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Bishops hear update on Latin American drive to rev up missionary efforts

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Though it’s a point sometimes lost in American Catholic debate, the roughly seventy million Catholics in the United States represent just six percent of the global Catholic population of almost 1.2 billion. That would seem to imply the need for some attention to Catholic dynamics outside American airspace, and today the U.S. bishops made a nod in that direction, hearing a report on the 2007 assembly of the Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil.

Archbishop Roberto Nieves Gonzalez of San Juan, Puerto Rico, tried to sum up the main points of the month-long gathering during an afternoon address to the spring meeting of the U.S. bishops in San Antonio, Texas.

Nieves covered a lot of ground, but he suggested that the lasting importance of Aparecida, the fifth general gathering of Latin American bishops since 1955, may be its missionary thrust. In their concluding document, the Latin American bishops suggested that the entire Christian life can be understood in terms of being a “disciple missionary.”

The signature idea of Aparecida was the “Great Continental Mission,” meaning a coordinated continent-wide missionary effort unfolding at the diocesan level.

Lay group asks bishops to tackle economic crisis

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The lone formal channel of input for lay Catholics to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended today that the bishops tackle the current economic crisis, addressing issues such as homelessness, health care, and unemployment.

t“There’s a strong consensus that [the crisis] touches and impacts all people and every Catholic in some way,” said Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, speaking on behalf of the National Advisory Council.

tMembership of the council includes bishops, men and women religious, diocesan priests, deacons and lay persons, and is designed as a way for Catholics at the grassroots to comment on the work of the bishops' conference. The most numerous group (30 members) is comprised of lay men and women, appointed by the bishops, representing different geographic regions.

tWester told the bishops this afternoon that because the conference is taking up fewer documents these days, the council has had time to ponder issues that aren’t part of the formal USCCB agenda. Their recommendation on the economic crisis is one fruit of that effort.

Bishops to speak on immigration reform

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At the beginning of their spring meeting in San Antonio, the U.S. bishops decided to wade into the national debate over immigration reform. Either this afternoon or tomorrow morning, the bishops will vote on a statement from Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, addressed to President Barack Obama and the members of Congress.

Immigration was not part of the prepared agenda for the meeting, but during the first session this afternoon, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles proposed adding a statement from George to the agenda.

"We're meeting in Texas, which is a very important state in the immigration debate," Mahony said, proposing that George make a statement as lawmakers in Washington "undertake immigration reform, which is supposed to get underway next week."

In wake of Obama flap, colleges seek new policy on inviting politicians

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Though the U.S. bishops don’t have the recent flap over Notre Dame and President Barack Obama on their formal agenda this week in San Antonio, the aftermath of that episode is very much in the air. As it happens, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the main umbrella group for Catholic colleges in America, has a suggestion for the bishops: to scrap their current policy and make a clearer distinction between “honoring” a politician who holds views contrary to church teaching and merely providing a platform.

t The ACCU made its recommendation during a June 11-12 meeting of its board of directors, held at the University of San Diego.

tThe following is the summary of their discussion, provided by the summer issue of the ACCU newsletter:

Immigration reform ... now

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It would be difficult to conjure in the imagination a church more redolent of nineteenth century White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism than the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington, D.C. The large white structure boasts a Tiffany stained glass window, an Aeolian-Skinner organ from Boston, and is home to a low-church liturgy: While planning my best friend’s funeral at the church in 1989, the rector declined the use of incense because the congregation was "unused to such a symbol." That rector, Dr. Edgar Romig, was widely considered the best preacher in the city and preaching was the focus of the service. He was a lovely man and, in archetypal WASP fashion, he summered at the Cape.

Today, however, Epiphany is hosting a distinctly non-WASP event: a prayer vigil for immigration reform that will include prayers from a rabbi, a Unitarian minister, an evangelical pastor and a Roman Catholic priest. What has brought this diverse group together is the recognition that whatever one's political or ideological dispositions, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures cannot be read in any faithful manner that would allow one to ignore the plight of undocumented workers in the United States.

Irish TV looks into abuse by Dublin clergy

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Ireland is still reeling, trying to cope with the disclosures of the Ryan Commission's 2,600-page report detailing a government investigation into the physical and sexual abuse of children in church-run schools and orphanages.

Yet to come this summer is a report on investigation into sexual abuse of minors by clergy of the Dublin archdiocese. Details are slowly coming out: 60,000 documents reviewed, hundreds of children abused, 152 priests accused but only a small friction were ever prosecuted.

Ireland's TV 3 aired an hour-long program Tuesday night into the investigation. The program, Abuse of Trust: The Sins of Our Fathers," can be viewed on line along with several extended interviews of victims and religious superiors.

Hat tip for this to Kathy Shaw, who keeps the Abuse Tracker up to date over at www.bishop-accountability.org.

Bishops on Obama: Strong views, no consensus

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At the bishops’ spring meeting in San Antonio today, I also spoke with Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry of Los Angeles about the Notre Dame’s controversial decision to invite President Barack Obama to commencement. Curry is chair of the bishops’ Committee on Education, and thus likely to be a key player in discussions about the Notre Dame case and in future discussions with Catholic university presidents. I asked him:

You say there will be discussion of the Notre Dame case, but do you think there will be a decision of some sort?

Curry:It would be wonderful if we could have a decision that everyone would agree on, but I would doubt very much that everybody is going to come to a consensus at the moment. I would see it as a continuing discussion and exchange of views, and some of the views are very strong and passionate.

Read the full interview here: ‘No consensus’ on follow-up to Notre Dame flap

Read also my interveiw with bishops' conference vice president Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson: No push to punish Notre Dame for Obama invite.

'No punishment for Notre Dame,' says bishops' conference vice-president

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I sat down with Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona yesterday and asked him about the fallout from the debate over the University of Notre Dame’s decision to award an honorary doctorate to President Barack Obama, and to invite him to deliver the university’s annual commencement address May 17.

Catholic bishops and the California crisis

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California faces a looming budget deficit somewhere in the $20 billion to $25 billion range (the exact figures seems to change every day), but Democrats and Republicans can only seem to agree on one way out of the mess: drastic cuts in programs to help the poor, the infirm, and children.

It's an ugly stalemate and odd in Sacramento, a debate that only seems to be about just how terrible tears in the social fabric should be: Republicans and Governor Schwarzenegger insist they want all-cuts to close the gap, not a penny in new taxes. Democrats are pushing for some new taxes and fee hikes -- but even that would still require heavy cuts that would fall mostly on the disadvantaged.

In this quagmire now steps the California Catholic Bishops Conference. As columnist Tim Rutten writes in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times, the bishops last week called for both sides to give top priority to the needs of children, the poor, and disabled.

Why can't we be sane about the death penalty?

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Eighty-eight percent of the country’s top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide, according to a new study published this week in Northwestern University School of Law’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. The study was authored by Professor Michael Radelet, Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Traci Lacock, an attorney and Sociology graduate student in Boulder.

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