Pornography, political statements take center stage at USCCB

By Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) – The U.S. bishops approved a formal statement on pornography and additions to their quadrennial statement on political responsibility at 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 met in executive session Nov. 18-19.
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 passage.
Additions to the document were made to reflect the teachings of Pope Francis and the later encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI. But some bishops said 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.
The pornography statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” says that “producing or using pornography is gravely wrong” and is a “mortal sin” if committed with deliberate consent 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 pornography is a “particularly sinister instance of consumption” where men, women and children are “consumed for the pleasure of others.”
The bishops approved a budget for the work of their national conference in 2016, but their vote was inconclusive on a proposed 3 percent increase in 2017 to the assessment on dioceses that funds the conference.
The bishops approved priorities and strategic plans for 2017-20 in a 233-4 vote Nov. 17. The document emphasizes five major areas: evangelization; family and marriage; human life and dignity; religious freedom; and vocations and ongoing formation.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in the shadow of the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, issued a statement Nov. 17 from 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.”
He added, “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.”
In his USCCB presidential address Nov. 16, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, 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.”
CRS Rice Bowl for families, student ambassador programs for high school and college students and a fledgling parish ambassador program can help U.S. Catholics “deepen their commitment to an essential dimension of their faith,” a Catholic Relief Services official told the U.S. bishops Nov. 17.
“I just wish that every Catholic knew about and could be proud of the wonderful works of mercy and justice they are part of” through the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, said Joan Rosenhauer, CRS executive vice president for U.S. operations.
Citing young altar servers’ weak arms and older priests’ weak eyes, the U.S. bishops approved an adapted version of the Roman Missal to be used during the times at Mass when the celebrant is seated, subject to Vatican approval. The bishops endorsed “Excerpts from the Roman Missal: Book for Use at the Chair” by a 187-27 vote, with three abstentions.
On Nov. 16, the bishops discussed 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 bishops are planning to develop a pastoral plan for marriage and family life. The pastoral plan, according to Bishop Malone, will seek the bishops’ input.
“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 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.
(Contributing to this roundup were Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Dennis Sadowski and Carol Zimmermann in Baltimore, and Mark Pattison in Washington.)