BALTIMORE - The U.S. bishops approved a formal statement on
pornography, and an updated revision of a quadrennial
statement on the intersection of Catholic teaching in the
political arena as part of their Nov. 16-19 fall general
meeting in Baltimore.
The votes were made during the public portion of the meeting,
which ran Nov. 16-17. The bishops were to meet in executive
session Nov. 18-19.
All votes had to be recorded the old-fashioned way - by hand
- as the electronic voting system, which brings
near-instantaneous results, failed. With the failure of
electronic voting, results were not known for hours after the
The 2015 version of political responsibility document,
"Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," passed 210-21
with five abstentions, and a separate vote on the statement's
introductory note passed 217-16 with two abstentions;
two-thirds of diocesan bishops, or 181 votes, were needed for
It reflects on long-held concerns related to abortion and the
needs of poor people. It also references emerging issues
related to court decisions on same-sex marriage, public
policies that affect religious freedom, and a rising concern
for the environment as climate change affects more people
around the world.
Questions came from five bishops who said that the document
does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has
asked the church to do.
The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San
Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the
environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and
euthanasia, that some people "outside of this room" would
"misuse" the document and claim other issues did not carry
the same moral weight.
"It does not take into account that Pope Francis has rapidly
transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching
and its elements, not the truth of them, not the substance of
them, but the prioritization of them," Bishop McElroy said.
The pornography statement, "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A
Pastoral Response to Pornography," declares that pornography
is a "mortal sin" and urges Catholics to turn away from it.
Approval of the statement came on a vote of 230-4 with one
abstention, with 181 votes needed for passage.
Bishop Richard J. Malone, of Buffalo, New York, chair of the
bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth,
described pornography as a "dark shadow in our world today."
He added that pornography is a "particularly sinister
instance of consumption" where men, women and children are
"consumed for the pleasure of others."
The bishops approved the revised priorities and plans for
2017-20 in a 233-4 vote Nov. 17. The plans emphasize their
upcoming focus in five major areas: evangelization, family
and marriage, human life and dignity, religious freedom and
vocations and ongoing formation.
The revised plans include the same headings but feature some
different wording in the "emphasis areas," which provide more
In comments on the floor, there were mixed views about the
revised plans presented by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of
Seattle, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Priorities and
Plans and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops secretary,
along with Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB
Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago said he was afraid the
plans seemed "too self-referential" with their emphasis on
advocacy for religious freedom and not enough emphasis on
global poverty or immigration reform.
As part of a series of elections, the bishops chose for
Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati as
treasurer-elect. They also elected Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield
as the new general secretary; he has been associate general
secretary for five years. He will succeed Msgr. Ronny
Jenkins, who has served two three-year terms.
The bishops also voted on a number of chairmen-elect for
standing committees. These "elect" positions mean the winning
bishops will take office at the conclusion of the 2016 fall
While the Nov. 13 terror attacks on Paris were not formally
on the USCCB agenda, it crept into the conversation
Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the
USCCB Committee on Migration, issued a statement Nov. 17 on
the floor of the meeting.
"I am disturbed," Bishop Elizondo said, "by calls from both
federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of
Syrian refugees in the United States" in the wake of the
attacks. "These refugees are fleeing terror themselves -
violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely
vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for
their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the
actions of a terrorist organization.
"Moreover, refugees to this country must pass security checks
and multiple interviews before entering the United States -
more than any arrival to the United States. It can take up to
two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting
process. We can look at strengthening the already stringent
screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in
desperate need," he added.
Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic
Charities USA, told the bishops Nov. 17 that Catholic
Charities has been sent "disturbing mail from people angry
that we are trying to help these people. It's tragic." She
added of the Syrian refugees, "We're ready to help - if we
can get them here."
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, USCCB
president, urged his fellow bishops to pray for virtues that
would help them be better spiritual leaders.
"Lord, give us an understanding heart and a credible moral
voice," he said in his homily at a Nov. 16 Mass at the
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the
Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.
Archbishop Kurtz also urged the bishops to pray for the
"eyesight to see as Jesus sees" and for the renewed grace to
love God and serve others.
In his USCCB presidential address, Archbishop Kurtz called on
his fellow bishops Nov. 16 to imitate the "pastor's presence"
exhibited by Pope Francis during his recent U.S. visit,
"touching the hearts of the most influential, the forgotten
and all of us in between."
Noting the upcoming Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8,
Archbishop Kurtz said a ministry of "presence means making
time and never letting administration come between me and the
person. It's seeing the person first."
"Our hearts respond to (the pope's) call to be pastors who
are present, welcoming and eager to walk with our people," he
On the first day of the assembly, an afternoon session took
up how the U.S. Catholic Church can move forward in response
to the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage this year.
To that end, the U.S. bishops are planning to develop a
pastoral plan for marriage and family life. The pastoral
plan, according to Bishop Malone, will seek the bishops'
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman
of the bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of
Marriage, said the Supreme Court's decision was a "great
disappointment," but it was not unexpected.
A convocation for Catholic leaders planned for 2017
represents "a new way of reaching and teaching our people,"
Bishop Malone said in a presentation to his fellow bishops.
Bishop Malone was joined by two other bishops in a
presentation on the national convocation, planned for July
1-4, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, and the communications
research leading up to it. The theme of the meeting is "The
Joy of the Gospel in America."
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio painted a dire picture of "a
pastoral problem that affects all of us" in a report to his
fellow bishops about the "desperate" shortage of Catholic
priests serving as military chaplains.
The head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services
said there were only 217 Catholic priests serving the 1.8
million Catholics in the U.S. armed forces around the world,
and the numbers would soon decline due to retirements and
"Witnesses to Freedom" will be the theme of the 2016
observance of the Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop William
E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for
Religious Liberty, told the assembly.
"The fortnight gives us an opportunity to remember those
witnesses past and present through the church, witnesses who
testify to the meaning of freedom of conscience and the
obedience of the truth," he said.
The two-week event will include a nationwide tour of first
class relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.
Archbishop Lori said details of the tour have yet to be
arranged, but that a schedule will be distributed when it is
Contributing to this roundup were Nancy Frazier O'Brien,
Dennis Sadowski and Carol Zimmermann.