Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The nation’s Catholic bishops rejected a proposal yesterday to develop a pastoral statement on how Catholics should study the Bible, over objections by several bishops who said such a move will mean a public relations “disaster” for the church.

Bishops voted 137-102 at the annual business meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to send the proposal back to committee, saying they were burdened with multiple documents and expensive projects and that they had agreed Monday to reduce their workload.

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Earl Boyea said the church’s catechism already advises Catholics to study the Scriptures.

“If [the statement’s] intent is to get people to read the Bible, I don’t know what statement of ours is going to get people to do that,” he said.

But several bishops begged the conference to accept the proposal.

“I can imagine the headlines tomorrow,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn, N.Y. “‘Bishops in an attempt to cut expenses encourage people to not read the Bible.’ ”

“From our position,” said Bishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., “where the Bible is part of any relationship we have with churches in our region, this would be a disaster, public relations-wise.”

Amarillo, Texas, Bishop John W. Yanta followed him by assuring bishops that cutting the proposal would be “disastrous” for his Bible Belt diocese.

But Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk responded that “the business of the conference … is not developing good public relations.”

“The issue is whether we should follow the processes we agreed on yesterday,” he said.

The proposal dates to 2001, when a USCCB administrative committee approved $150,000 for a study on how Catholics use the Bible, using funds from the sale of the New American Bible. Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research conducted the study and came up with a 600-page report.

In 2003, a task force was appointed to figure out how to publicize the study’s results. The task force decided to ask bishops at their 2004 business meeting to develop a document in a Q&A format for Catholics on how to study the Bible.

The Catholic Church has long emphasized that individual reading of Scripture is always subject to interpretation by the church, in contrast to Protestants, who believe individuals can understand Scripture on their own.

Milwaukee Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba, who favored the proposal, worried that Catholics were getting too “individualistic” in their Bible studies.

“I worry a bit about an increasingly evangelical slant” among Catholics, he said.

The bishops conducted little other public business yesterday as they were either in regional meetings or executive session.

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