Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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Bishops’ meetings address concerns nationally, globally
the Inland Register
(From the Dec. 16, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Catholic Charities Parish Social Ministries Director Scott Cooper attended two days of meetings at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington D.C. earlier this month, getting a front-row seat to the public policy work of the bishops on international and domestic issues.
Sudan and Afghanistan dominated the international agenda, while health care, the November election and religious liberty led discussions on the domestic side.
As Chair of the Roundtable, Association of Catholic Social Action Directors, Cooper was invited as official observer at the Dec. 1 meeting of the International Justice and Peace Committee, and the Dec. 2 meeting of the Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee. Each committee consists of 9-15 bishops, plus lay consultants such as moral theologians, faculty from The Catholic University of America, business and labor leaders, military advisors, and foundation directors.
Observers come from partner organizations, such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the Association of State Catholic Conferences, Catholic Charities USA, and the Roundtable.
Much time was devoted to a discussion of how best to support the Bishops of Sudan as the country approaches an historic referendum on Jan. 9, 2011. A hard-won cessation of violence has come to Sudan after decades of violence and in January the southern part of the country – ethnically African and mostly Christian – will vote on whether to remain part of the state of Sudan or to secede and form a separate nation. The bishops heard that the Church enjoys a good reputation among the southern Sudanese people as one of the very few institutions that has remained with them through the decades of violence.
The bishops also heard a report from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the U.S. bishops’ overseas development and emergency assistance agency, about a trip to the Great Lakes region of Africa – Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in October of this year with Bishop William Skylstad, Bishop Emeritus of Spokane. (Editor’s note: See Bishop Skylstad’s report on page 7 of this issue.) Ongoing violence often is linked to the exploitation of so-called “conflict minerals” which are essential for technological products like cell phones.
Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Advisor in the Obama Administration, spoke about U.S. foreign policy, covering everything from Afghanistan and the Middle East to Sudan and Haiti.
Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn (the Maronite rite), urged the bishops to prioritize four concerns in discussing the Middle East: 1) a resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian situation, which continues to fuel radical Islamist actors, 2) security for Christians in Iraq, particularly after the Oct. 31 bombing of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Cathedral in Baghdad, 3) continuing emphasis on freedom of conscience and worship in the area, and 4)the plight of domestic workers in the Gulf area, many from countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines, and many of whom are Christian.
CRS reported on the situation in Haiti following the January earthquake, subsequent hurricanes, and an outbreak of cholera. American dioceses were extraordinarily generous in response to the earthquake, and much of that money has been moved into an account jointly run by the USCCB and CRS to best assist churches in Haiti to rebuild and assist effectively. Progress is slow because of poor records of land title and because only one-quarter of the rubble from the earthquake has been removed so far.
One action item on the agenda addressed the new negotiations of the START treaty in the Senate, to reduce nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russia. USCCB staff said that Pope Benedict has spoken on this matter often and emphatically. Catholics are urged to contact their senators to request ratification of the new START treaty.
Domestically, the committee first took up health care, communicating that the bishops’ conference had sent a consistent message throughout the national legislative debate on the matter. Universal access to health care has long been a priority for the bishops, provided that conscience protections remained, that no public funds be used for abortion, and that immigrants be covered, regardless of legal status.
In light of the November elections and the make-up of the incoming Congress, analysts around the bishops’ table were optimistic that aspects of the Health Care Reform Act passed last March that are not in line with Church teaching will be able to be addressed, while retaining those aspects that seek to provide health care to people currently without access.
Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, presented a piece of legislation introduced in Congress to re-work many of the nation’s current social safety net programs, with results-driven policies to address poverty in 2011, not poverty as it was in the 1960s. A particular focus of discussion was the Gulf Coast area, and the Archdiocese of New Orleans, following the BP oil spill in the spring.
The Church was the primary response agency in many communities on the Gulf Coast, and the bishops heard from two community leaders, one of them a third-generation fisherman, who lead organizations seeking long-term solutions to the communities’ oil spill-related problems, both funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty effort.
Last, the committee took up the issue of religious liberty in light of legal challenges in different parts of the country to letting the Church govern itself. The bishops expressed concern that this would become a larger issue in coming years.
At a brief joint meeting of the two committees, the focus was on communicating the priority of the bishops’ conference when analyzing any issues of public policy: the life and dignity of the human person. As one university professor at the table said, her students are clear about what the Church is against, but have little idea about what the Church is for.
The committees meet twice annually, in May and December. Cooper will return for the May meetings.
More information is available at www.usccb.org/sdwp/international and www.usccb.org/sdwp/national.