Abuse Issues, Investments Top Bishops' Agenda

By Patricia Rice
Downloaded November 10, 2003

Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville is in Washington finishing the last-minute agenda for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' four-day fall meeting, which opens there Monday.

Thursday will mark the beginning of the final year of his three-year term as conference president.

Bishop Joseph F. Naumann, as the administrator of the St. Louis archdiocese, also will be among the more than 300 bishops and about nine cardinals in attendance.

The bishops will hear a report on how the 194 U.S. archdioceses and dioceses are complying with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth. The work of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, the National Review Board, and the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse will be discussed.

After three meetings where the misgovernance of sexual abusers has been the major focus, the bishops hope to widen the agenda.

Getting their house in order will include approving the revision of the conference's guidelines governing investments.

New guidelines, if approved, would prohibit the conference from investing in any company involved in sweatshops, "predatory lending," embryonic stem cell research, fetal tissue research, cloning, pornography and the production and sale of land mines.

The conference would continue to follow current guidelines, in effect since 1991, forbidding it to invest in companies guilty of racial and gender discrimination, or involved in weapons production or in abortion or contraceptives.

The current guidelines were held up as a model for diocesan investments. Gregory and the conference, a networking organization, hold no legislative power over individual dioceses. However, those 1991 guidelines also influenced investments by hundreds of religious orders, Catholic universities, parishes and lay Catholics. The conference's investment portfolio is $175 million, used for its building fund, an endowment fund to offset increases in diocesan assessments and operating funds.

The revised guidelines would move the conference from just screening investments to actively encouraging companies that support the environment or repair the disparity of goods and health services between the Third World and First World nations.

In one session, bishops will find ways to help their flocks understand farm issues. They likely will approve an action plan to pass along to the dioceses and parishes seeking justice for farmers, farm workers and fair distribution of their harvests.

Bishops also will vote on a document that will look to the future of traditional Catholic devotions. Many Catholics under 35 recently have taken up devotions such as the rosary and novenas to saints. Many of their parents had put aside such devotions in the 1960s when the Second Vatican Council pressed Catholics to remember that the life of the church centered on Mass and other official liturgical worship.

Bishops are expected to pass a new doctrinal paper, "Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and Answers."

The document stresses that popular devotional practices play a crucial role in helping to foster a Catholic's daylong, "ceaseless prayer."

"Properly used, popular devotional practices do not replace the liturgical life of the Church; rather, they extend it into daily life," the document says.

However, the bishops want to be sure that the revival of older practices is "fully consistent" with the theological and ecumenical developments of recent decades.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.