget for 2010, representing an increase of less than 0.2 percent over 2009, and a 3 percent increase in the diocesan assessment to support the work of the USCCB in 2011. They also approved a priority plan titled "Deepen Faith, Nurture Hope, Celebrate Life" and a series of "strategy and operational plans" for offices and departments of the USCCB for the next two years.

Late in the afternoon session, they began debate - and were expected to vote - on other action items given a preliminary presentation the first day of the meeting:

- Revisions to ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care facilities that would clarify that patients with chronic conditions who are not imminently dying should receive food and water by "medically assisted" means if they cannot take them normally.

- A document titled "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology" that looks at the issue of reproductive technologies.

In electronic voting Nov. 17, the bishops elected chairmen-elect for five committees: Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations; Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, Committee on Divine Worship; Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, recently named to head the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio.

On Nov. 16, the first day of the meeting, the bishops heard a report on health care reform and reaffirmed as a body the statement that Cardinal Francis E. George, the bishops' president, had made soon after the House approved its version of reform legislation Nov. 7, expressing the bishops' commitment to keep health reform legislation in the Senate abortion-neutral.

A successful effort by USCCB leaders and staff members to press lawmakers to keep abortion out of the House's Affordable Health Care for America Act provides an example for the future, according to the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

"It was a good example of how we as a conference can work together to have a positive influence on legislation," said Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., in a report to his fellow bishops. He spoke after the bishops gave their endorsement to the cardinal's statement.

The fact that House members knew the bishops wanted to see health reform succeed as long as it was abortion-neutral "allowed us to be heard in a number of different areas," the bishop added.

Earlier that day, in his presidential address, Cardinal George contemplated a scenario of what the church would look like without priests, framing his remarks in the context of the Year for Priests, currently being celebrated in the church through next June.

Without a priestly ministry rooted in holy orders, he said, the ministry of teaching about the faith would fall primarily to professors, "whose obligation is first to seek the truth in the framework of their own academic discipline and whose authority to teach derives from their professional expertise."

Without ordained priests, he said, "the church would be deprived of the Eucharist, and her worship would be centered only on the praise and thanksgiving."

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York delivered a report on the activities of Catholic Relief Services, which included a four-minute video. He praised CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, for its "life-saving work."

The bishops also heard from Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's nuncio to the United States, who cited several of Pope Benedict XVI's recent homilies and reflections on subjects ranging from the death of Pope Paul VI to religious vocations and the qualities of a servant of the Lord.

He quoted from the pope's homily at a Sept. 12 ordination Mass for five new bishops, including a section in which Pope Benedict reflected on the characteristics of correct service in priestly and episcopal ministry - fidelity, or faith, as the word translates in Greek, prudence and goodness.

"Fidelity is not fear, but rather is inspired by love and by its dynamism," said the pope, as quoted by Archbishop Sambi. "Faith demands to be passed on; it was not given to us merely for ourselves, for the personal salvation of our souls, but for others, for this world and for our time."

As to prudence, the pope said it demands "humble, disciplined and watchful reason that does not let itself be blinded by prejudices."

At a Mass opening the conference, Cardinal George talked about the dynamics of conversion, noting that the saints, in particular, lived lives of constant conversion.

"In considering personal change, in contemplating conversion, we ask ourselves: when does prudent accommodation become betrayal of principle?" he said. "And when does faithful devotion to principle become obstinacy? Perhaps the answer to those questions comes only from within the relation that binds us in intimacy to Christ himself."

Contributing to this story were Patricia Zapor, Nancy Frazier O'Brien and Mark Pattison in Baltimore.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009