First day of U.S. bishops' November meeting focuses on synodality, technology in liturgy, and advancing a cause of canonization
BALTIMORE (OSV News) -- The first public day of the U.S. Catholic bishops' fall plenary assembly in Baltimore saw elections to important posts, while public presentations chiefly centered on synodality, the use of technology in the liturgy and advancing the cause for canonization of a champion of evangelizing through media.
But the day's events also were marked by little public discussion from the floor. The Nov. 14 public session was prefaced by 90 minutes of closed-door "fraternal dialogues," which gave bishops time for face-to-face group discussions.
The bishops' first order of business was voting to approve a letter to Pope Francis that affirmed their shared concern with the pontiff over the conflicts engulfing the world, their desire to facilitate "prayer and dialogue around the reflections of the synthesis report" from the synod and his recent environmental teaching in "Laudate Deum" calling for "ecological conversion."
The morning session began with Cardinal Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., giving a reflection on synodality and its relationship to the U.S. bishops' ongoing National Eucharistic Revival.
While acknowledging the "synodal method has been a challenge for us," he explained that "these two realities belong together by their very nature, and they shed light on one another."
The address by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' president, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services, focused principally on international conflicts taking place around the world, highlighting various Catholic groups committed to the church's evangelization, and emphasizing that more could be done to further the National Eucharistic Revival. He called particular attention to the role of "committed priests on fire with the Gospel" who "motivate so much of the charitable outreach of the church."
Archbishop Broglio emphasized what he saw as "the many synodal realities that already exist in the church in the United States," naming various advisory bodies at the diocesan level, the National Advisory Council and "the committees of this conference."
"That is not to say that we do not have to grow and open ourselves to new possibilities, but we recognize and build on what is already present," he said. "We open our hearts to the action of the Holy Spirit and we listen to that voice."
The only moment of significant disagreement during the day took place at the midday press conference. In response to a question from The Pillar, Archbishop Broglio said he differed with Cardinal Pierre's assessment of the U.S. church (as characterized by America magazine's interview with him) that appeared to indicate the nuncio saw the U.S. church was not yet the outward-facing, missionary church Pope Francis was asking it to become.
In contrast to Cardinal Pierre's assessment that the churches and seminaries were emptying, and religious sisters disappearing, Archbishop Broglio said, "Certainly, our churches are not empty -- yet," emphasizing the efforts of the National Eucharistic Revival and other initiatives promoting the need to share the Good News, and he mentioned some seminaries were at capacity.
The bishops voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize their Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism for two more years and to evaluate whether or how it should be a permanent part of the conference structure. They made a one-time change to their handbook rules so retired Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry could continue as the committee's chairman; the rules prohibit a retired bishop from serving as a committee's chairman.
In one of the few comments from the floor, Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, Virginia, affirmed, "The matter (racism) is still very much present in many places ... so I'm very appreciative of the committee's own work."
Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a kind of Catholic diocese with Anglican traditions under the auspices of the pope, presented on liturgical adaptations for the U.S. Liturgy of the Hours set to be voted on the next day. He also gave a presentation asking whether the U.S. bishops wanted the Committee on Divine Worship, which he chairs, to develop national guidelines regarding the use of technology in the church's liturgy.
The bishops spent 20 minutes discussing a sheet of questions on the topic, and were asked to jot them down so they could be collected and considered. According to a document provided to OSV News, those questions asked for feedback on the committee's previous determination "that copyright permission would not be granted to project readings and liturgical texts onto screens."
The document also asked about livestream liturgies and screens in liturgies, whether they were used well or poorly, and for both it asked what "opportunities and threats does this practice present?" It also asked if any dioceses in the bishops' respective regions issued guidelines regarding the use of technology in the liturgy. It also asked them whether "new national guidelines merit further consideration," noting that the U.S. bishops last issued guidelines on digital transmission of the liturgy in 1996.
Bishop Lopes declined a request from OSV News to discuss either the liturgical adaptations under discussion or the concerns surrounding the use of technology in the liturgy.
The U.S. bishops elected Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City as secretary-elect of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops also voted for chairmen-elect for six committees: Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, New Jersey (Catholic education); Bishop William D. Byrne of Springfield, Massachusetts, (communications); Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Brooklyn, New York (cultural diversity in the church); Auxiliary Bishop James Massa of Brooklyn (doctrine); Bishop Daniel H. Mueggenborg of Reno, Nevada (national collections); and Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo, Ohio, (pro-life activities).
They also reappointed the bishops for the boards of Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. church's overseas relief and development agency.
The bishops heard presentations on the pastoral plan for Indigenous Catholic ministry; the revised national statutes for Christian initiation; and supplements to the bishops' teaching document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" that consist of a new introductory note, bulletin inserts, a template video script and social media kit.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, the conference's vice president, presented on the supplements to the bishops' teaching document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," which consists of a new introductory note, bulletin inserts, a template video script and social media kit. He also reminded bishops that a full rewrite of Faithful Citizenship was planned following the 2024 election.
Unlike the bishops' assembly last year, no bishops rose to debate or offer comment on the plan.
Toward the end of the day, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, and Father Iván Montelongo, a priest from the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, shared with the bishops their positive experiences of the Oct. 4-29 Synod on Synodality.
Bishop Flores highlighted how the synod's model of "conversation in the Spirit" was a "very effective way," while not the only way, of having the people of God engage in regular conversational interaction for the sake of the church's mission. He noted the synthesis report was 41 pages and so bishops "can be judicious in discussing what is most relevant to our local churches." Overall, he said it raised "thoughtful questions of pastoral and theological importance."
"Many difficult issues were raised but they were not discussed in a contentious way," Bishop Flores said. "This is in itself quite remarkable."
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, asked one of the few questions of the day, encouraging the bishops to "read the whole" synthesis report, saying it was "worth it." He also thanked the Orthodox observers at the USCCB meeting for their participation in the Synod on Synodality, calling it a "great gift."
The U.S. bishops voted to support the sainthood cause launched by the Archdiocese of New York for Father Isaac Hecker (1819-1888), a Catholic convert and pioneering Catholic publisher who founded the Paulist Fathers.
"Ultimately, this is what we're about: promoting and directing our faithful and ourselves towards sanctity," Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, said in introducing the cause with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.
The plenary assembly concluded abruptly, with Archbishop Broglio calling the U.S. bishops into an unscheduled executive session. No reason was given.
- - -Peter Jesserer Smith is the national news and features editor for OSV News.