Monday, November 10, 2008

Day One, Evening Wrap

Before anything else, with this week's most-prominent topic making its first head-on appearance in the morning (even though it's been lingering through the air since everybody got here), it's important to note this: there exists a genuine desire among these bishops to listen to each other, that each might know where the others are coming from and, in the end, to speak with one voice.

At least, as best that can be done when you've got 300 very unique, strong personalities involved.

Suffice it to say, I've spent a healthy amount of time running around today... (with more on-deck tonight...) but the bottom line from everyone I've talked with has been that no one knows what's going to happen, and it's something each freely admits at the outset. Each has his thoughts and concerns (and, indeed, they're on a sliding scale); many are well-aware that the Holy See is willing and open to finding common ground with the new administration, quite possibly to a greater degree than not a few among the body might find themselves comfortable with.

All that said, the story evolves by the minute, behind closed doors and in small, huddled groups... but no one knows how it'll go until they all sit down to tackle it together.

And, well, you can't really ask for a better beginning -- or, to be candid, a more suspenseful state of things -- than that.

Oh, and while yesterday's Obama face-masks were nowhere in evidence today, one particularly prominent sign carried outside the hotel read "Would you serve Communion to Herod?"

Whatever happens tomorrow, it's pretty clear that all this won't be going away completely.

Regardless, as always, stay tuned.

* * *
For some other insights from the press corps down here -- all 85 of us, or so -- here's a quick whip-around....

From USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman, a filed story...
Scores of bishops had objected to the nuanced statement, which is revised every four years in advance of the presidential elections. The 2007 version took a strong stand against abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty and embryonic stem cell research. But it also brought up other "life" issues, such as social justice, the economy, and opposition to war, that voters should consider in choosing a candidate.

Nothing outweighs abortion or even balances the scales, said several bishops, including Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput, who gave one pre-election speech entitled, "Little Murders."

Monday in Baltimore, Chaput was undaunted.

"Persistence. Persistence. We just have to keep speaking the truth with love," he said. And, he added, they'll have to address the faithful citizenship guidance again to make it "sharper and simpler."

Biden's own bishop, Francis Malooly, who took over the diocese of Wilmington two months ago, said Monday he had spoken by phone with the senator but expects to meet personally with him in coming months.

Although some bishops have publicly told politicians who support abortion rights not to present themselves for Communion, Malooly simply said he looks forward to talking about church teachings "more deeply" with Biden.

"But 59% of the Catholics of Delaware voted for Obama and Biden so I have a lot of talking and teaching to do," said Malooly.
...and a blog post:
Monday, Archbishop Donald Wuerl, of Washington D.C., a supporter of the nuanced "Faithful Citizenship" document that bishops approved in 2007, took a long view.

"We can't be judged by one election," he says.

Instead, says Wuerl, the bishops will be judged by how faithful they are to teaching the Church's message.

No matter who the candidate, they are up against the competing voices of a culture that, as the pope said in his U.S. visit, is "secular, materialistic and highly individualistic."

The church, says Wuerl, is "transcendent, spiritual, and communitarian."

So, 1932 or 2008, his eye is on eternity.
From the Boston Globe's Michael Paulson:
The bishops are meeting at an uncomfortable moment – dozens of them strongly urged Catholics to make the abortion issue their top priority in the voting booth, and yet, according to exit polls, a majority of Catholic voters chose Obama, who supports abortion rights, over John McCain, who opposes abortion. As George said, “we meet amidst enormous challenges to our church, our country, and our ministry.’’ The bishops have scheduled a full discussion of the issue for tomorrow afternoon.

In his remarks this morning, George referred to the church’s interest in the “common good” of society, but said, “the common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice.’’

George said “we must all rejoice” at the election of an African-American president. But he rued the dilemma facing Catholics who oppose abortion in America....

George acknowledged that the church faces “dissent from some of her teachings and dissatisfaction with aspects of her governance.’’ But, he said, “Strengthening people’s relationship with Christ remains our primary concern and duty as bishops.’’ And, in an apparent allusion to the Catholic vice-president-elect, Sen. Joe Biden, he said, “We extend that pastoral concern, especially at the beginning of a new administration and a new Congress, to Catholics of either major party serving others in government. We respect and love you, and we pray that the Catholic faith will shape your decisions so that our communion may be full.’’
From the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen, a report on one of the day's regrettably under-covered events -- the cameo appearance by the Vatican's Charity Czar, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes:
Among other things, Cordes expressed awe – and, perhaps, just a twinge of envy – at the financial resources generated by American Catholic charities. He noted, for example, that Catholic Relief Services has a budget of $555 million for overseas relief. By way of comparison, he said, the Vatican office he heads has a budget of just $13 million, which he jokingly described as “peanuts.”

America, however, is not the only place where Catholic charity is big business. He pointed to Germany, where the Catholic relief organization Caritas has a payroll of 500,000 people, making it, he said, the second-largest employer after the state.

Those resources are “a cause for rejoicing,” Cordes said, but added that the church must also be “vigilant about their side-effects.”

“Charitable organizations must not forget the Christian meaning of their activity, influenced by the present philanthropic climate or by excessive reliance on public funds,” Cordes said. Catholic charity, Cordes said, is intended to be a “sign of God’s goodness.”

Cordes said that Cor Unum recently organized a set of spiritual exercises for leaders in church-run charities, to some extent designed to foster a clear sense of what makes Catholic charitable activity distinct from its secular counterparts.

The comments from Cordes may help set the stage for a planned discussion tomorrow by the bishops about their Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which funds anti-poverty programs, and its relationship with the “Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now,” a network of local community groups commonly known as ACORN.

In part, tomorrow’s discussion by the bishops is intended to allay concerns ahead of a planned national collection in American parishes for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development set for Nov. 22-23.

Last June, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) decided to suspend $1.13 million in grant funding to ACORN on the basis of concerns about “financial management, fiscal transparency and organizational accountability,” according to a letter to the bishops from Auxiliary Bishop Roger Morin of New Orleans, who chairs a subcommittee of the bishops’ conference on the CCHD.

The action came after reports that more than $1 million had been embezzled from ACORN during 1999 and 2000. A task force was convened by the subcommittee to study what happened to CCHD’s grants to ACORN over the last decade....

he discussion of CCHD and ACORN is set for a plenary session tomorrow. In the meantime, the CCHD is sponsoring a reception for the bishops this evening in Baltimore’s Marriott Waterfront hotel.

The heart of Cordes’ presentation was devoted to Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est, in part devoted to laying out the theological roots of Christian charitable activity.

As opposed to other social encyclicals from previous popes, Cordes said, which tended to focus on “factual problems in society and concrete changes,” Deus Caritas Est takes a more ad intra approach, focusing on divine revelation and the example of Christ.

“The first aim is not to change society and structures, but the human heart, which is the foundation for those structures,” Cordes said.

Cordes also offered a peek “behind the curtain” on the evolution of the encyclical. It had first been commissioned, he said, by Pope John Paul II, but work on the document bogged down when the late pope’s health went into decline. Cordes said he showed his draft to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who upon his election as pope decided to return to the subject.

Yet, Cordes said, Benedict XVI put his own distinctive touches on the document. Where Cordes had begun his draft with a reflection on the general climate of philanthropic activity in today’s world, he said, the pope began with a spiritual focus on God as the source of all love – thereby, he said, giving the church’s charitable activity a “theocentric focus.”
And -- last, but never least -- from the Conference's in-house wire, the intrepid Jim Lackey of the CNSBlog... who's literally been posting minute-by-minute:
12:03 p.m.: [Vincentian Fr David O'Connell, president of the Catholic University of America] concludes by recalling that he was worried about what he would say to the pope when they shared an elevator ride during the papal visit. But the pope set him at ease when he told Father O’Connell that CUA is “a truly great Catholic university.”

12:01 p.m.: Difficult times because of the current economic crisis, but Father O’Connell says fundraising has been strong.

11:51 a.m.: Father O’Connell says he’s proud that the pope chose CUA as “his pulpit” for addressing the U.S. bishops last April. And he says the impact of the papal visit on the students of the university is hard to describe.

11:47 a.m.: Next up, a report to the bishops by Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell, president of The Catholic University of America. He’s grateful for the bishops’ support, both personally and financially, for “the bishops’ university.”

11:43 a.m.: Archbishop [Daniel] Pilarczyk of Cincinnati draws a laugh from the bishops when he notes that the proposed document is erroneous when it refers to “a varia” since the singular form of the word is “varium.” The proposal then is approved.
Long post, sure... but just a reminder that a lot of great folks are doing some amazing work 'round this place in these days.

Again, more to come.

PHOTO: AP/Steve Ruark