Monday, June 19, 2006

U.S. bishops at 'critical point' in reorganizing nat’l conference

"I believe we are at a critical point" in reorganizing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., USCCB secretary, told the U.S. bishops June 15.

As conference secretary, Archbishop Sheehan is head of the USCCB Committee on Priorities and Plans, which is spearheading a three-year project to downsize the USCCB and focus its energies on a more limited number of priorities set by the nation's bishops or the Vatican.

A major part of the plan he laid out for the bishops to consider was a proposal that would reduce the conference's 35 standing and 16 ad hoc committees to 14 committees. Some suppressed committees would become subcommittees under one of the new committees.

Much of the reorganizational debate at the bishops' June 15-17 meeting in Los Angeles took place in regional meetings or general sessions that were closed to observers and the media.

Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford, Conn., expressed concern that the bishops do not have a separate office dealing with critical issues of health care – one of the oldest apostolates in the church, involving "billions of dollars."

Archbishop Jerome G. Hanus of Dubuque, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on Consecrated Life, noted that there are 90,000 members of religious orders in the United States. Of the proposed merger of his committee with those on vocations, seminaries, deacons, priests and bishops, he said, "I'm not sure this is going to handle the issue."

Bishop Sam G. Jacobs of Houma-Thibodaux, La., chairman of the Committee on Evangelization, questioned the merger of his committee with three others under the heading of catechesis and Catholic education.

Speaking in the name of the committee, he said evangelization is "central" to the church's mission, but outside the mission statement accompanying the reorganization plan, it "is never again mentioned in any substantive way."

"If evangelization is indeed the heart and core of our mission... this needs to be reflected structurally" and the Committee on Evangelization believes this calls for retaining it as a distinct committee, he said.

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio, asked why, when so many other current committees were being conflated, two with very specific responsibilities – migration and pro-life activities – were not also being merged: migration into cultural diversity and pro-life activities into the proposed Committee on Human Development and World Peace.

Bishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Duluth, Minn., vice chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans, said 20 percent of the USCCB staff works under the aegis of the migration committee, so putting that under a broader umbrella committee "just would be overload."

Similarly, he said pro-life already has a large agenda, and part of the proposal is to add to its portfolio the campaign against the death penalty, which is currently under the aegis of the Committee on Domestic Policy. [End] Catholic OnLine

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