BALTIMORE – In what was otherwise a largely procedural first public session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops fall plenary meeting on Nov. 16, what stood out to some bishops were the opening remarks from two leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, focused his address on the importance of synodality. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the USCCB president, meanwhile, focused his remarks on the Eucharistic revival.
Both topics are currently central to the work of the U.S. Catholic Church. And although the nature of the addresses was different, some view them as going hand in hand.
“The conversation on the Eucharist is an exercise in synodality,” Bishop Robert Brennan of Columbus, who is the bishop-designate of Brooklyn, told Crux. “It’s walking together, talking about what really matters to us in our faith. You might say one is the application of the other.”
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told Crux the two talks were “complementary” in the way that Pierre laid out what synodality is and where it comes from; followed by Gomez speaking about a church in mission, which is “by definition a synodal church.”
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso highlighted that both Pierre and Gomez focused less on “abstract doctrine,” and instead focused on “how that reality is lived, how it’s experienced, how it grows out of the human encounter with the divine.”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami called both addresses “heartfelt.”
The addresses were back-to-back near the start of the session. From there on, the rest of the session was largely procedural – setting up for discussions and votes today, appointments, and elections of new USCCB committee chairmen.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chair of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, gave a brief presentation on the much-anticipated Eucharist document draft that will be discussed and voted on by the bishops on Wednesday.
Rhoades used the presentation to clarify the document’s purpose.
“The goal of the (doctrinal committee) has been to produce a catechetical resource for Catholics in the United States, rooted in scripture and tradition that emphasizes the fundamental doctrines concerning the Eucharist and its centrality in the life of the church,” Rhoades said.
“The document is addressed to all Catholics in the United States, and endeavors to explain the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church,” he continued. “It is intended to be a theological contribution to the ongoing work of the strategic plan and the Eucharistic revival by providing the doctrinal resource for parishes, catechists and the faithful.”
Following Rhoades’s presentation, a few bishops offered suggestions to improve the document. Among them was Bishop Richard Stitka of Knoxville who expressed concern that the language in the document wouldn’t be understood by younger Catholics, and therefore suggested the bishops “flesh it out” to make it “more readable and understandable.”
The presentation and comments lasted about 13 minutes combined; a far cry from the two-plus hours of debate at the June plenary meeting over whether or not to draft the document at all. Ever since, the bishops have tried to dispel the belief that the document was ever purposed to bar pro-abortion Catholic politicians – including President Joe Biden – from receiving communion.
Gomez was questioned about the intention of the document at the press conference following the public session, where he reiterated what Rhoades has made clear now on multiple occasions: The document is meant as a teaching document for all Catholics.
“Given the reality of what Catholics understand on the Eucharist, how important it is, I think it’s necessary for us to say something about the Eucharist because it’s really the center of Christian life,” Gomez said. “From my point of view it was something that was necessary for a long time.”
In conversations with Crux, bishops noted the procedural nature of today’s agenda item related to the Eucharist and said any debate, or conversation about the document will happen today. Although, they offered the impression that the bishops are largely on the same page regarding the document and its purpose.
“Serenity” is the word Wenski used to describe the bishops’ conversations on the document. He acknowledged that the document talks about worthiness to receive communion, however, the intention isn’t, and never was, to go after politicians.
“It’s a well-rounded document and it avoids getting sucked into a political debate with the president, or speaker of the house, or something like that because that would detract from the purpose of the document,” Wenski said.
Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle told Crux there’s now a “large consensus” among the bishops on the document, with it now acting as more of a Catechetical document or pastoral initiative to go with the national Eucharistic revival, opposed to a doctrinal statement.
Brennan said his expectation is that the document will be a very “Catholic document” centered on the Catholic teaching on the mystery of the Eucharist.
Tuesday’s public session also saw the election of five bishops as USCCB committee chairman:
— Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing as chairman-elect of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
— Bishop Steven Lopes of Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter as chairman-elect of the Committee on Divine Worship.
— Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia as chairman-elect of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
— Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles as chairman-elect of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
— Bishop Mark Seitz as chairman-elect of the Committee on Migration.
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