WASHINGTON (June 5, 2000) -- Priests, deacons, the ministry of catechesis, and the omnipresent, all-pervasive world of communications will share the stage when the nation's Catholic Bishops hold their Spring General meeting in Milwaukee, June 15-17.
Some 285 Bishops from throughout the country will participate in the 59th general meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and United States Catholic Conference (USCC).
The Bishops will be asked to take the final steps necessary to complete the process of merging their two national organizations into a single entity: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
There will be a workshop at which the Bishops will discuss the impact of fewer priests on the pastoral ministry. There will also be a report on the Revised Constitution for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).
The Bishops' plenary assembly will be held at the Milwaukee Hilton beginning at 9 AM, Thursday, June 15, 2000.
Their Committee for Priestly Life and Ministry, chaired by Most Reverend Richard C. Hanifen, will ask the Bishops to approve the document, The National Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests.
The plan was developed to assist priests in their personal and ministerial development, and in their ongoing spiritual renewal. The document is intended to serve as an approved set of guidelines for the development of local programs. It is also expected to become a study document for priests' groups, presbyteral councils, and groups of seminarians.
The document proposes ongoing formation at different ages in a priest's life: the first years of priesthood, priests in transition, priests as pastors, priests at midlife, and senior clergy. It offers insights on the spiritual concerns, temptations, graces and discernment which can accompany each stage.
The Bishops' Committee on the Diaconate, chaired by Most Reverend Gerald F. Kicanas, will present The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. It constitutes a revision of guidelines issued by the Bishops in 1984.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) reestablished the diaconate as a permanent ministry in the Church, after more than a millennium in which this sacred order had been experienced as a transitory step prior to the ordination of a priest. The diaconate has grown remarkably in the United States. According to the Secretariat for the Diaconate, in 1971 there were 58 deacons and 529 candidates, and in 1975, 1,074 deacons and 2,243 candidates. By 1980, the number of deacons had risen to 4,656, with 2,514 candidates. At the end of 1996, there were 11, 868 deacons serving in the dioceses of the United States and territorial sees.
Some permanent deacons are in full-time employment by a diocese, others are in full-time secular employment. In communion with the Bishop and priests, deacons assist in the sanctification of the Christian community through a wide variety of ministries.
Major resources in the development of the National Directory were documents published by the Congregations for Catholic Education and the Clergy and statements on the diaconate by Pope John Paul II. The findings of the National Study on the Permanent Diaconate of the Catholic Church in the United States, 1994-1995, also provided information on the needs of deacons and formation programs in this country.
The National Directory will set norms for dioceses seeking to restore the diaconate and offer guidance for needed revisions of diaconate programs that are currently in place.
The Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism, chaired by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, OSB, will ask the Bishops to approve the development of a National Adult Catechism for Use in the Unted States.
After a number of bishops expressed the view that the development of a national adult catechism might be helpful for the Church in this country, the Ad Hoc Committee appointed a task force to examine the question. The task force was comprised of members of the Committee on Education, the Committee on Doctrine, the Committee on Evangelization and the Sub-Committee on Catechesis, as well as members of the Ad Hoc Committee.
The inter-committee task force concluded that a national adult catechism for the United States is both feasible and advisable. Such an adult catechism should be reader friendly, they advised, written in an attractive and persuasive style. It should not be overly didactic, yet able to seriously address the specific questions and issues in American society which impact on faith, liturgical, moral, and spiritual life. Such a text would be designed to complement and refer back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Committee on Education will ask the Bishops to approve a "Statement in Support of Catechetical Ministry." The proposed statement, which originated in the Committee on Catechesis, would coincide with the 65th anniverary of the establishment of Catechetical Sunday, an annual celebration of Christian Doctrine on the third Sunday of September.
Each year, approximately half a million American Catholics participate in some way in the Church's catechetical mission. While a vast majority are engaged in sacramental preparation with children in the first or second grade, many others serve as catechetical leaders, teachers, RCIA team members, and adult facilitators. The purpose of the statement is to publicly recognize and thank all who participate in catechetical ministry, and to encourage the entire Church community to support with prayer and encouragement those who serve as catechists.
Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl is Chairman of the Committee on Education.
The Committee for Communications, chaired by Bishop Robert N. Lynch, will present four action items to the plenary assembly:
- Institution of a Pledge to be taken for each of the next five years in parishes as part of a 'Renewing the Mind of the Media' Campaign. Its purpose is to alert Catholics that the Bishops are in solidarity with them on the issue of the harmful influence of some media on families and young people, and to affirm that, acting together, steps can be taken to bring about change. The pledge cards will suggest various attitudes or actions to help promote more responsible, moral, and ethical media.
("Renewing the Mind of the Media," a statement on overcoming the exploitation of sex and violence in communications, was adopted by the U.S. Catholic Bishops in June, 1998).
- Approval of a 2,500 word statement, "Your Family and Cyberspace." The statement is intended to respond to complaints about obscene and hate-filled material on the Internet, and also about websites which claim to be "Catholic" in nature but may not be. Noting there can be a downside to all that is good in Cyberspace, the statement says: "Internet use, then, can be a little like visiting the best theme park in the world and coming across a toxic waste dump."
- A "Civility in Media" statement which arose from discussions in the Communications Committee about a tendency in the media to conduct highly personal attacks on individuals. "Persons in both the secular and church media ought to conduct themselves with a regard for the worth and dignity of every person," the statement says. "Church media have the additional responsibility of contributing, according to their proper mission, to the unity that is essential to the Church's effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel."
- A Protocol for Catholic Media Programming and Media Outlets. The protocol deals with granting the "nihil obstat" for Catholic religious programming that appears on media that is not specifically Catholic. It goes on to propose a method for granting the "nihil obstat" for a media outlet to operate as a Catholic one within a diocese and also a method for recognizing the Catholic nature of a media outlet which goes beyond the boundaries of one diocese.
- In the Protocol, these processes are voluntary. However, it does allow for a Bishop or the National Conference to indicate whether a particular media outlet claiming to be "Catholic" has gone through a process which would help guarantee its Catholic authenticity. This process would be open to new media outlets and already existing ones.
The Ad Hoc Committee on the Revision of Statutes and Bylaws, chaired by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, will ask the Bishops to approve the revised USCCB Bylaws and the Revised USCCB Committee Handbook.
If all goes as expected, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will formally come into existence on September 1, 2000.
The Milwaukee meeting, including the workshop on the impact of fewer priests on the pastoral ministry, is open to press coverage. Requests for credentials, interviews, news conferences, and all media matters are under the direction of the Conference's Department of Communications.
The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) will provide broadcast coverage of the meeting.