Monday, June 14, 2004

America’s Catholic bishops are gathering near Denver this week for a six-day retreat, during which they will pray over and discuss issues involving the 65-million-member U.S. church, such as eligibility for Communion and clergy sexual misconduct.

The retreat, which begins today and ends Saturday, includes a review of the 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” a document commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to address the church’s massive clergy sex-abuse crisis.

The expected 250 to 275 bishops also will get a progress report from Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, chairman of the Task Force on Catholics in Public Life, on the panel’s work on how to deal with Catholic politicians whose voting records and public pronouncements run counter to church teaching.

The meeting at the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center in Englewood, 10 miles south of Denver, will be closed to the public.

The meeting has aroused particular local interest since May 1, when Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan said that not only should Catholic politicians who do not follow Church teachings not present themselves for Communion, but that the same applied to Catholic citizens who vote for such politicians.

Bishop Sheridan’s remarks could influence Colorado’s rapidly growing Hispanic populace, which is otherwise expected to back Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic who differs from his church on abortion, stem-cell research, homosexual unions and several other issues.

“People in Denver are really up in arms about the Communion ban,” said Crystal Culver, spokeswoman for Call to Action, a Chicago-based liberal Catholic group that summoned 650 local Catholic activists to participate in a string of demonstrations and vigils.

“Even a couple of priests in Denver have had the gall to say they’ll give Communion to whoever asks for it,” she said.

From the other end, the American Life League has rented out rooms at the Inverness Hotel and will give a press conference tomorrow at the hotel.

“We will tell bishops they have this opportunity to institute a definitive policy to rebuke pro-abortion Catholic politicians and make it clear to the faithful you cannot be a faithful Catholic and pro-abortion,” spokesman Joe Giganti said.

Other task force members, all of whom are expected at the meeting, include Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., and Bishop Bernard Harrington of Winona, Minn.

The bishops’ debate on who should receive Communion may have some influence on the Vatican Synod on the Eucharist from Oct. 2 to Oct. 29, 2005, in Rome. On Thursday, Pope John Paul II announced a “Year of the Eucharist” starting this October and said his first papal encyclical of the new millennium would be on the Eucharist.

“There’s some concern on the part of some bishops that Catholics are losing their appreciation for what we understand the Eucharist to be about, whether it’s the real presence of Christ or merely a symbol,” said the Rev. Daniel McLellan, president of Washington Theological Union. “I’d also suspect there will be an oblique reference to the state one should be in to participate in the Eucharist.”

Bishops will also discuss the charter, which called for audits on how each of the country’s 195 dioceses have implemented reforms to prevent further sexual abuse. They must decide whether to commission a second round of audits under the oversight of a 12-member National Review Board of prominent Catholic laity.

Four members of the board are resigning this month, including Chairman Anne Burke, who has publicly complained that the bishops are dragging their feet on keeping all dioceses in line.

The bishops’ behavior also took criticism in an open letter from former USCCB spokesman Russell Shaw in the June issue of Crisis magazine.

“Catholics are asking if the bishops are serious about the Church’s doctrine on sexuality,” he wrote. “The evidence that some bishops in the past tolerated egregious misbehavior by priests has fostered a widespread suspicion that your adherence to Church teaching amounts to little more than lip service.”

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