News

At Catholic bishops conference, a deeper embrace of Pope Francis — and relevancy

Bishops attend the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Spring Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 13, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (RNS) — The spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is historically the less eventful of the American church leadership’s two annual gatherings. It tends to be sparsely attended, focused on ecclesiastic procedures and mostly, well, boring.

But this year’s meeting, at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa here, saw the bishops not only engaged in lengthy debates over the nature of their political voice but making headlines with their stern critique of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

It was an atypically high-profile political splash for a bishops’ conference that has struggled to remain relevant under a Trump administration whose approach to immigrants, refugees and climate change has often been at odds with the USCCB’s — and Pope Francis’ — teachings. 

The gathering in Florida also signaled a subtle but important shift, as some bishops made efforts to magnify the USCCB’s embrace of Francis’s priorities and attention-getting style.

“This is a new moment,” Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, told Religion News Service.

After Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the USCCB president, opened the meeting on Wednesday (June 13) by reading a statement rebuking the Justice Department’s new “zero tolerance” policy on the U.S.-Mexico border and decision to deny asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, other bishops stood up and suggested prayerful protests or even “canonical penalties” for those who separate immigrant families along the border.

Soon thereafter, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh and Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, issued individual statements condemning the policies.

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich on Jan. 25, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

“The United States is now openly before the world using children as pawns to enforce a hostile immigration policy,” O’Malley’s statement read in part. “This strategy is morally unacceptable and denies the clear danger weighing upon those seeking our assistance.”

Taking a page from the pope, who has drawn media attention by meeting with victims of clergy abuse, several bishops then dined at the hotel with individuals who have been impacted by recent immigration changes, including recipients of Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals waivers.

The bishops have long advocated on behalf of immigrants, but Cupich, whom Francis elevated to cardinal in 2016, argued the hard-edged tone was not only new, but necessary.

“We criticized by naming the attorney general,” he said, ”and I think we need to do more of that.”

Their sentiments echoed similar criticism about the policies voiced by a host of Protestant denominations, including a resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention that happened to be holding its annual meeting in Dallas this week. Most notable, perhaps, was the concern expressed by staunch Trump allies such as evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham.

The outcry ultimately triggered a response from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. During a speech on Thursday, he rebuked “church friends” who criticized the zero-tolerance policy, arguing that enforcing the law was “biblical.”

The bishops’ call for justice for immigrants came a week after nearly 100 Catholic leaders — including several bishops — gathered at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to discuss how to “effectively work together to advance the common good in a divided nation.”

At a panel discussion at the Georgetown meeting, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles argued that Catholics should adopt a “see, judge, act” approach to Catholic social teaching used by Latin American bishops (including Francis). Gomez said the posture allows believers to “get more involved in making our society … what God wants.”

The bishops in Florida, many of whom disagree on certain policy issues, appeared to grapple with this approach.

During a lengthy debate over a resolution to add supplementary materials to “Faithful Citizenship,” a voting guideline the USCCB distributes in election years, Cupich rose to say he opposed the proposal. Since the overture would leave the document unchanged, Cupich appeared to advocate for a new document, saying it would be “a missed opportunity” not to incorporate “a new body of teaching that we have in the church offered by Pope Francis on a whole host of issues from climate change to poverty, immigration.”

The challenge launched a 90-minute discussion, with many bishops echoing Cupich’s desire for a document that speaks to the times.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., argued the world is in a “different context” following the 2016 election, bemoaning the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and its rolling back environmental regulations that effect the Appalachian region Stowe oversees. He also pointed out that “Faithful Citizenship” says little about gun control.

“If the church doesn’t have something to say about those issues, then we’re missing a very important opportunity — especially as we want to reach out to youth and incorporate them more fully into the life of the church,” Stowe said. He later noted that “even though our teachings don’t change, the context changes and the priority of issues change.”

A final vote amended a portion of the original resolution that left the possibility of revisions to the guidelines, and added a clause saying new elements for Faithful Citizenship would “apply the teachings of Pope Francis to our day.”

The final outcome remains to be seen, but Cupich was jubilant about the result. “We’re going to model how these sorts of discussions can happen in public life,” he said. “This was a wonderful moment — we moved things forward, I think.”

“I think the game changer is the tone, the way of speaking, and the insights of Francis that will force us to come up with something that’s fresh.”

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

71 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Why would a modern Christian organization name itself after a naval battle that took place 400 years ago with both sides using slaves and convicts for oarsmen? The more condoms, the better!!!

  • Pope Francis is too liberal and too political.

    Most American Catholics don’t know or couldn’t care less what the bishops’ conference says. The USCCB is a big fat waste of money.

    I can’t wait to pull the lever for Trump in 2020, right after I leave daily Mass.

  • Re: “Why would a modern Christian organization name itself after a naval battle that took place 400 years ago with both sides using slaves and convicts for oarsmen?” 

    For the same reason modern Southerners sing the praises of a defeated, failed state founded on white supremacy, that’s why. 

    It’s worth noting the Battle of Lepanto had been fought in order to drive the Ottoman Turks out of Cyprus, restore it to Venice (which had controlled the island) and overcome Ottoman predations the eastern Mediterranean. Though the Venetians, the Spanish, and papal forces won the day at Lepanto, it turned out to be a short-lived victory. Venice ended up ceding Cyprus to the Ottomans a couple years later. So much for the great victory. 

    So yes indeed, it makes as much sense for a Christian outfit to be named for Lepanto, as it does for Christians to celebrate the birthdays of failed leaders like Jefferson Davis and losing generals like Robert E. Lee. 

  • What hypocrites! Pope Francis has sponsored only 5 refugee families although the Vatican owns thousands of apartments in Rome. The U.S. bishops have never offered any of their thousands of properties as sanctuaries, unlike other church, synagogues and mosques. In fact, Cupich expressly forbid his priests from doing so.

  • And right on cue, you’ll see people declaring them “No True Catholics” if they dare to challenge the Trump cult. Right-wing Christianity really has nothing to do with Jesus any more; they’re simply a paranoid tribe of bigots and fanatics who like to pretend God’s on their side because nobody else is. Political power is all they care about.

  • I always trust the pope and the bishops, except when they speak on matters of politics or faith or morals.

  • “He also pointed out that ‘Faithful Citizenship’ says little about gun control.”

    Talk about clueless.

  • Dear RCC Bishops,

    Your time is up brought to an end by rigorous historic testing and summarized below:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  • Oddly you’re the only one who went that direction, apparently because political power is all you care about.

  • So, you believe he should boot all the occupants of apartments in Rome, families and all, out and replace them with refugees?

    Can you cite the Cupich instruction?

    I believe he gave some reasons.

  • Hmm… Millions of children and youth sexually abused by their priests, and for the longest time, there was silence. Do they really think they speak with any credibility?

  • Rather than your birth certificate, your Mom has an apology note from the Trojan Corp.

  • That sound is always there. It’s become ambient background noise. It’s the anti-Castro Cubans constantly wailing & nashing their teeth.

  • Says the man who says that his religion will happily tell everyone How to live their into,are lives by force of law.

  • Since I have never even identified my religion, if any, you’re blowing smoke out your kabuki.

  • Odd – I don’t make religious arguments for laws, nor have I ever identified adherence to any particular religion. I’m a natural law advocate.

  • Oh, the irony from li’l ole BobbyJo Arnzen…who blows high volumes of smoke here constantly and spews endlessly about his beliefs.

    BobbyJo, you’re choking on all that self-produced smoke. Better step outside away from the keyboard.

  • WHAM, BLAM, and there l’il BobbyJo Arnzen, our typically nasty Christian, fires off another swipe at a poster.

    Better take BobbyJo’s guns away…

  • WHAM! Typical Christian and nasty little boy BobbyJo Arnzen takes yet another mean swipe at a poster!

    Time to take BobbyJo’s guns away before he gets even angrier…

  • “If the church doesn’t have something to say about those issues, then we’re missing a very important opportunity — especially as we want to reach out to youth and incorporate them more fully into the life of the church,” Stowe said. He later noted that “even though our teachings don’t change, the context changes and the priority of issues change.”

    This is the first mention by these Roman Catholic Bishops, of the church’s need to reach out to the youth of this country. Unfortunately there seems to have been NO discussion of how these very political issues being discussed, relate to the mission of the church, which is to preach and teach the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I support most of the positions these bishops have taken, but yet I say, “The best outreach the Roman Catholic Church can have on youth here in the US, is to preach and teach the the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its transforming power in all areas of human life–politics included. .

  • There’s a Disqus commenter named Lepanto as well. Not surprisingly he’s a conservative Christian.

  • “to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its transforming power in all areas of human life”
    But it has to itself be an example of that “transforming power”, and until it decisively deals with the abuse issue (waiting for all involved to follow Law’s example and die is not dealing decisively), all of its teaching and preaching rings hollow.
    The Catholic Church has become a great and tragic missed opportunity.

  • I’m sometimes puzzled myself, but I’m not puzzled about this issue. My message still stands. I’m against the pedophilia as well, but need I remind you that it was only a small percentage of the total number of Roman Catholic priests throughout the world, and an even smaller percentage of bishops, who brought this horrendous harm on children and youth.

    The vast majority of priests and bishops didn’t, and it’s this group I’m referring to–as well as the new priests and bishops coming on board, who need to continue preaching, teaching and modeling the transforming power the the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all the areas of life

  • You are absolutely right. It was a very small number, and if it had been addressed and dealt with immediately and transparently, it would have had relatively little impact. But it was covered up, and the cover-up severely damaged the teaching authority of the church out of all proportion to the original infractions. And the continued institutional paralysis, despite the cosmetics, only makes the situation worse.

  • ” But this year’s meeting, at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa….”

    The rest of our flocks can eat cake !

  • The US Bishops talk, talk, talk, among themselves about the moral issues of the US Administration but never really do anything. I’m still waiting in my Parish for a direct condemnation of the Administration policies in treating Immigrants. The moral issues that these Bishops talk about will never reach the ears of the people sitting in the pews. The fear is offending the people in the pews who support the Administration’s policies.

  • A quick look at whitepages.com turned up nine individuals with the last name “Lepanto”.

    Intellius shows 98.

  • This leftist garbage is why I finally left this Marxist racket masquerading as a church.

  • For antiamericans like you who want to turn our country into a 3rd world slum you must be getting your jollies from them

  • You would of had no problem of being a Nazi Camp Guard. Hitler scapegoated the Jews for all of Germany’s problems and now a Dictator want a be is scapegoating the Immigrants for all of America’s problems, sound familiar ? Give me a break, I like to see America’s Far Right go out and do the jobs these Immigrants do.

  • pope francis is just what the catholic church needed . he is a rather conservative cleric, but with an intense desire to follow the path of jesus .

    there are morals essential to a catholic and speaking of them is not political . that one takes them as political, only suggests that those morals don’t appeal to you . that is not the church’s problem .

  • i often tangle with whoever bob arnzen is, and much of what he says, but you should get off his back .

  • agree with all but your last sentence, alwayspuzzled . i see slow but steady improvement, both in weeding out those who have to go, but also in focusing the church on its mission of speaking the love and mercy of jesus to the world .

  • Clueless is thinking gun control, per se, is a religious issue.

    Shooting people probably is.

  • i can see your point . who would ever think that morals should be in politics . so much better to have the senseless situation we have today . once we get the wall built who can be the next group to scapegoat for our national problems ? maybe us irish . we were once the butt of american paranoia, maybe we can volunteer to go another round for the good of the country . then we won’t actually have to face the real problems we have but washington won’t deal with .

  • wow !

    shooting people probably is . what an admission .

    as firearms become more effective at killing, their place in any moral discussion of killing becomes more prominent .

  • I hope you are right. The world will certainly be a better place if you are right. But part of “speaking the love and mercy of Jesus” is demonstrating the “love and mercy of Jesus”.

  • Firearms are about as effective as they were 100 years ago.

    Therefore, if that’s the criterion, nothing has changed.

  • you mean that all the advertising of the gun manufacturers are misleading and wrong ? they are not easier and faster to load ? there is not better accuracy ?

  • I was under the impression you were talking about reality – facts – not advertising.

    However, a quick review of a half dozen firearms magazines’ ads show zero ads stating that today’s firearms are easier and faster to load or more accurate than firearms of one hundred years ago.

    So, moving on.

  • Hey Brian…go join some left-wing Episcopalian pile of rotting sewage. You’ll be happier there. So will loyal Catholics.

  • Slavery had nothing to do with “white supremacy.”

    Or maybe you’d like to tell us why blacks enslave blacks in Africa in the year 2019 ?

  • Re: “Slavery had nothing to do with ‘white supremacy.'” 

    Actually, it does! Southerners in particular had a lot of ideas along these lines. For instance, some of them taught that blacks from Africa weren’t “real people.” Others taught that they were so inherently inferior, and savage, that it was good for them to be owned slaves. Still others taught that they bore “the Mark of Cain” or were afflicted by “the Curse of Ham,” and thus spiritually handicapped by birth. 

    No matter how this was expressed, though, these are all variations on the presumption that whites are “better” than blacks. Which is “white supremacy.” 

    Re: “Or maybe you’d like to tell us why blacks enslave blacks in Africa in the year 2019 ?” 

    I don’t need to, so I won’t. It’s irrelevant. Didn’t your mother teach you that two wrongs don’t make a right? To be clear, it’s fallacious to claim that, since blacks enslaved each other, it’s fine for whites to enslave them: 

    https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/177/Two-Wrongs-Make-a-Right
    http://www.fallacyfiles.org/twowrong.html
    https://www.txstate.edu/philosophy/resources/fallacy-definitions/Two-Wrongs.html
    http://www.softschools.com/examples/fallacies/two_wrongs_make_a_right_examples/527/

    So do us all a favor and put away that rationale for black slavery. It’s childish and illogical. 

  • a conservative is one who holds onto essentials . it is not one who believes that every barnacle that the barque of st. peter has collected over the years is now part of the ship . occasionally it is good to reference the actually teachings and practices of jesus and see if our religious observances actually promote or hinder fulfilling what jesus wanted in the world .

    i think that this pope is doing that well .

  • “…with garbage like John Stowe….”

    after a comment like that why should i take anything you say seriously ? if you want a civil conversation come back one . else go away .

  • Handy tip: Any time you try to tell someone what they truly want and believe, you’re not being honest. You’re just being wrong.

  • Check out Stowe’s attacks on the innocent Covington Catholic kids.

    The KKK treated Catholics better a century ago.

  • I read it too. He threw them under the bus. He sided with anti-Catholic Leftists. And did it 4 days after the initial encounter when he had NO EXCUSE for bad information.

    This is par for the course for this Socialist dunce. He is nothing but an Episcopalian masquerading as a Catholic to subvert the Catholic faith.

  • No, because they were the victims and the lawyers are already out in force to get them $$$ by suing for defamation, not Philips or the Black Hebrews.

    Follow the money, pal.

  • he threw no one under the bus . he did call out those wearing trump hats out for bringing politics into a religious event reaching out for all .

    you need to stop hyperventilating and find better sources of information . the ones you use now are made from the remains in the field after the bulls walk through .

  • Maybe, but the Left now knows the American people are onto .

    Like the Scottsboro Boys, the Covington Catholic boys are being vindciated by history and facts.

  • My information is 100% factual. The March For Life is political, not religious. And Trump backs their political position.

    What did you expect them to wear, hats with pictures of Nancy Piglosi on them ?

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.

ADVERTISEMENTs