Friday, May 22, 2009

Cardinal to Obama: We'll help on conscience protection

Little noticed but with great potential for good was President Barack Obama’s comments at Notre Dame on Sunday May 17 supporting conscience protection for health care workers. This is issue greatly concerns doctors, nurses and other health care workers who want to protect life from conception to death. To learn more about the issue go to

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, USCCB president, addressed the issue May 22 and expressed gratitude to President Obama and said the Catholic Church would be glad to help the Administration work toward this goal. Here is his statement.

I am grateful for President Obama’s statement on May 17 that we should all “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion,” and his support for conscience clauses advancing this goal.

Since 1973, federal laws protecting the conscience rights of health care providers have been an important part of our American civil rights tradition. These laws should be fully implemented and enforced. Caring health professionals and institutions should know that their deeply held religious or moral convictions will be respected as they exercise their right to serve patients in need.

Catholic providers, in particular, make a large and essential contribution to health care in our society. Essential steps to protect these conscience rights will strengthen our health care system and enhance many patients’ access to necessary life-affirming care.

A government that wants to reduce the tragic number of abortions in our society will also work to ensure that no one is forced to support or participate in abortion, whether through directly providing or referring for abortions or being forced to subsidize them with their tax dollars. As this discussion continues we look forward to working with the Administration and other policy makers to advance this goal.

Campaign Season

While some might stereotype a bishop as being aloof from new technology, the recent glut of online campaigns and new Web resources really tell a different story for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Just today came the announcement of a Web site on Catholic teaching on economic, developed by the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development to health Catholics cope with the economic crisis and view it through the perspective of their faith. The site includes numerous features, including various statements from the U.S. bishops and the Holy See on this issue and even a quiz.

More pressing among online campaigns is the soon-to-conclude campaign against destructive stem cell research, which was set up to coincide with the public comment period on the proposed guidelines for embryonic stem cell research. The end of the public comment period is May 26, which means, as the bishops recently did, you can make your voice heard on this issue.

Another ongoing initiative that is generating some real interest is Catholics Confront Global Poverty, which finds the bishops partnering with Catholic Relief Services in an ambitious effort to get 1 million Catholics educated and mobilized against global poverty and the web of issues that tie into it. This site continues to grow and develop, so it's worth visiting and revisiting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day's Count

So much in contemporary culture is about self interest. How does this affect me?

Today's appointment of Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Cistone as bishop of Saginaw, Michigan (congrats to Bishop Cistone and the Catholics of Saginaw) had an indirect effect on my office, not only because USCCB Media Relations prepared a release on the appointment, but because our office is currently busy preparing for next month's meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops in San Antonio.

As part of the preparations, our office prepares backgrounders and other informational handouts for media who will be attending the meeting. And among these backgrounders are the statistics on bishops and dioceses across the country, including numbers of bishops, archbishops, cardinals, coadjutors, active bishops, retired bishops, auxiliary bishops, retired auxiliary bishops, as well as vacant dioceses.

The challenge in getting this information off to the printers in time for the big meeting is that the ground keeps shifting beneath our feet. Most recently, the retirement of San Francisco auxiliary Bishop Ignatius Wang lowered the number of active auxiliaries and raised the number of retired auxiliaries by one while similarly shifting the active/retired ratio for all U.S. bishops.

More complicated, the May 5 retirement of Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington and immediate succession by his coadjutor, Bishop John M. Quinn, dropped and raised by one the numbers of active and retired diocesan bishops, respectively. The succession of Bishop Quinn, however, brought the number of active diocesan bishops right back up to its earlier number while dropping the number of coadjutor bishops nationwide to zero. However, since Bishop Quinn was already an active bishops, his succession didn't change the number of active bishops overall.

Last month, the appointment of Saginaw Bishop Robert Carlson as archbishop of St. Louis did nothing to change the active/retired ratio, but it did drop St. Louis off the list of vacant U.S. dioceses (that is, dioceses without a bishop), replacing it with Saginaw. About the only thing this appointment changed statistically was that we had one fewer diocesan bishop and one more archbishop with Carlson's promotion from ordinary to metropolitan.

And now, scarcely a month after going on the list, Saginaw drops off the list of vacant dioceses with the appointment of Bishop Cistone, whose appointments also drops and raises by one the number of active auxiliaries and active diocesan bishops, respectively.

Quickly becoming aware that a person could lose his mind by trying to stay on top of this, I'm resigning myself to the fact that, by the time the bishops meet on June 17, these statistics will have had plenty of time to go stale. (There are, after all, a dozen or so bishops serving past the retirement age of 75 and five vacant dioceses.)

So, with that in mind, here are the statistics that are going to the printers as of right now. It is nothing better than simply today's count:

Currently, 5 dioceses are vacant (sede vacante):


There are 425 active and retired Catholic bishops in the United States:

258 Active Bishops:
5 Cardinal Archbishops
28 Archbishops
1 Coadjutor Archbishop
155 Diocesan Bishops
0 Coadjutor Bishops
69 Auxiliary Bishops

167 Retired Bishops:
7 retired Cardinal Archbishops
20 retired Archbishops
91 retired Diocesan Bishops
49 retired Auxiliary Bishops

I think I'm going to recommend that next time we give the media a link to a real-time online database.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Abortion Turnaround?

The number of people who consider themselves pro-life is rising and that delights many of us who have struggled to educate people on the issue. We are a myriad of persons; some, strong political activists who give their lives to one issue; others, non-political people who support programs for pregnant women such as Birthright; and still others, people who eschew politics and social work but speak for life as they pursue a non-violent, compassionate approach to living, those nice people down the street.

Gallup reported Friday, May 15, that 51 percent of Americans now consider themselves pro-life. That is an advance for our society, even though not all of the 51 percent want abortion outlawed completely. But it does show a growing sensitivity to life.

Why this increased awareness?

Could it be the result of the rancorous election campaign where some saw abortion as the only issue? Did the visibility of the issue finally get through to some people?

Could it be an effect of those who kept President Obama’s visit to the University of Notre Dame front and center in recent months? That the choice for a graduation speaker drew so much attention may have alerted some to the seriousness of the issue.

Could it be that President Obama’s declaring at his 100-days press conference that the much feared FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act) was not one of his priority issues had an effect? His position allows many of his followers to ebb away from the pro-choice position that has been a hallmark of the Democratic Party for more than a quarter century.

Does this reflect a generational shift? The parents of today’s young adults today were much more attuned to abortion as a “right” than their children are. Could it be that the survivors of the generation that had so many members aborted know there is another side to the issue?

Maybe we’re seeing the results of the terrible regrets some have for abortions years past. In late March I read a story in the Sunday New York Times by a woman who aborted her child in order to placate her lover, who still walked away from her. The poignancy of her story startled me. I never expected to see it in the “Modern Love” section of the Sunday Times (3/27/09). Her aborted child was the only one she conceived naturally.

The woman now has a husband and two adopted boys, after failed fertility procedures with very short-term pregnancies. She wrote of the lost lives: “The children I did not bring into this world are ghosts, and they are symptoms. I’ve learned to live with them the way you do the phantom pain of missing limbs.”

Put another way, the pain never went away.

With hindsight, abortion may no longer look like the easy way out. One wonders how many other stories of regret are out there, stories which make little lives look precious after all.

Like many, I still do not rest easy about our nation and abortion. We’re still 49 percent away from where we want to be – the abolition of government-sanctioned and supported taking of innocent lives. A statistic that 51 percent of Americans define themselves as pro-life is hardly a resounding turnaround. But a turn around it is and something which offers hope.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Promesas rotas

Note: The following is a Spanish version of the May 15 post, "Broken Vows."

La saga mediática del padre Alberto Cutié, el sacerdote de Miami que ha admitido tener una relación sexual con una mujer, y el caso de John Edwards, cuya infidelidad está siendo expuesta por su esposa Elizabeth en su gira para promover su libro “Resilience” (Capacidad de resistencia), tienen algo en común.

Ambos casos cuentan la historia de una infidelidad. Pudiera parecer que las similitudes terminan ahí. Pero no es así.

El libro de la señora Edwards pone énfasis en los efectos de una relación fracturada sobre el otro miembro de la pareja. Dice que esto a ella la ha cambiado. La simpatía del público se ha puesto generalmente del lado de la esposa traicionada, quien está librando una batalla contra el cáncer y además perdió a un hijo adolescente en un accidente de tráfico.

En la historia del padre Cutié, sin embargo, la simpatía parece encontrarse del lado del hombre que “la ha traicionado” en lugar de aquel/los que han sido traicionados – la gente en la iglesia.

En ninguno de ambos casos se trata solamente de una historia personal de estos dos hombres. Aun sin la notoriedad pública de ambos, las dos son historias tristes que nos afectan a todos; pues, parafraseando el poema “Ningún hombre es una isla” del poeta metafísico John Donne, “La infidelidad de los demás me empobrece”.

La mayoría de las mujeres se estremece por dentro cuando escuchan acerca de la infidelidad en el matrimonio de alguien a quien conocen. El temor es obvio: si le ha sucedido a ella, también me puede suceder a mí. Es un pensamiento que pone el alma intranquila y que hace que la mujer se pregunte si se puede confiar en alguien y si ella será la última en saberlo.

La situación del padre Cutié, sin embargo, encuentra reacciones diferentes. El apuesto sacerdote con aura de estrella de Hollywood, quien se ha convertido en una industria unipersonal de publicaciones y consejos, se ha convertido, para mejor o peor, en la imagen de la última salva dirigida en contra de la Iglesia Católica.

Cutié declaró en el programa Early Show de la cadena CBS que “no quiero convertirme en el “sacerdote que está en contra del celibato”. Creo que eso es desafortunado. Creo que es un debate que se está dando en nuestra sociedad y creo que ahora yo me he convertido en una especie imagen, de abanderado de esta postura”.

Puede que el padre no quiera ser la imagen de esto, pero parece haber quebrantado la primera regla para acallar los comentarios: permanezca lejos de los medios.

A los medios de comunicación les fascinan las historias de sexo e hipocresía y, cuando ambos convergen en la historia de un sacerdote infiel, los medios no conocen fronteras. El celibato se convierte en un chiste, en lugar de algo que merece respeto; en algo imposible, a pesar de los millones —posiblemente más—de personas que han vivido célibes durante siglos.

Y sin embargo, a pesar de lo que cada uno piense sobre el celibato, el verdadero asunto aquí es la infidelidad, el haber quebrantado un voto sagrado. Esta ruptura de la fidelidad tiene impacto más allá de la pareja a la que involucra.

La fidelidad quebrantada menoscaba no sólo a la pareja sino también a la comunidad en sentido amplio. John Edwards no hirió sólo a su esposa sino también a su familia, sus amigos y las personas que lo admiraban. Sembró una sombra de duda sobre su trabajo en favor de los pobres, aunque su esposa alabe abundantemente esos esfuerzos en su libro y en la promoción mediática que lo acompaña.

El padre Cutié también ha hecho daño a otros, incluyendo a toda la gente de la parroquia que él guió tan bien. Parecen estar aguantando bien mientras tratan con los medios afuera de la iglesia. Sin embargo, uno se pregunta acerca de las parejas a las que él preparó para un compromiso de por vida en el matrimonio, los niños a los que enseñó a no decir nunca mentiras, los feligreses enfermos a los que les dio seguridad sobre su lugar en el cielo.

El efecto de la infidelidad es profundo. Elizabeth Edwards lo expresa bien en su libro cuando escribe: “Soy una persona diferente ahora. Antes no estaba herida, no tenía miedo, no sentía incertidumbre y ahora siempre los sentiré”.

Uno no puede más que desearles bien a los Edwards y al padre Cutié en vista de sus debilidades y de sus fallos. No hay nada aquí de lo que sus enemigos, en la política o en la iglesia, deban mofarse. Sólo algo que lamentar — el profundo dolor que John, Elizabeth y el Padre Alberto están experimentando en sus propias vidas y la sórdida y prolongada pena evocada en las comunidades a su alrededor.

Nadie es una isla. La fidelidad quebrantada nos duele a todos.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Broken Vows

The much media-hyped sagas of Father Alberto Cutié, the Miami priest who has come clean about a sexual relationship with a woman, and John Edwards, whose infidelity is being disclosed again by his wife Elizabeth on her "Resilience" book tour, have something in common.

Both tell the tales of infidelity. Similarities might seem to end there. But they don't.

Mrs. Edwards' book emphasizes the effects of a fractured relationship on a spouse. She said it changed her. Public sympathy has generally sided with the wronged wife who is battling cancer and who lost a teenage son in an auto accident.

Father Cutié's story finds sympathy, on the other hand, with the man who "done her wrong," rather than the actual one(s) wronged – the people in the church.

Neither man's story is just a personal one. Even without their notoriety, both are sad tales that affect us all. For, to paraphrase the metaphysical poet John Donne's poem "No Man Is an Island," "Everyone's infidelity diminishes me."

Most women shudder inside when they hear about infidelity in the marriage of someone they know. The obvious fear: If it happened to her, it could happen to me. It's a soul-stirring realization that makes a woman secretly question if anyone can be trusted, and makes her wonder if she'll be the last to know.

Father Cutié's plight, however, finds different reactions. The Hollywood handsome star, who has become a one-man publishing and advice-dispensing industry, has become, for better or worse, the poster boy for the latest salvo aimed at the Catholic Church.

Father Cutié declared on CBS' Early Show that "I don't want to be the anti-celibacy priest. I think that's unfortunate. I think it's a debate that's going on in our society, and now I've become kind of a poster boy for it."

Alas, he may not want to be the poster boy, but he seems to have forsaken the first rule in tamping this down: Stay off the air.

The media love a sex or hypocrisy story, and when both converge in the tale of the unfaithful padre, the media know no bounds. Celibacy becomes a joke, rather than something to be respected; an impossibility, despite millions -- likely more -- who have lived celibate lives for centuries.

Yet whatever you think about celibacy, the real story here is infidelity, not being true to a sacred vow. This fracture of fidelity has an impact on more than the pair involved.

Fractured fidelity undermines not just a couple, but their wider community. John Edwards did not just hurt his wife, but also his family, friends and people who admired him. It cast a shadow over his work for the poor, even though those efforts are much praised by his wife in her book and media jaunt.

Father Cutié has hurt people too, including the crowds surrounding the parish he led so well. They're holding up well as they mill about with media outside the church. Yet one wonders about the couples he prepared for their lifetime commitment in marriage, the children he taught to never tell a lie, the ailing parishioners he assured of their place in heaven.

The effect of infidelity is profound. Elizabeth Edwards says it well in her book when she writes, "I am a different person now. I was not wounded, not afraid, not uncertain before and now I always will be."

One wishes the Edwardses and Father Cutié well in the wake of their foibles and failings. There's nothing for political or church enemies to laugh at here. Only something to regret -- the acute pain that John, Elizabeth and Father Alberto experience in their own lives, and the dull, long-lasting pain evoked in the communities around them.

No one is an island. Fractured fidelity pains us all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May 14 -- Homily on Recovery

The homily at daily Mass in the USCCB chapel took a unique turn today. It was pointed out that St. Matthias, whose feast is today, is the patron of carpenters, alcoholics and Gary, Indiana -- which would make him a particularly appropriate saint for an alcoholic carpenter from Gary.

The reading from Acts of the Apostles had recounted how Matthias was chosen by the remaining 11 Apostles to replace Judas, and the homilist suggested that perhaps the early church of this reading and alcoholics have something in common -- their need for recovery.

The church, he noted, had just encountered scandal after scandal -- the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the flight of the Apostles at the arrest of Judas, and the mega-scandal of the passion and death of Jesus. After all of this damage, they needed to recover. They needed to be made whole. And so they chose Matthias to make them 12 Apostles once more.

The homilist then recalled reading a blog comment that suggested Matthias replacing Judas could be seen as a symbol for our wounded, human nature being replaced by something new in Jesus Christ. He suggested that we remember our need for recovery, to be made whole again by what Christ offers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Watching the Papacy Go Global

When Benedict XVI was elected, my local bishop speculated to the media that perhaps this new pope would travel less than his predecessor, Pope John Paul II (1978-2005). Perhaps this was an obvious statement on the heels of a quarter century of globetrotting. But listening to the bishop, you got the impression that he meant this pope really would be more of a homebody (Rome-body?), for whom travel wouldn't be a high priority.

Four fast-paced years later, even Pope Benedict might be surprised that his travels have taken him to Germany (twice), Austria, Spain, Poland, France, Turkey, Brazil, the United States (and the United Nations), Australia, Cameroon, Angola and now Jordan, Israel and Palestine. This doesn't include his, to date, 13 apostolic voyages within Italy. While he's not on track to overcome John Paul II anytime soon, no one can accuse this pope of neglecting travel.

While the stunning precedent set by John Paul offers one explanation of Benedict's busier-than-expected itinerary, a broader view might be that world travel is a still-emerging part of the pope's ministry as a universal pastor in the post-Vatican II era. Nowhere in the documents of the Second Vatican Council does it say, "and the pope needs to get out more," at least not to my knowledge. But a traveling pope reflects nicely the shift from an insular church to a pilgrim church as seen at Vatican II.

One could argue the papal travels got underway as early as when Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) said his motivation for calling the council was to open the windows of the church and let in some fresh air. It was only a matter of time before the pope, any pope, went exploring to see just what lay outside those windows. John XXIII did just that. He was famously a security nightmare, leaving the Vatican unannounced to visit hospitalized children or, assuming the story isn't apocryphal, purchase a snack from a Roman street vendor.

This was particularly jarring at a time when the pope had long been known as "the prisoner of the Vatican." It had been a big deal when John's predecessor, Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), left the Vatican to console victims of aerial bombings in the streets of Rome. It was similarly unprecedented when John XXIII made a trip outside of Rome to the village of Assisi in 1962 to pray for the success of the council.

The travel trend continued to the point where John's successor, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), was regarded as the "pilgrim pope" by the time of his death. Knowing what was to come with John Paul II, this title seems misplaced. But not only did Pope Paul's travels take him outside of Italy (the first modern pope do so), they took him to the Holy Land, India, the U.S and U.N., Portugal, Istanbul, Ephesus, Smyrna, Colombia, Switzerland, Uganda, Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines, West Samoa, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and the Mediterranean island of Cagliari.

Not bad at all.

Taking the long view, from Pius XII, to John XXIII, to Paul VI, to John Paul II (skipping the 34-day pontificate of John Paul I), each pope's travels are exponentially more extensive than his predecessor's, and this after centuries of non-travel. It's tempting to view this phenomenon as a surprise gift of the Holy Spirit, a new dimension to the papacy brought on by the mission of Vatican II and the "new pentecost" that John XXIII hoped it would prompt.

Then comes Benedict XVI, a quiet, retiring intellectual, someone who's probably more at home in his study than criss-crossing the world by jet. But by this point the role as global pastor has been firmly established for the pope, so he enthusiastically tackles it, albeit in his own style. This style doesn't always go off well in the media, but it's still part of the unique set of gifts that this pope brings to his ministry to the Catholic Church and, more recently, the world.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

United We Stand, in Solidarity

Exactly one year today, at approximately 10:00 a.m. CDT the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office conducted a massive raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant which shattered the small town of Postville, Iowa, formerly known as “Hometown to the World.”

In total, 389 people were detained, most of them taken away and jailed or deported without any kind of due process, and others, mostly mothers with dependent minors, were left to stay for the time being but ordered to wear a GPS device. Their families were left trembling with the grief of separation and of not knowing what would be of them or the loved ones. One year later they are still struggling.

On this anniversary, at least forty faith communities around the country that we know of, and probably many others we don’t know about, rang the bells or blew the shofar at exactly the time that the raid started a year ago. Others held prayer vigils throughout the day in solidarity. At St. Bridget Catholic Church in Postville, an emotional reading of the names of all those detained that morning will convey the message that the community does not forget. How could it?

One can’t help but wonder what immigration authorities thought the result of these worksite enforcement actions, which have continued until very recently, would be. If they wanted to instill a message of fear, of “we can be tough on enforcement if we want to,” of “look how mean we can be,” then they certainly succeeded but at the expense of much suffering.

If, on the contrary, the intended outcome was to scare people away so they would leave and return to their countries or put pressure on employers so they would not hire unauthorized workers, I’d say we are not much better than a year ago.

We have not been serious about enforcement for a long, long time. If anything, Postville and other raids thereafter are evidence that our political system has not adequately addressed the demand for labor, nor the reality of the forming of family ties that make it difficult for people to leave after a prolonged stay or the need to bring family from abroad to better provide for them.

The tough economy might help to discourage some prospective immigrants to cross into the U.S. and even encourage a small percentage to return to their homelands. But certainly the raids have nothing to do with it. Even with the economy and the pain of not being able to be with their loved ones, many immigrants prefer to stay here illegally than return to the desperation and the lack of opportunity in their communities of origin.

Instead of toughness, meanness and senseless terror, the U.S. would do well to assess more realistically its need for foreign workers. Paying just a little attention to Census and Social Security number estimates might help. Legalizing a workforce that is already an integral part of America’s economic and social tissue is critical—for the good of American workers as much as for the immigrants themselves.

Assessing the needs for family reunification of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents and doing away with never-ending backlogs will bring relief to millions of U.S. families. A serious approach to enforcement that allows authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals, as well as pursue the legitimate task of implementing American immigration policy while respecting human dignity, is essential. And finally, international cooperation to build trade and labor policies that help create and spread wealth in labor-sending countries will certainly reduce the pressure on our borders.

For those who do not get it yet, yes I am talking about comprehensive immigration reform. And how about raids? A lot of noise, little substance, lots of broken families. No, thanks.

Celibacy -- Fidelity: Topic de jour

Celibacy is topic de jour with the well publicized story of Miami priest whose dalliance was recorded in photos in a Spanish-language magazine. Discussing the issue, some points worth noting are that the Catholic Church’s teaching goes back to Scripture: Jesus was not married and St. Paul speaks of the significance of an “undivided heart.” (1 Cor 7 32-34)

The need for a priest’s undivided heart is paramount. At ordination priests assume a spiritual fatherhood, which means they called to be available to all. When people phone a priest they shouldn’t have to worry about imposing on his family time or taking him away from a sick child. The priest belongs to the people and his time should be theirs. Such service has been honored even in jokes. For instance, there’s the one about the Jewish man who calls a priest to his bedside on a rainy evening because “you wouldn’t call out a rabbi on a night like this!”

Priests obviously are not the only men called to think of others first and their families second. Doctors and policemen come to mind. But that choice is often hard on spouses and children who may not have the same sense of vocation. It's one thing to be selfless for one self. It's quite another to expect your loved ones to be so as well.

Another issue shining through today’s news reports is fidelity to a commitment. Lifetime commitments are respected by the church, whether it is a man’s promise of celibacy in the priesthood or a man or woman promising fidelity in marriage. Both commitments are entered into freely and, hopefully, with aforethought. It is painful to everyone involved when someone abandons a commitment. Like it or not, we all find inspiration in the commitments we see around us. To paraphrase John Donne, everyone’s fractured commitment diminishes me. That’s why wives grow anxious when they see infidelity. Elizabeth Edwards is example number one with her Resilience book tour.

People often point out that in the Eastern Rite churches, priests can marry, but it is worth noting they cannot marry once ordained. And when it comes to selecting their bishops, the Eastern churches choose bishops from among their celibate clergy. It’s more testimony to what the church sees as needed in its leadership, the spiritual fathers with an undivided heart.

Celibacy is not a matter of dogma; it’s a matter of discipline. Dogma is a matter of faith; a discipline is something put into place because it has a tangible, practical value in the life of the church here and now. Thus, theoretically it’s possible that the rule of celibacy could change. Whether or not it should will be discussed for a long time. Meanwhile, there’s no denying the benefit of celibacy to the church and society around it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Numbers Racket

Media often ask how many Catholics there are in the U.S. There’s no simple answer. Catholics are the largest congregation, but finding their exact number is not easy.

The Official Catholic Directory (OCD also known as the Kenedy Directory, in its 2008 edition gives the formidable number of 67,117,016. That includes Catholics not only in the 195 dioceses of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), but also those in dioceses of U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico, Samoa, Caroline Islands and the Virgin Islands. When you subtract the 3 million-plus Catholics in these territories, the number of Catholics covered by the USCCB is about 64,117,016.

The OCD statistics come from dioceses, and they collect their numbers from parishes. Thus, the OCD numbers are people identified by the parish. Some pastors count their registrants. However, registering is emphasized in the U.S., but not everywhere, so some immigrants do not enroll in a parish when they come here. Others, no matter where they hail from, don’t sign up for anything. Some pastors periodically count the people in the pews and augment parish registration numbers with sacramental records and other estimating procedures to account for those not registered. It’s an inexact science.

Many undocumented persons don’t enroll because they are leery about giving anyone personal information, lest it lead to deportation. That, and the fact that most Latino and Mexican immigrants are Catholic, suggests that the OCD numbers underestimate. Recent U.S. Census numbers estimated the number of Latino/Hispanics at 44.3 million; other studies say 60 to 80 percent of them are Catholic. This makes it a safe bet that the number of Catholics in the U.S. is significantly higher than the OCD’s official estimate.

It is also noteworthy that when surveys, such as the Pew Religious Landscape Survey, ask people to identify their religious affiliation, about a quarter of all U.S. adults say they are Catholic. That corresponds to about 73 million adult Catholics. That’s 73 million not counting minors.

How one defines Catholic also bears looking at. The Code of Canon Law holds that all people who are baptized Catholic are Catholic and that a pastor is responsible for all Catholics in his territory. Even when people leave the Catholic Church we refer to them as an ex-Catholic or former Catholic, sort of Catholic in absentia.

Years ago a “good Catholic” meant a daily communicant, today, a “church-going Catholic.” Self-identified Catholics include everyone from the daily Mass-goers to the “born Catholic,” found in church only for their wedding and, they expect, their funeral. The word “catholic” by definition, means “comprehensive, universal,” so it’s hard to argue with their self-appellation and perhaps even judgmental to try. Note: No one is born Catholic; Catholicity comes through baptism, not birth.

The Irish writer James Joyce famously defined the Catholic Church as “here comes everybody.” When you do the numbers, Joyce may be as right as anyone.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Odds and Ends as the Pope Travels

With Pope Benedict off on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the next week will be a flurry of statements, meetings and photo opportunities, all of a historic nature and termed in a quote in one news source as perhaps the most challenging trip of his pontificate.

As the trip unfolds, Catholic News Service is keeping up with the pope's every step. They've already offered this analysis and have already posted the pope's speech from his first stop in Jordan on their blog.

As this unfolds, the question of Catholic-Jewish relations looms with the pope's visit to Israel next week. While the controversy from earlier this year is still fresh in mind, the USCCB offers additional background on this relationship, both from our offices and other sources.

First, the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB offers a page of documentation on the U.S. end of things, including archival statements and news releases going back to shortly after the complete reboot of Catholic-Jewish relations at the Second Vatican Council.

The Vatican Web site offers a comprehensive record that includes the speeches from Pope John Paul II's 2000 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to which Benedict's pilgrimage has been frequently compared and contrasted, even before it's occurred. Highlights from John Paul include his remarks at the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem and his historic prayer at the Western Wall.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


This morning saw another bishop's appointment in the U.S., with the pope accepting the resignation of Bishop Bernard Harrington of Winona (thanks for your service, Bishop Harrington) and Coadjutor Bishop John M. Quinn succeeding Bishop Harrington (congrats, Bishop Quinn).

While it was announced, just as every other appointment, by the apostolic nuncio in Washington and the pope in Rome simultaneously, this appointment didn't have quite the same dropped-out-of-the-sky feel as some in that it was preceded by another announcement last fall, naming Bishop Quinn, then an auxiliary bishop of Detroit, as Bishop Harrington's coadjutor.

In other words, it was just a matter of time before the torch was passed.

This is only clear, however, if coadjutor is already conveniently part of your vocabulary, which for the many of us, it isn't. But one of the charming aspects of Catholicism is the endless potential for learning, either through history, prayer and reflection, or the endless layers of church concepts and terminology.

The USCCB's online glossary of Catholic terms defines coadjutor:
A bishop appointed to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist the diocesan bishop. Unlike an auxiliary bishop—see auxiliary bishop—he has the right of succession, meaning that he automatically becomes the new bishop when the diocesan bishop retires or dies. By canon law, he is also vicar general of the diocese. If the diocese is an archdiocese, he is called coadjutor archbishop instead of coadjutor bishop. In recent years a growing number of U.S. bishops in larger dioceses or archdioceses have requested and received a coadjutor in the final year or two before their retirement, in order to familiarize their successor with the workings of the (arch)diocese before he has to take over the reins.
Seems simple enough.

A couple other random facts worth noting: the Catholic Church in the U.S. has one other coadjutor at present, Coadjutor Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati (formerly bishop of Duluth), who has the right of succession when Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk retires. Also, prior to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Rome could distinguish between a coadjutor who had the right of succession and one who did not. This distinction does not exist in the current code, as canon 403, paragraph 3 plainly states, "... a coadjutor bishop does possess the right of succession."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In advance, a likely no comment

The retirement of Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter has prompted a lot of comments. Some have commented that the nominee to fill the high court vacancy should be dedicated to interpreting the Constitution rather than "legislating from the bench." President Obama commented that he wants a justice with "empathy."

And when the White House announces its pick in the coming days or weeks, a face and a personal and professional background will enter this discussion, eliciting even more comments.

In the midst of all this, it might be worth noting in advance that the U.S. bishops, as a body, will likely be making "no comment" on the nominee. This isn't because the matter is somehow unimportant, or that there won't be something of note to say about Obama's pick for the court. It's simply that the bishops don't make a habit on commenting on individual nominees, whether for the Supreme Court, cabinet posts or otherwise.

In spite of this trend, it wouldn't be fair to say we somehow have a shortage of official statements from the U.S. bishops or the Catholic Church at the national level. From specific policy decisions by the Obama Administration on matters of human life and dignity to specific legislation before Congress, from the 2009 H1N1 virus to the 2010 census, the U.S. bishops speak out consistently on matters facing the Catholic Church and the world today.

But then what makes nominees for the cabinet, judiciary, etc. so different? Apart from the admonition of Jesus to judge not lest we be judged, the best answer to this question probably resides with Justice Souter himself. His evolution from safe conservative nominee to reliably liberal justice is Supreme Court folklore. It doesn't take much to envision the nightmare of the U.S. bishops being on record saying, "this nominee's grrrrreat," only to have the new justice turn around and rule with the majority in, for instance, a case striking down abortion restrictions in all 50 states.

A piece of legislation or an executive order is concrete and static and can be studied and approved or disapproved by anyone, including the U.S. bishops. A human being, made in the image of God and given free will, is full of surprises.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Looking Ahead to Israel

In the first of what will hopefully be a few pieces from our office regarding Pope Benedict XVI's May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land, Father James Massa, executive director of the USCCB's Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, offers a reflection on the significance of this visit on the Media Relations Web page.

As an expert on interreligious issues who did his dissertation on the writings and theology of Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict), Father Massa is uniquely equipped to offer insights on what promises to be a historic visit.

Happy Cinco de Mayo: Hope for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

There’s hope for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), says Kevin Appleby, immigration policy whiz at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ office for Migration and Refugee Services. Notes Appleby:

President Obama got the ball rolling with a March meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) where lawmakers stressed the need for CIR this year. Soon after, President Obama spoke at a town hall meeting in California about the need for CIR. In April, the Administration formally announced their intention to pursue CIR and the President is expected to convene working groups of policymakers and advocates to begin discussing the content of the bill. Timing for CIR legislation still remains unclear, but the Senate held its first CIR hearing of 2009 on April 30.

At an April 29th press conference, President Obama again addressed immigration reform. He expressed his desire to work with Senator John McCain, saying McCain has "the right position" on reform. Noted the President: "We can't continue with a broken immigration system. It's not good for anybody. It's not good for American workers. It's dangerous for Mexican would-be workers who are trying to cross a dangerous border. It is -- it is putting a strain on border communities, who oftentimes have to deal with a host of undocumented workers. And it keeps those undocumented workers in the shadows, which means they can be exploited at the same time as they're depressing U.S. wages."

Mr. Obama said he wants to start movement on CIR this year and hopes to convene working groups with Congressional lawmakers to shape the bill. He also stressed the importance of taking administrative steps through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to improve border security and reform worksite enforcement so that Americans gain confidence in the enforcement of current law.

On April 30, DHS released new policy directives to guide Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in worksite enforcement operations. The directives call for ICE to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who recruit and hire illegal workers. ICE is to seek out the commitment of the relevant U.S. Attorney to prosecute the targeted employer before ICE arrests any illegal workers at a worksite. The directives expand ICE's current humanitarian guidelines to worksite enforcement actions involving 25 or more illegal workers (from the previous 150). Under the new policy guidance, DHS will continue to arrest illegal workers it encounters in its investigations.

On April 30, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security held a hearing: "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009: Can We Do It and How?" Speakers included former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who said that illegal immigrants provide a safety valve as demand for workers increases and decreases. He asserted that illegal immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of our economy, and that legal reform is badly needed. He responded to questioning that undocumented immigrants do not compete with Americans for jobs by and large, except at the bottom end of the economy, where they compete with high school dropouts.

Chairman of the Subcommitee, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), said, "No one is happy with our current system," and now is the time to enact significant reform. Montgomery County, MD Police Chief Thomas Manger stressed the way in which reform which targets criminal immigrants rather than unlawful workers would facilitate crime-fighting through stronger relationships with the undocumented community.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Who Speaks for the Bishops?

The phone rings, and the reporter on the other end of the line asks, "Why is this other bishop quoted in the release you just put out? Isn't Cardinal George the president of the USCCB?"

What typically follows is a technical explanation of how, per the structure of the USCCB, different bishops serve as the chairmen of different committees that deal primarily with certain issues of importance to the Catholic Church. Bishop-chairmen are elected to three-year terms by their brother bishops, during which time they are the leading U.S. Church voices on any of a number of issues.

So it follows that Bishop John C. Wester, chairman of the migration committee, is the designated spokesman in a statement on immigration, or that Cardinal Justin Rigali, chair of Pro-Life Activities, is responsible for the statements on abortion and stem cells.

But then matters do arise where it's appropriate to have Cardinal George himself speak for the U.S. bishops as their president. This could be an urgent matter where a voice needs to speak out at the highest level for the Church in the United States, or a case where the USCCB wants to give special weight and priority to a particular issue.

In some cases, it's appropriate to have a USCCB staff member speak out. For instance, Richard Doerflinger from Pro-Life Activities is more knowledgeable on the issue of stem cell research than many, lay or ordained, in the U.S. Church.

This question of who speaks for whom and when highlights a foundational issue for the Catholic Church: teaching authority. The Church is always teaching as it engages the world. But when multiple voices are speaking and teaching, the issue of authority comes up. Authority is, to an extent, about jurisdiction. A pastor teaches and preaches on the parish level, but a diocesan bishop is the ultimate authority in his diocese. And the bishop of Rome, the pope, holds universal teaching authority for the entire Church.

Missing from this ancient model, one might notice, is the national level. And this suggests one reason why, at the Second Vatican Council, the Church recommended the formation of national conferences of Catholic bishops. In short, the Church needs a structure, an apparatus for exercising and expressing its teaching on the national level. There is no "American pope" or "national bishop" (though some would point to New York, the media capital of the world).

How the church speaks nationally is also influenced by another Vatican II theme: collegiality, or collaboration in the governance of the Church. The USCCB is a working example of collegiality, evidenced by the array of voices one can find in its statements, documents and news releases.

"The Catholic Church is not a democracy," goes the common saying, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of cooperation and consultation at work. As a priest friend of mine says, "It has little bits of democracy sprinkled throughout." Whether it's the conclave to elect a pope, a parish council voting to recommend a new church building, or the U.S. bishops electing their brother bishops to speak on the national level for a given time on an appointed topic, the Catholic Church presents a model that some compare to cooperating parts of a body. Others would use words like community, or better, communion.