US bishops meeting in Baltimore for their annual General Assembly are voting Tuesday on several staff and committee positions with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as debating changes to their voting guide and other issues.
Bishops voted to approve a pastoral statement condemning pornography, “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” 230 to 4.
Following a contentious debate about minimal updates to a Catholic voting guide, bishops nonetheless voted overwhelmingly to approve both the new introductory note (217 to 16) as well as the changes to the body of the text (210 to 21).
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The bishops voted 233 to 4 to move forward with five priorities through 2020:
- Family and marriage
- Human life and dignity
- Vocations and ongoing formation
- Religious freedom
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Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, beat out San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy to serve as the head of the committee on domestic justice and human development, 128 to 111. Dewane is something of a moderate, but he has toed the party line more closely than the outspoken McElroy.
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Bishops continued their debate on changes to their Catholic voting guide Tuesday afternoon, with another bishop calling for the document to be scrapped but others saying that while it wasn’t perfect, the revisions should be accepted.
“I do believe that the times have dramatically changed,” said Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif. He said that although the modifications were useful, they “have made the document cumbersome; they’ve made it excessively lengthy.”
“I would like to recommend that the document go back to the committee,” he said.
But Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Ore., said that Church teaching “has not fundamentally changed” since the bulk of the document was drafted in 2007, and encouraged bishops to accept the voting guide.
Bishops cast paper ballots after the debate.
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For the committee on migration, bishops overwhelmingly chose Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles over Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe and Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock.
Gomez, also a delegate to the Synod of Bishops, is a member of Opus Dei and one of the Church’s leading advocates for immigration reform.
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Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, was elected chair of the USCCB committee on Catholic education over Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, 132 to 106.
Murry, a Jesuit and one of a handful of African-American bishops, was a delegate at last month’s Synod of Bishops in Rome.
Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis will serve as head of the committee on clergy, consecrated life, and vocations. He beat out Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, 144 to 96.
Tobin was a strong advocate for US nuns during the Vatican investigation launched by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 into what conservatives saw as liberal trends in communities of Catholic sisters.
For the committee on worship, bishops chose Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta over Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown, Penn., 124 to 114.
Gregory led bishops through the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the early 2000s, pushing for a zero tolerance policy and the adoption of what’s known as the Dallas Charter.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was elected head of the committee of laity, marriage, family life and youth. Chaput, a leader of the conservative wing of the Church, was also a delegate at the Synod of Bishops, and he was elected to the Vatican committee that will plan the next synod. He beat out Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., 141 to 98.
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Bishops are debating changes to their Catholic voting guide, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
In a passionate address to the body, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy expressed disappointment over a new version of the document, which remains mostly unchanged from a 2007 version.
“I believe this document is gravely hollow,” he said. “In the specific key areas where it lays out how does the voter make a decision, it tilts in favor of abortion and euthanasia and excludes poverty and the environment.”
Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas agreed, calling the document “piecemeal” and questioning its usefulness. “The tone and content needs to be looked at much more carefully,” he said. “I think we need a new document.”
That call was repeated by Lexington, Ky. Bishop John Stowe, who said the document should take into account the pope’s emphasis on mercy.
A committee charged with doing a light revision did little to shift the past priorities to emphasize issues the pope highlighted, such as economic injustice and immigration, according to the Religion News Service.
The new draft doubles down on hot-button topics such as opposition to gay marriage, which the US Supreme Court legalized in a close ruling last June, by including numerous mentions of the “intrinsic evil” of same-sex marriage as well as abortion, which the document stresses must remain top priorities for Catholic voters.
The draft does, however, include several references to Francis’ landmark document, the encyclical “Laudato Si’,” on the moral duty to protect the environment and combat climate change, RNS reported.
The bulk of those references come toward the end of the draft document, however, and the environmental issue comes at the end of a list of top 10 priorities for Catholic voters.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who chaired the committee to revise the guide, rejected calls for a new version.
“We disagree with you. It is a good teaching document,” he said. “We think the document is very useful.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington rose to say that while the guide isn’t ideal, he nonetheless supported the revisions.
“I would not want the perfect to become the enemy of the good,” he said. “We have a good working document.”
The bishops will continue the debate and vote on the changes after a lunch break.
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In the election for conference treasurer, the bishops elected Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr over Bishop John M. LeVoir of New Ulm, Minnesota, 126 to 110.
Schnurr is seen as a fairly conservative member of the US hierarchy. He was embroiled in a dispute with Catholic school teachers over a morality clause last year, and in 2006, as bishop of Duluth, Minn., he canceled a speech by anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean after she signed an advertisement for the liberal group MoveOn.org.
However, he has embraced Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, hosting an event in August with other Catholic officials to explain how his archdiocese was taking steps to make its buildings more energy-efficient.
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The bishops appointed the Rev. J. Brian Bransfield as secretary general of the conference, a vote of continuity as the Philadelphia priest is currently an associate secretary general at the DC-based organization.
Bransfield beat out the Rev. Shawn McKnight, a pastor in Kansas who previously served as head of the USCCB clergy office. He will succeed the Rev. Ronny Jenkins.
The secretary general oversees the day-to-day work of the Conference, whose agenda is set by US bishops. Vote totals for the general secretary were not released.