My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
During the week of June 10-14, I was in Baltimore attending the meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), during which we made substantial progress in addressing the recent issues that have confronted us in the church. In addition to the general sessions with the full body of bishops, I also had a four-and-a-half hour meeting of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, of which I am a member, on Monday afternoon, June 10, as well as another three-and-a-half hour meeting of that same committee on Wednesday evening, June 12.
The outcome of these meetings was that we voted to approve directives designed to implement the document Vos Estis Lux Mundi (You are the light of the world), issued by Pope Francis in May to help the Catholic Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable. We also approved the document, Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments and the Protocol regarding Available Nonpenal Restrictions on Bishops who have resigned or have been removed due to misconduct or negligence in office. In addition, we voted to authorize the implementation of a third-party reporting system that would allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops through a toll-free telephone number and online.
The full text of these documents and news releases summarizing them is available online at the USCCB website.
Since most of the media attention was on these agenda items, you might have missed some other significant actions that our bishops’ conference took. Among these, we approved four strategic priorities for the USCCB 2021-2024 Strategic Plan:
Evangelization: Form a joyful band of missionary disciples
Life and Dignity of the Human Person: Serve the common good as a leaven in a free society
Protect and Heal God’s Children: Restore integrity and foster virtue
Vocations: Equip all Christ’s disciples for mission
These strategic priorities are then broken down further into greater detail through “emphasis areas,” such as:
Foster an evangelizing focus in catechesis and Catholic schools
Work to heal the scourge of hatred based on race and/or religion
Protect and defend the dignity of migrants and refugees, of the poor and those on the peripheries
Defend the right to life for all people, especially the unborn, elderly, sick, dying and persons with disabilities; and fight the advance of abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide, euthanasia and the death penalty
Defend and secure religious liberty and freedom of association
Foster reverence for God’s creation, our common home
Create and maintain safe environments through sound policies and procedures
Extend and ensure effective collaboration with the laity
Cultivate an ever-deepening spirituality of chastity and virtue
Foster lifelong discernment and formation to fulfill one’s God-given vocation
Prepare for and sustain the living out of marriage and family life
Create a culture that nurtures consecrated life and Holy Orders
Encourage the laity in their mission to evangelize society
We also approved a revised National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States and a revised passage on the death penalty for the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults to bring it into conformity with the recent revision to the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2267). The revision to the passage on the death penalty for the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults must also receive the recognitio from the Holy See.
In addition, the bishops expressed their support for the Bishop of Marquette (Michigan) to continue to advance on the local level the cause for canonization of the Servant of God, Irving Francis Houle. I expressed my support for this cause for canonization, noting that as a married man with five children, his cause for sainthood would provide an inspirational example of faithful marriage and family life.
I also took the occasion to say a public word of thanks to Pope Francis for the wonderful news that on June 12 he proclaimed Father Augustine Tolton of Quincy as “Venerable,” making Father Tolton one step closer to being declared a saint by the Catholic Church. The term “Venerable” means he is officially recognized by the Catholic Church as having lived a life of heroic virtue. Now that Father Tolton has been declared Venerable, I have asked our staff of the diocesan Curia to begin exploring the establishment of a shrine to honor Venerable Father Tolton. One possible location could be the now-closed St. Boniface Church in Quincy. I hope to make an announcement about this later this year.
In the meantime, please pray for the intercession of Venerable Augustine Tolton, especially for those suffering from seemingly incurable medical conditions, and be sure to let me know if any such prayers result in a miraculous healing.
May God give us this grace. Amen.