Catholics Consider Multi-Year Marriage Initiative

On Monday, November 15, 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops elected their new president and discussed several issues pertinent to the Catholicism in the coming years. During the weeklong meeting at the nation’s capitol, bishops will discuss several wide ranging topics such as traditional marriage, ecumenical involvement, clergy sex-abuse settlements, finances, and the denial of communion to dissenting Catholic lawmakers.

Early Monday, outgoing President Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville opened the conference with a message of unity: "A strengthened sense of collegiality among ourselves can only redound to the common good of the church in the United States which we tend and love.

"It will also serve as a very important witness to our beloved nation of how religious and civil discourse can and must take place,” he said as part of his final address as the group’s president.

The bishops elected William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington as Gregory’s successor. Skylstad served for three years as the vice president of the Conference, and was largely expected to inherit the presidency – as was the pattern for several decades.

Meanwhile, Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George was elected as the Conference’s vice president.

In addition to settling the leadership question, bishops heard a presentation by Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on the work of the bishops’ Catholics in public life task force.

One of the topics of ‘public life’ concern was whether bishops should deny communion to dissenting Catholic lawmakers. The controversy over communion arose earlier this year when St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke – alongside numerous other Catholic priests – publicly said he would withhold the sacrament from the former presidential nominee John Kerry because of the Massachusetts senator’s stance pro-abortive stance.

Another topic of concern that will be discussed throughout the Conference is a multi-year initiative aimed at strengthening traditional marriage. The main focus of the initiative would is to protect marriage from both same-sex marriage and rampant divorce.

The bishops will also discuss whether to join the fledgling ecumenical body Christian Churches Together (CCT) in the USA. CCT, a group that has been in the making since 2000, will be the broadest alliance of Christians ever formed in the United States. Currently, the National Council of Churches hold the title as the largest ecumenical group in the States with 50 million members in dozens of denominations. However, unlike the envisioned CCT, the NCC does not have evangelical, Pentecostal or Catholic members. The CCT is due next spring, and will mimic similar interdenominational organizations in other nations.

Meanwhile, the bishops will discuss the sexual abuse crisis and will introduce the newest appointees to the National Review Board – a lay watchdog panel bishops formed during Gregory’s term to oversee the nation policy on combating abuse.