By Barb Arland-Fye
While Bishop Martin Amos asks diocesan Catholics to respond to a Vatican survey on marriage and family issues by Dec. 1, his report will represent a compilation and not a tally of responses.
The survey with 38 deep questions was among numerous topics he and his fellow bishops discussed Nov. 11-14 at the fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore.
“There are a variety of ways dioceses are doing this survey,” the bishop said during an interview with The Catholic Messenger after the General Assembly. Some dioceses, including the Davenport Diocese, have posted surveys of the Vatican’s questions on their websites (The Catholic Messenger has also printed the questionnaire in this week’s paper on Page 7). The survey asks about how well Church teaching is promoted and accepted and in what ways modern people and societies challenge the Catholic view of marriage and family.
“It’s important to hear what the people have to say,” Bishop Amos said. “But it’s not the kind of survey where I’ll say ‘10 people say this and six people say that.’” Reports from diocesan bishops around the world will be sent to the Vatican for discussion in October 2014 at an extraordinary Synod of Bishops with follow-up at an ordinary Synod of Bishops in 2015, Bishop Amos said.
Other issues discussed at the USCCB’s fall General Assembly included:
• Approval of a special message focusing on protection of religious freedom, especially as it relates to the Health and Human Services mandate. The mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act, will require nearly all employers other than accommodated religious organizations with health insurance plans to cover the cost of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives to employees in their company health plan.
In their statement, the bishops described the Health and Human Services mandate as coercive and reiterated three basic objections: the mandate “establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.”
The bishops say the mandate is particularly frustrating because of the Catholic Church’s long history of providing and advocating for accessible, life-affirming healthcare. Bishop Amos said the bishops looked in depth at the theological implications of the mandate, specifically related to cooperation with evil. “We’ve got to keep looking at the options, legislative and judicial.”
• Roman Missal in Spanish. The bishops moved closer toward adapting the Mexican Misal Romano, which could be published as soon as fall 2014 for use in this country. Currently, priests or bishops choose a Spanish edition from among any version approved for use by any country’s bishops’ conferences, according to a Catholic News Service report.
• Order of Celebrating Matrimony. The bishops agreed to make optional the placement of the nuptial blessing at Mass. At present, it is bestowed after the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. As an option, it may be moved to the Rite of Marriage, which follows the homily. Bishop Amos thinks the blessing in its current place “fits very nicely just before a couple receives the Eucharist for the first time as husband and wife.”
After a protracted discussion, the bishops also decided that the terms marriage and matrimony are interchangeable.
•Order of Confirmation. The bishops approved the Order of Confirmation, but rejected two amendments, one of which would have replaced phrasing about “fear of the Lord” with “wonder and awe.” “‘Fear of the Lord’ is much richer. We ought to evangelize about this gift of fear of the Lord, which has to do with filial fear: I don’t want to offend this God I love,” Bishop Amos explained. The other rejected amendment would have restored as optional a rubric allowing a slap on the cheek during the confirmation rite.
• Project Rachel. Approved funding for a position working with the Project Rachel program, a confidential Catholic outreach ministry offering hope and healing to women and men hurting from past abortions. Bishop Amos was encouraged by that commitment because of the Diocese of Davenport’s interest in Project Rachel. Diocesan Social Action Director Kent Ferris said: “We await word from our colleagues at USCCB as to when we can schedule Project Rachel training here in the diocese. We are excited to hear that there will be a dedicated person overseeing similar local efforts at the bishops’ national office.”
• Budget. The bishops approved a 3 percent increase for fiscal year 2015 on the annual assessment each diocese pays to the USCCB. The Diocese of Davenport’s assessment for 2014 is $23,016 and for 2015 it will be $23,707.
• Pastoral statement on pornography. The bishops approved development of a pastoral statement on the dangers pornography poses to family life. A draft won’t be presented to the bishops until 2015. “We’re planning to explore the issue of pornography in our own diocese as it relates to pastoral care during our clergy convocation in November 2014,” Bishop Amos said.
The bishops also elected a new president: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky. “I like him a lot. He’s a very nice guy,” Bishop Amos said. “I’m going to write to him and tell him I’ll pray for him for the next three years. The president’s job is a difficult one.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, of Galveston-Houston, was elected vice president. He previously served as bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.
Outgoing President Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, in his closing remarks, urged his fellow bishops to work towards protecting religious freedom for persecuted Christians around the world. “He suggested intercessions at Mass, and writing and talking about the issue in diocesan newspapers, among other things,” Bishop Amos said.