Worldly Concerns on Agenda for Bishops

By Paul Asay
The Gazette [Englewood CO]
June 11, 2004

About 250 current and retired Roman Catholic bishops will meet in Englewood next week for a spiritual retreat, but they’ll be forced to deal with some worldly concerns.

Several advocacy groups will hold events around the bishop’s June 14-19 retreat, even though it is closed.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the retreat, called a special assembly, primarily is a time for “prayer and reflection.”

The bishops will discuss at least a few hot-button issues — the church’s reforms addressing sexual assault by priests, for one — and hear from a task force studying how Catholicism and public life coincide.

The task force is studying, among other issues, whether the church should withhold Communion from Catholics who support abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem-cell research — positions that counter the Catholic church’s teachings.

Bishop Michael Sheridan, head of the Diocese of Colorado Springs and a likely retreat attendee, has been a central figure in the debate.

Sheridan joined a few bishops in saying he’d deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem-cell research.

In a pastoral letter in May, he took the debate a step further when he said parishioners who back candidates who support abortion should decline Communion.

No bishop is scheduled to address the Communion issue publicly during the retreat, but that could change.

“There’s not a statement planned,” said Sergio Gutierrez, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Denver. “But if the bishops decide to release a statement, they’ll do so.”

The Task Force on Catholics in Public Life, the group studying the issue, isn’t expected to release a final report until after the November elections.

“They’re looking at whether there will be an interim statement or not,” said Susan Gibbs, communications director for the Diocese of Washington, D.C.

The diocese’s archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, leads the task force.

Gibbs stressed that the task force, formed last fall, is working on other issues dealing with how Catholics should respond to broad, often political issues relating to public life. These touch on topics including economics and foreign relations, Gibbs said.

“In fact when it (the task force) was formed, the Communion issue wasn’t even on the table,” Gibbs said.

Sheridan and other likeminded bishops will find support among a pair of special-interest groups in town for the retreat.

The Society for Truth and Justice, led by Operation Rescue founder and abortion opponent Randall Terry, reportedly will hold a 50-hour vigil outside the Inverness Hotel, where the bishops are meeting. The group will urge bishops to deny Communion to politicians who support abortion.

The American Life League, a Catholic group that staunchly supports bishops who would refuse Communion to candidates who support abortion, will announce a national newspaper ad exhorting bishops to take a stronger anti-abortion stance.

Call to Action, a Catholic reform group, plans a news conference to call for yearly checkups on sexual-abuse reforms and another to call for emphasizing issues beyond abortion this election. The group plans to hold an all-day vigil June 15 outside the Inverness.

Colorado Concerned Catholics, a lay group, has invited bishops to a vigil, prayer service and monthly meeting.

FutureChurch, a group advocating optional celibacy for priests, reportedly is issuing a survey suggesting some support for that position in the priesthood.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests will wrap up its June 11-13 conference in Denver as the bishops start their retreat.



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