In a time of na­tional di­vi­sion, Catholic bish­ops to gather

U.S. con­fer­ence to con­vene in Bal­ti­more next week

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Pitts

The na­tion’s Catholic bish­ops re­turn to Bal­ti­more next week for their an­nual fall as­sem­bly — their first such gath­er­ing since a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that split the church as it di­vided the na­tion.

It’s un­clear whether or how the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops will ad- Lori dress the elec­tion of Don­ald J. Trump.

The Repub­li­can ap­pealed to tra­di­tional Catholics with his op­po­si­tion to abor­tion and promises to pro­tect re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions from gov­ern­ment di­rec­tives that would vi­o­late their teach­ings.

But his rhetoric against Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy on refugees drew crit­i­cism from church lead­ers, and his sig­na­ture pol­icy — a prom­ise to build a wall along the south­ern bor­der to curb il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion — drew an im­plied re­buke this year from Pope Fran­cis.

Trump beat Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton on Tues­day with 52 per­cent of the Catholic vote, ac­cord­ing to exit polls. The de­tails re­veal church di­vi­sions along eth­nic lines: Trump won the sup­port of 60 per­cent of white Catholics, but Clin­ton won 67 per­cent of His­panic Catholics.

Now, lead­ers and ob­servers say, the prelates will look for ways to move the

church for­ward to­gether.

“The bish­ops will not do a post­mortem on a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in the way one might see on CNN or read in The Bal­ti­more Sun,” Bal­ti­more Arch­bishop Wil­liam E. Lori said. “The bish­ops will cer­tainly look at the re­sults through the lens of our so­cial teach­ing. We an­tic­i­pate there will be some bright spots but that there will also be some chal­leng­ing spots in the [elec­tion] out­come.

“There will also be things we sim­ply don’t know, be­cause our new pres­i­dent does not have a gov­ern­ing track record.”

The bish­ops con­fer­ence has held its an­nual as­sem­bly in Bal­ti­more, the first dio­cese in the United States, since 2006.

It calls to­gether all ac­tive and re­tired bish­ops in the United States and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands — nearly 300 mem­bers from more than 170 dio­ce­ses.

The church lead­ers will con­vene on Mon­day and at­tend four days of meet­ings at the Mar­riott Waterfront Ho­tel in Har­bor East. Top­ping the agenda: choos­ing a new pres­i­dent, vice pres­i­dent and key com­mit­tee chairs.

Car­di­nal Daniel DiNardo, the arch­bishop of Galve­ston-Houston and the cur­rent vice pres­i­dent of the con­fer­ence, is ex­pected to as­cend to the pres­i­dency, by tra­di­tion. Should that hap­pen, other can­di­dates, in­clud­ing Lori, will be con­sid­ered for vice pres­i­dent.

The bish­ops rarely de­vi­ate from the over­all goal of the con­fer­ence, which is to share what’s go­ing on in their dio­ce­ses and to en­sure unity on pos­si­bly di­vi­sive mat­ters.

“To be per­fectly hon­est, they come to­gether and con­tin­u­ally do the same thing,” said Chad C. Pec­knold, a pro­fes­sor of the­ol­ogy at the Catholic Uni­ver­sity of Amer­ica, “which is to ask: ‘How can we co­or­di­nate our ef­forts to make the church’s wit­ness beau­ti­ful and be­liev­able in the world?’

“There will be dis­agree­ments. We’ll see that next week. But to ev­ery bishop in that room, there will be the sense that ‘We want to com­mu­ni­cate a com­mon mes­sage.’ ”

That said, this year’s mes­sage will con­tain new el­e­ments.

For the first time, the bish­ops will hold their open­ing Mass at a his­tor­i­cally AfricanAmer­i­can church, St. Peter Claver in West Bal­ti­more. And for the first time, the slate of 10 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates will in­clude two His­panic bish­ops.

Ob­servers say the de­ci­sion to hold the Mon­day af­ter­noon ser­vice at a pre­dom­i­nantly black parish in Bal­ti­more re­flects the bish­ops’ in­ter­est in fur­ther­ing the pri­or­i­ties of Pope Fran­cis, who has said the church should be “a house of com­fort” for all peo­ple.

“This is the first time in memory they’re not hold­ing that ser­vice in a cathe­dral or the largest church in the city,” says Rocco Palmo, the ed­i­tor of the in­sider blog Whis­pers in the Log­gia. “Part of the formal business of this meet­ing will be re­ally drilling in on a task force that has been work­ing on the is­sue of ‘peace in our com­mu­ni­ties.’ As far as op­tics go, that’s huge.”

Palmo be­lieves the de­ci­sion re­flects the pri­or­i­ties of DiNardo, who is known for work­ing closely with African-Amer­i­can Catholics, a group of 4 mil­lion peo­ple Palmo says have at times felt marginal­ized within the church.

And the in­clu­sion of Jose H. Gomez, the arch­bishop of the Dio­cese of Los An­ge­les, and Daniel E. Flores, the bishop of Brownsville, Texas, among the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Palmo said, re­flects a church em­brac­ing the in­flu­ence of its rapidly grow­ing His­panic pop­u­la­tion.

The bish­ops nom­i­nate can­di­dates dur­ing the sum­mer pre­ced­ing an elec­tion. The 10 who garner the most nom­i­na­tions are added to the slate.

Gomez, 65, and Flores, 55, have long em­pha­sized church teach­ing on wel­com­ing im­mi­grants. Trump won a ma­jor­ity of Catholic vot­ers, and the elec­tion, in part on promises to build the bor­der wall, step up de­por­ta­tion of peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally, and cut fed­eral funding to so-called sanc­tu­ary cities.

Bish­ops and priests are ex­pected to re­main above sec­u­lar pol­i­tics — their charge is to form con­sciences, not take up for can­di­dates — but the con­tentious 2016 cam­paign drew some in.

In one in­ci­dent that drew head­lines, a parish in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia as­serted in church bulletins that it’s “a mor­tal sin to vote Demo­crat.” Clin­ton and other Democrats sup­port abor­tion rights; the church op­poses abor­tion.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy sent a mes­sage to his 100 parishes that while church lead­ers are ob­li­gated to dis­cuss how the teach­ings of the faith are rel­e­vant to pub­lic pol­icy, they should es­chew par­ti­san pol­i­tics.

Arch­bishop Charles J. Cha­put of Philadel­phia drew crit­i­cism when he said Catholics, in­clud­ing Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, House Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Supreme Court Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy — all sup­port­ers of abor­tion rights — had trans­ferred their deep­est loy­al­ties from Catholic teach­ing to “the new ‘church’ of our am­bi­tions and ap­petites.’ ”

Na­tional Catholic Re­porter colum­nist Michael Sean Winters said Cha­put’s state­ments flew in the face of the re­cent ad­mo­ni­tion by Fran­cis that church lead­ers should guard against be­ing “ar­gu­men­ta­tive or ag­gres­sive” in their min­istries.

Cha­put is one of a hand­ful of per­ceived tra­di­tion­al­ists on the pres­i­den­tial bal­lot. Oth­ers are Lori, who chairs the con­fer­ence’s Ad Hoc Com­mit­tee on Re­li­gious Lib­erty, and Arch­bishop Allen Henry Vigneron of the Detroit Arch­dio­cese. Per­ceived cen­trists such as Arch­bish­ops Gre­gory Ay­mond of New Or­leans and Thomas Wen­ski of Mi­ami are also on the slate.

The church­men will cast their pres­i­den­tial votes Tues­day. The first can­di­date to gain a sim­ple ma­jor­ity is to take over for cur­rent pres­i­dent Arch­bishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., at the close of business Thurs­day.

They’ll then use the same method to elect the new vice pres­i­dent from the re­main­ing nine names.

To Lori, there could be no bet­ter venue for choos­ing those lead­ers than the as­sem­bly, an event he says al­ways con­cludes in a way that am­pli­fies the val­ues of the Catholic Church.

“Are there dif­fer­ences of opin­ion, le­git­i­mate dif­fer­ences of opin­ion, on many fronts? Cer­tainly,” Lori said. “But my ex­pe­ri­ence is that the con­fer­ence works very well to­gether, that we are striv­ing to em­brace the pri­or­i­ties and the spirit of Pope Fran­cis.

“This is not a con­fer­ence that is against a lot of things. It’s a con­fer­ence that is for many good things.”

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