Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The gathering of the bishops"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the July 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Traditionally, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has gathered twice a year for general meetings. Every November the meetings have taken place in Washington D.C., although the venue will change to Baltimore in November 2006.

In the middle of June each year, the meetings are held in different cities around the country, depending upon the invitation of the local bishop, and perhaps tied to a specific local celebration accompanying the meeting. Last month, the meeting was held in Chicago on the occasion of the centennial celebration of the Extension Society. The Extension Society has been a wonderful organization that has assisted missionary dioceses in our country, especially with the building of new churches and the support of various apostolic works. For example, Extension provides significant assistance to the Alaska dioceses, which have unique needs but few resources.

The Chicago meeting reflected a shift in the format of our meetings. This was my first time presiding at the meeting. One certain challenge: trying to remember the faces and names of some 260 bishops present! In addition, the chair oversees the flow of the meeting, making sure that we adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order. In fact, at every one of our public meetings, Mr. Henry Robert, the grandson of the original Mr. Robert, is on the dais to help us sort out complex situations in discussion and voting. Amendments of amendments can get a bit sticky.

In recent years, there has been an increasing feeling among the bishops that we are taking on too many documents. Even the amendment procedure to these drafts of documents needed to be simplified so that the amendment process would not take up too much time at the general meeting. General agreement has also been expressed about the need to have more time for input and discussion about important issues such as evangelization of culture and the challenge of faith formation from the moment of early childhood through adulthood. Regional meetings also are being emphasized to discuss issues, because the Catholic culture varies considerably from one part of the country to the other.

There has been some mild criticism of these changes; some say the bishops are retreating inwardly rather than addressing more global needs and situations. That observation does not resonate with my own experience or what I observe and hear among the bishops in general. Ours is a complex Church, and we minister in a complex world as we all strive to live and proclaim the Gospel.

At the meeting in Chicago, a very important issue was to approve the “Charter for the Protection of Youth and Children,” and the norms which give legal clout to the Charter. The norms must be approved by the Holy See. After a few minor modifications of both documents (approved originally at the Dallas meeting in 2002), and after fine preparatory work by a mixed commission comprised of representatives from the Holy See and our conference, the norms were approved almost unanimously. This indicated the strong commitment of the bishops to the continued implementation of the Charter.

The rest of the agenda included several other documents, an executive session, and an afternoon of input, reflection and prayer on the role of the bishop.

Next June the USCCB meets in Los Angeles.

The bishops of the Northwest (Region XII) always gather for a retreat in early January, then gather at some location in the region for a couple of days after the Fourth of July. This year we met in Coeur d’Alene. Fifteen of us were able to come. On the first day we took a trip by boat from Coeur d’Alene to part way up the Coeur d’Alene River. On the second day, a visit to historic Wallace, Idaho, a tour through one of the mines, and a visit to Cataldo Mission filled most of the day. The two days went by too quickly, but they were wonderful.

Last year we met in Clarkston and took a day trip by boat from Clarkston through the canyon, up the Snake River to Hell’s Canyon Dam, about 110 miles one way. That time, too, was memorable.

On the afternoon of the Fourth of July, Bishop Thomas Connolly, the Bishop Emeritus of the Baker Diocese in Easter Oregon, rode with me over to Dry Falls State Park and Grand Coulee Dam. He had seen neither. The presentation on the great Missoula flood (15,000 years ago) at the Dry Falls Interpretive Center was very well done. Later in the afternoon, we were able to be part of the last tour through the third powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam, which now includes a visit to the turbines below the waterline. To get there, we had to pass through metal detectors, for security purposes.

All of this reminds me of the beauty and wonderful diversity of our area. We are very blessed indeed.

Much peace and blessings to all.

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