This morning at the bishops' conference, there have been preliminary discussion of several action items. They've been interesting, for those among us who are inveterate people-watchers and fascinated by organizational dynamics. This morning did not involve any deep, drawn-out discussions or lengthy exchanges, but there was just enough.
There is a statement about the war in Iraq on the table. The suggestions offered were primarily semantic, with one bishop suggesting that one particular line veered over into suggestions on public policy. However at the end, retired retired Archbishop Hannan stood up and spoke about the threat of terrorism, with no specific suggestion, but more of a reflection on how the military personnel he knew in Iraq said an immediate withdrawal (more or less the theme of the document) would be disastrous.
Bsihop Trautman was the point man here, dealing with two proposals: one a revision of the lectionary - the Advent readings are up for discussion at this meeting.
However, he preceded those discussions by talking about the refusal of the Holy See to expand the indult re/purification of Communion vessels by lay ministers. He went to great pains to emphasize that this by no means, in any way means that Communion under both species shouldn't still be a model - he never said "the best" - but he quoted from the various liturgical documents expressing the symbolism and so on.
One bishop - and I think I caught who it was, but I'm not sure, so I'm not going to post it. Someone who knows can let me know who it was - honed in on this and asked if Trautman was absolutely, positively sure that this refusal to extend the indult had really and truly come from the Pope. Well, yes, said Trautman, we met with Arinze, there were two Cardinals who met with him, and we can be very certain the Pope is on board with this. The bishop didn't give up. Really? No revisiting? Is that the feeling of this body that we shouldn't revisit it? Can we take it directly to Pope Benedict? Bishop Trautman said, literally, "I do not believe it would be advisable."
(Update: Thanks to Fr. Guy for helping out - it was Bishop Brom of San Diego. I knew it was either Brom or Brown, but could never quite make out exactly what Bishop Skylstad was saying when he addressed him)
Heh. It sort of amazes me that there would be a bishop who is so unfamiliar with Benedict's writing on liturgy that he would think that with just a little more begging, Benedict would be on board with this.
Bishop Trautman said they'd come back to that later.
Back to the lectionary: Bishop Finn asked about one point of substitution of language. He asked if there were principles involved, and what they were. Bishop Trautman said that "people with credentials" had determined that for clarity of pronunciation, the substitutions should be made.
Now, the Directory on Music.
There was a lot that was said here, and since there will be more discussion on this later, I won't spend too much time on it, but the startling thing was that the gist of the concerns of Bishop Trautman and the other committee bishop represented were how any culling down of acceptable music would hurt music publishers and Catholic composers. I mean, I'm sure they really are concerned about more than this, but they brought it up several times, so much that the innocent viewers' response is, "WHO CARES?"
Or, as Bishop Weigand said, gently - let's think ahead and plan so that this sort of thing is not "sprung" on publishers. In other words - if they know the standards, they'll only produce materials that fit the standards - he compared it to the bishops' renewed efforts to oversee catechetical materials.
Bishop Trautmann said that what they are moving towards is not a White List of acceptable songs, but a "core" or "common" repertoire of (and these are his numbers) 60-100 hymns that must be included in every Catholic hymnal or worship aide. There were various issues raised, mostly in terms of language, with some bishops very reasonably asking - English only? What about Spanish? Bishop Trautman said they were focusing on English. I'll say, though, that Bishop Grosz, the other committee member at the podium, did mention Jubilate Deo twice.
Cardinal O'Malley commented that a core repertoire would be valuable because there was so much music, and so much variety in the way hymns were sung that it was really a bar to "full, conscious and active participation."
Bishop Serratelli had the heaviest load to carry from this point on into the press conference, in his role with the Committee on Doctrine, which has responsiblity for the documents on receiving Communion and ministry to homosexual persons.
In regard to the former, Bishop Curtiss of Omaha was insistent that a media storm was going to break out when it was released and that the bishops really needed help from the committee to deal with it. Could they be sent "sound bits" to help explain it?
Bishop Serratelli responded that the document was actually pretty thorough in presenting its own justifications.
In regard to the second document, Bishop Serratelli explained the origins of it: concerns with the doctrinal fidelity of certain ministries to homosexual persons. There were some procedural concerns (apparently the whole body of bishops had never actually approved the idea of the document - so they had to do that), and then the questions.
Bishop Rassas asked about the language - why did it use "inclination" rather than "orientation?" Bishop Sarratelli responded that they wanted to avoid limiting personal identity to this issue.
Bishop Bruskewitz asked if whether the teaching authority of this document should be clarified - that it would not be of "magisterial" authority (he went into what would make that so), and commenting that "Always Our Children" was a disaster"
Bishop Serratelli: "Thank you."
Bishop Vasa presented a challenge. He wondered what Catholic medical and psychological experts had been consulted because it seemed to him that the document accepted the assumptions of the secular world on some counts - he specifically cited statements like, "homosexuals are victims of scorn, of more violence than other segments of the community." He said he didn't know if that would stand up to testing.
Bishop Serratelli, after consulting with what looked like a Franciscan on the side, said that this not the purpose of the document - to explore sociological issues.
(I missed most of the discussion on the Receiving Communion document)
There were a few bishops at the press conference, but again, Bishop Serratelli had most of the questions because he is in charge of the most controversial documents. All of our favorites were there - you didn't see them, but you heard them - Julia Duin of the WaTimes, Ann Rogers of the Pittsburgh paper, Alan Cooperman of the WaPo, as well as Fr. Tom Reese.
The first couple of questions, though, were from television reporters, and concerned sexual abuse issues, which had not been brought up this morning, and the questions, especially of one reporter, were so spectacularly uninformed, you could almost see this struggle on bishops' faces not to say, "HUH?" It was as if these reporters had just found out there was a sexual abuse crisis in the Church and were wondering what exactly was going on. It was strange.
An NCR(eporter) reporter, in a shocking departure from the NCR(eporter) template, asked if the homosexual and contraceptive documents were going to alienate gays and contracepting couples.
Bishop S. (I'm tired of typing the poor man's name) - said (close paraphrase):
Whatever the reaction /response is, the thing to keep in mind is that the presentation of the fullness of the truth is a grace and a gift to those who receive it. This is meant to help people achieve happiness. The reception depends on the disposition of those who hear it.
The bishop on his right, whose name I could never catch because the graphic telling us this was a press conference was right over the nameplates and never went away, agreed saying, the moment was right - that John Paul II's Theology of the Body had opened a lot of hearts to the Church's teaching on sexuality, and that the experience of the past 30 years has caused a lot of people to reconsider the effects of separating sexuality and procreation.
Julia Duin asked about the Communion document - it applies to the Catholic faithul. Does it apply to the Catholic faithful who are politicians? A question asked because the document, as it stands now, doesn't explicitly reference politicians.
Bishop S. said it applies to everyone.
Julia also asked about the homosexual pastoral care document, raising the issue of this group of Catholic medical professionals who objected to certain aspects of the document. Bishop S. said he wasn't sure who was consulted.
The NYTimes and USA Today reporters harped on the issue of consultation for the homosexual document. Did you actual consult with real, live homosexual people? Bishop S. repeated that the process had been that bishops who pulled the document together consulted with people engaged in the ministries in their dioceses. The USAToday reporter seemed to think she had a gotcha moment when she asked, "So the people who are being cared for were not consulted?" And Bishop S. said, "Not directly."
What is difficult and perhaps impossible to say, I suppose is that when you get a bunch of Catholics, lay and clerical, who are involved in ministry to homosexuals in a proverbial room to consult on a document on care of homosexual persons, chances are good that there will be some homosexually-inclined folks in the group. I suppose it would be tacky to say as much, but it seems fairly obvious, don't you think?
Ann Rogers, Alan Cooperman and Fr. Reese all asked about the status of Always Our Children - Bishop S. downplayed it, but subtley, saying it was still there, it was still available, but reminding them that it was the product of one committee and no more.
Rogers and Cooperman also tried to get the bishops to connect dots between the various documents - so what about an active homosexual or contracepting couple - should they receive Communion?
The way that bishops generally answer these questions is to step back and generalize - all sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, so persons engaging in that activity are doing something seriously sinful. Which is what they did here, which is fine. The bishop on Bishop S's right - ah, I see - it was Archbishop Naumann - went a little further, saying that it was a priest's responsiblity to catechize, say, a couple who was contracepting, present them with the truth, and if, after hearing that truth presented to them, they continued to contracept, no, they shouldn't receive Communion. The point of distinction being that the Church has the responsibility to present its own teaching, clearly and fully.
(This afternoon, they're discussing the reorganization plans for the Conference, which is not totally uninteresting, but I do have other things to do. So...I'll wait the rest of you to see what comes out of that.)