Bishops’ conference elections: why they matter and what they portend

National Catholic Reporter

November 16, 2020

By Michael Sean Winters

The U.S. bishops’ conference begins its virtual plenary session this afternoon. On Friday, I looked at what I thought they should be discussing today and tomorrow. Sadly, if they do have that discussion, it will likely be mostly during executive session.

This morning, let’s look at the conference’s public agenda and especially at the elections of new committee chairs. Your average Catholic in the pew may not care who leads the Communications Committee at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or the Pro-Life Activities Committee, but it matters a lot to the direction the conference will take in the years ahead.

Overall, one question has hung over the conference’s meetings for seven years now: Will the U.S. bishops continue to resist the direction Pope Francis is trying to steer the church or will they engage his evangelical vision?

The first order of business will be addresses from the papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, and from the conference president, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles. Pierre is a diplomat and Gomez is one of the most mild-mannered people you could ever want to meet, so I do not expect fireworks in either address. Yet both men must address the recent report about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Of course, both must recommit the church to eradicating the scourge of clergy sex abuse, but it will be interesting to see how much either or both of them acknowledge the indictment of the clerical culture that report contained: a pope none-too-curious about the veracity of serious allegations about a prospective cardinal, bishops willing to lie to protect a friend and mentor, a diplomat — I am talkin’ about you, Viganò! — who did not carry out an investigation when requested, only to later complain that he was the only one trying to hold McCarrick accountable.

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