- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2014

BALTIMORE — Just a month after their synod on family matters at the Vatican, American bishops on Monday ribbed the media on its coverage of the historic meeting, which ended with a watered-down version of a church welcome to Catholic gays and divorcees.

“There must have been two synods,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2014 General Assembly. “What I heard and read, the real synod was divisive, confrontational, partisan, and dwelt only on same sex-marriage, cohabitation and divorce.

“Too bad we missed that real synod, brothers, because the one we were at was hardly as spicy, juicy, interesting or pugnacious,” Cardinal Dolan said. “In fact it was plodding, even at times tedious, but it was a synod of consensus.”

During the two-week Extraordinary Synod of Catholic Bishops, various reports were issued — notably on same-sex marriage and how “welcoming” the church should be toward gay people, prompting public and divergent responses from conservative and liberal Vatican observers.

“It was the tale of two synods,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky. “We’re Americans, we want answers now. But let’s allow the process to unfold itself.

“While the teachings of the Church remain timeless, the application that has changed each age because of circumstances. People were eager to bring some things to conclusion, which I think is natural. We are still engaged in the process that at least half [of which] has yet to unfold,” said Archbishop Kurtz, who was elected as the U.S. Conference’s president last November.

Hundreds of bishops from across the country convened for the first day of their General Assembly, which focused Monday on the decline in parochial school enrollment, spreading the Catholic message and the evolution of family life.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle presented a status report on the Conference’s strategic plan titled “The New Evangelization: Faith, Worship, Witness.”

Archbishop Sartain told the attendees that the Conference recently launched a “Become a Shepherd” parish tool kit ahead of National Migration Week in January. The Conference also has “made strides on the priority of life and human dignity,” he said, adding that several amicus briefs for pending court cases had been filed on behalf of the Conference.

Bishops also learned about what is being done to address the shrinking Catholic school system in the U.S. In a presentation, Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, and Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, spoke about the importance of building relationships between a community and school.

“Catholic schools are a vital aspect of the Church’s mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and they are important to the future and vitality of the Church in the United States,” Archbishop Lucas said. “Our schools tend to operate as communities rather than bureaucracies. Our schools cannot continue with business as usual and expect to thrive.”

According to the most recent data provided by the Conference, enrollment for the 2011-12 school year was about 2 million students, compared to 6.5 million students in 1965. Of those 2 million students, nearly 20 percent are minorities.

“We’re welcoming more children from diverse populations,” Bishop Flores said. “Latinos are the fastest growing school-age population.”

Despite that large population, said Bishop Flores, the church still struggles with reaching those families, many of whom are not aware that Catholic school is an option for them.

“Parents do not know how to access the system and in general many of our schools are not culturally responsive to the Latino community,” the bishop said.

The General Assembly is scheduled Monday through Thursday.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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