Monday, November 15, 2010

USCCB Coverage: Cardinal George Opening Address

Dear Brother Bishops:

Three years ago, we were preparing to receive the visit of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to this country and to the United Nations. Well prepared by both church and civil authorities, his visit introduced the people of our country to a quiet and loving man, persuasive in his gentle presence and strong in his words, which echo those of Christ. The Pope’s visit to our country presaged similarly powerful visits to Australia and, this year, to the United Kingdom. While the preliminary stories are always of scandal and dissent and protest, the stories during and after such visits finally yield to the sentiments of the hundreds of thousands of believers who gather around him as successor of Peter and visible head of Christ’s Church on earth. He confirmed us in our faith and in our vocation as bishops of the Catholic Church.

A year later, with the election of the first African American to the Presidency of this country, a cultural shift was marked that, no matter where one is politically, can only be greeted as an event of historic importance, and it was so recognized by us and by the world. Our county, however, continues to struggle with how to address the plight of newcomers who cross our borders seeking a better life for themselves and their families, even as that better life for our own citizens is threatened by the downturn in the economy. Throughout these years, the political and social divisions in our country have challenged us in our vocation to keep the Catholic people united visibly around Christ in his body, the Church. We have re-organized our Conference to respond to the challenges to the Church’s mission more effectively and to be of greater service to our local Churches, particularly in finding means to pass on the faith to the young through regular sacramental practice and to strengthen and defend the institution of marriage. This unity of purpose has been evident in the bishops’ ongoing determination to keep the promise made in 2002 to purify the priesthood of anyone who has ever abused a child, a promise guarded by the National Review Board and guaranteed by the various audits, safe environment programs and victims assistance ministries in our dioceses. This year we have welcomed the modifications to the universal Church law on the sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons; some of these provisions mirror or reinforce aspects of the essential norms that we asked the Holy See to allow us to use eight years ago in governing the Church here. In these three past years as President of the Conference, I have relied upon and am ever grateful for your good will, your cooperation and your prayers, and I have come to a deep appreciation of your pastoral expertise and fidelity to our common vocation as bishops in the Church. With all my heart, I thank you.

The renewal of the episcopal office in the Church and our greater unity of purpose and effectiveness in teaching and governing have not gone unchallenged by some who would either want to remake the Church according to their own designs or discredit her as a voice in the public discussions that shape our society. During this past year, the USCCB has been partner to the public debate on health care law. Our voice was that of the bishops of our country for the past hundred years: in a good society, everyone should be cared for, especially the poor. The goal of basic health care for all continues to be a moral imperative, not yet completely achieved, but it is not now and has not been up to the bishops to decide the means to realize that goal. We have only very cautiously entered into details of public policy, for this is more properly the work of lay people, as it has been in the health care debate. Universal health care can be delivered

using many means: everything publicly funded, everything privately funded or a mixture of the two. Any of these solutions could be moral, and it is up to lay people to decide which are the best means to see to it that everyone is cared for.

But once political leaders and health care experts decided to use government subsidized insurance as the vehicle, the means, for providing more universal health care, it was our moral obligation as teachers of the faith to judge whether the means pass moral muster, whether or not the proposed legislation uses public funds to kill those living in their mother’s womb.
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