Sunday, November 13, 2005

USCCB Pre-Game: Will Doctrine Prevail?

The members of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops were given a picture-perfect Washington day to check into the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill in anticipation of their annual November Meeting, which begins tomorrow morning.

The weather may be warm, but the marquee race is "hot."

With the boys all in town, fierce jockeying is taking place behind the scenes in the run-up to Tuesday morning's election of a new General Secretary, the chief staffer who facilitates the day-to-day activities of the Conference. (And, by the by, Bishop-elect Walker Nickless of Sioux City is on the ground four days after his appointment, taking part in the festivities.)

Pitting Msgr. John Strynkowski, a Brooklyn priest who served until late last year as the Conference's top staffer for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, against current Associate General Secretary Msgr. David Malloy, a priest of Milwaukee, the race to succeed Msgr. William Fay in the USCCB's top full-time job has been particularly heated. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, a well-respected figure among his confreres with a history of being able to forge consensus on the floor, has been pushing hard to get his local candidate over the top. A group referred to in turns as the "[Wilton] Gregory group" or the "Trautman group" is also on the Strynkowski bandwagon, which seems to be gathering strength.

The choices are, in a word, divergent -- Malloy the status quo enforcer with the brilliant canonical aecumen, Strynkowski the vivid mind who would rejuvenate the national body, making it "more adventurous," as one participant in the discussions put it.

Elsewhere around town, the archbishop of Chicago (also the Conference's vice-president, of course) has been prominent on the scene, making the rounds of the concerts, receptions and other events which form the backdrop of the November Meeting; he is, after all, the de facto head of the American hierarchy right now. Tomorrow night, after Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the bishops will be dining at the Apostolic Nunciature as Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo hosts what is likely to be his farewell dinner with the American hierarchy.

As they prepare to consider a document on "The Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death," those prelates who cared to show up were treated to a "very moving" panel on the topic earlier today. Lay ministry and the Eastern Churches are also on the agenda; Cardinals Ouellet (for the Quebec Eucharistic Congress in 2008) and Daoud are slated to speak.

And lastly, at this first meeting since Dallas where sex abuse isn't on the formal agenda, the subjects to be covered in the two and a half days of the closed executive and provincial sessions which begin Tuesday at noon are starting to trickle out. As always, keep an eye here for further developments.