ATLANTA -- Briefing the U.S. bishops Wednesday on current threats to religious liberty in the nation, speakers at the bishops' meeting last week said January's federal Health and Human Services rule sharply narrowing the definition of religious organizations is only one among many current threats, despite media coverage that has focused almost entirely on the mandate.
The tone of discussion between the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a priest who has been threatened with excommunication and removal from the order for his support of women's ordination, has seemingly changed direction.
While the order has recently taken a number of formal moves to remove Bourgeois -- including holding an official vote of its leadership on the matter earlier this year -- the priest says a June 6 meeting between his superior general and him saw no discussion of his removal and instead focused on a discussion of the rights of conscience of Catholics.
The nation's Catholic bishops, gathered in Atlanta this week for their annual spring meeting, have discussed various issues of great import for the church, from their policies against sexual abuse to their campaign on behalf of religious freedom.
But the suggestion Thursday that the hierarchy consider hiring a chief spokesperson for the first time prompted the most intense soul-searching so far. The debate reflected a tension between the historic reluctance of individual bishops to cede their own pulpits and the recognition that the bishops have been losing the media war in recent high-profile controversies.
"We need more help and more sophistication in our messaging," said Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley. O'Malley strongly endorsed the proposal to hire a chief spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the hierarchy's Washington-based organizational and public policy arm.
ATLANTA -- At its spring meeting in Atlanta, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly agreed to have its Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development draft a special USCCB message, Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy, for this fall.
Amid continuing headlines about cover-ups of child abuse in the Catholic Church, an oversight board of lay Catholics on Wednesday (June 13) warned the nation's bishops that they must follow their own policies against abuse more rigorously if they hope to restore their fragile credibility.
"If there is anything that needs to be disclosed in a diocese, it needs to be disclosed now," Al J. Notzon III, head of the bishops' National Review Board, told some 200 prelates gathered in Atlanta for their annual spring meeting. "No one can no longer claim they didn't know."
The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes 10 years after the hierarchy met in Dallas and passed a series of reforms to respond to a siege of bad publicity about sex abuse by priests. It also comes as a jury in Philadelphia weighs the fate of a high-ranking priest who's facing criminal charges of concealing abuse by clerics, and as a bishop from Missouri awaits trial on charges that he failed to report a suspected child molester to authorities.
ATLANTA -- Addressing the U.S. bishops Wednesday morning, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, papal nuncio to the United States, endorsed their Fortnight for Freedom and said he plans to participate in observances locally in the Archdiocese of Washington.
The U.S. Catholic church is facing a significant challenge on "the whole question of freedom of religion and conscience," he said.
Nearly lost amid ongoing reports about the Vatican leaks scandal, Rome's battle with American nuns, the American bishops' battle for religious freedom, and the priest on trial in Philadelphia, was the news that, by the way, Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit Philadelphia.
ROME -- A misunderstanding of the Second Vatican Council has led some Catholics to think that eucharistic adoration and Corpus Christi processions are pietistic practices that pale in importance to the celebration of Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said.
"A unilateral interpretation of the Second Vatican Council has penalized this dimension" of Catholic faith, which is to recognize Jesus truly present in the Eucharist and worthy of adoration, the pope said June 7 during a Mass marking the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.
The evening Mass outside Rome's Basilica of St. John Lateran preceded a moment of silent adoration and the pope's traditional Corpus Christi procession with the Eucharist through the streets of Rome.
In his homily, the pope told the thousands of people gathered on the basilica lawn that it is important to recognize the centrality of the celebration of Mass, the moment in which the Lord gathers his people, nourishes them and unites them to himself in offering his sacrifice.
VATICAN CITY -- Paolo Gabriele, the papal assistant, has been accused of aggravated theft, a crime that under Vatican laws is punishable with a prison term of 1 to 6 years, a Vatican judge said.
Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, the judge, said under the terms of the Vatican's 1929 treaty with Italy, a person found guilty and sentenced to jail time by a Vatican court would serve his term in an Italian prison.
The judge also said that while Gabriele remains detained in a 12-foot-by-12-foot room in the Vatican police station, he was allowed to attend Mass June 3 in an unspecified "Vatican church." Two gendarmes accompanied Gabriele to the church, but he was not required to wear handcuffs, the judge said.
The judge briefed reporters June 5 on how the Vatican criminal justice system works, particularly in view of the investigation currently under way regarding Gabriele and his alleged involvement in the publication of hundreds of private letters and notes to or from Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican officials.
VATICAN CITY -- Over the course of the last six months, Pope Benedict XVI delivered five major speeches to small groups of American bishops who were in Rome for their "ad limina" visits, which are required once every five years.
The "ad limina" visits are the way the pope and and Vatican departments keep tabs on bishops from around the world. They are also an occasion for the pope to address the major issues faced by a local church.