By Marie Mischel
ATLANTA — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops focused on the protection of children and youth, and religious liberty at home and abroad during the Spring General Assembly, which was June 13-15 in Atlanta, Ga.
Other items on their agenda included a report on the promotion of and defense of marriage by the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, Bishop of Oakland; an update on the upcoming Year of Faith (see story), and a presentation by Diocese of Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester, who is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Communications (see story).
The bishops had only one action item on their agenda at the assembly, but “it was heavy in terms of quality input,” Bishop Wester said. Speakers such as John H. Garvey, Esq., president of The Catholic University of America; Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, chairman of the USCCB’s Doctrine Committee, among others, “gave us some very good theological and reflective interventions that helped us position the religious liberty and other issues in a good way.”
The update on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People also was helpful, and his own presentation highlighted what the Committee on Communications is doing to improve efforts in this area, Bishop Wester said.
Protection of children and young people
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the USCCB’s “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” (see below for link) and much of the conference’s first public session was devoted to discussion of a study undertaken by John Jay University, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.” (See box for link). The study, which was commissioned by the National Review Board, offers numerous recommendations regarding education of clergy, the laity and the community at large; prevention; and oversight and accountability.
In 2002 the USCCB established the National Review Board, a lay group that was tasked with advising the bishops on the handling of allegations of sex abuse of minors by clergy.
In the past 10 years the Catholic Church has taken significant steps in addressing allegations of sexual abuse by clergy, Al J. Notzon III, chairman of the National Review Board, told the bishops in Atlanta while presenting the John Jay report to the bishops. However, he warned against complacency.
Allegations of sexual abuse have dropped steadily but cases are still being reported, “and most are being reported to civil authorities as required by law…. The harm that could be done to children and, a distant second, the negative publicity that results, should serve as a reminder to all to follow canon law, diocesan policy and state law,” Notzon said.
In an interview after the meeting, Bishop Wester agreed.
“The safety of our children and young people is something we can never stop working on, but I think that there’s a definite commitment to do that,” he said.
The bishops also spent several hours on the matter of religious freedom.
“We are facing not just one, but a series, of extraordinary challenges in this area,” said Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. “Nothing less than our full and undivided efforts in response will suffice to meet those challenges.”
These challenges include the recent mandate by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that requires employers to provide medical procedures and drugs that are counter to Church teachings. In response, the USCCB has issued several statements, including United for Religious Freedom and Our First, Most Cherished Freedom, which address the HHS mandate specifically and the broader range of threats to religious freedom. In addition, the USCCB is sponsoring the “Fortnight for Freedom,” which started June 21. (See story)
The bishops also heard from several other speakers on religious freedom, including Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, who described the persecution of Christians in Iraq.
“Our situation in Iraq became a tragedy of immense proportions after 2003,” Bishop Warduni said. “All Christians were harmed, but especially we Chaldeans, the largest community of Christians in Iraq. We have lost one bishop – Faraj Rahho; one priest was killed – Father Ragheed Ganni; and six subdeacons. More than 15 priests have been kidnapped and released after paying a lot of money as ransom. Many of them were tortured. More than 20 churches have been attacked. The tragic high point was the attack on Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral in Baghdad where over 45 persons were murdered, including two young priests. Many of our faithful have been kidnapped and killed.”
In his report on marriage, Bishop Cordileone said a Spanish-language video titled “El matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida” (“Marriage: Made for Love and Life”) is scheduled for release by the end of the year. Also, to complete the English-language project, two additional videos are planned.
Also at the assembly, the bishops approved a proposal to draft a message titled Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy to address “the moral and human dimensions of economic life in light of Catholic teaching,” said the Most Rev. Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of Stockton.
In addition, they voted unanimously to approve the document United for Religious Freedom, which was issued by the USCCB Administrative Committee on March 14.