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No lay votes allowed in restructuring

NCR Staff
Kansas City, Mo.

U.S. Catholic bishops agreed by a narrow majority vote at their recent meeting here to exclude laypersons, deacons, priests and religious from holding voting memberships on committees when their national conference is restructured.

Also at the three-day meeting, bishops adopted a 75-page document on youth ministry over objections that the paper is overly long and abstract and follows too closely on a recently adopted statement on young adults.

According to the 113-104 vote on conference committees, persons other than bishops will be able to serve only in advisory or consulting roles in the restructured conference.

The bishops' annual spring meeting opened June 19.

The decision on conference committees was advisory and must be adopted into bylaws. Currently persons other than bishops can hold voting memberships on some committees of the United States Catholic Conference, the social action arm of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. A plan to combine the two conferences into one was approved here by a vote of 211-3.

Bishops opposing bishop-only committees said a vision of church rooted in the Second Vatican Council called for greater inclusiveness. To exclude persons other than bishops represents "an interesting ecclesiology," said Bishop Thomas J. Costello, auxiliary bishop of Syracuse, N.Y.

Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan, auxiliary of Brooklyn, N.Y., said exclusive committees would send the wrong message to other groups in the church.

However, sentiments such as those expressed by Cardinal Joseph Hickey of Washington carried the day. Hickey stressed that the conferences is a "conference of bishops" and its integrity would be compromised if non-bishops were allowed to vote.

Participants voted inconclusively on a new national collection for home missions and approved a new media plan.

They also heard a report from Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis that said recent catechetical texts presented for review contain serious doctrinal deficiencies.

The bishops' committee on the laity prepared the statement on youth, titled "Renewing the Vision -- A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry."

Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa, Calif., chairman of the committee, told bishops the new statement differs from a 21-year old statement on youth ministry in two major ways.

First, he said, "it recognizes that youth need to be incorporated into the full life of the church." Second, it urges the entire parish community "to be responsive to the needs and concerns of youth."

The statement also notes that youth ministry has become "multidimensional" with eight components: "advocacy, catechesis, community life, evangelization, justice and service, leadership development, pastoral care and worship."

Much of the statement is devoted to describing each of those areas as they relate to youth.

Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Mich., criticized the document's "abstract church language" and said the statement "would be rejected out of hand by a copy editor.

"I don't think priests and youth ministers will read it," he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., complained that the document was "overly long" and followed too closely after approval of a document on young adult ministry in 1996. "It's oversaturation," he said.

The national collection for home missions, if approved, would help fund dioceses where Catholics are scarce or widely dispersed. Those dioceses are mostly in the South, Southwest and Rocky Mountain areas. The collection would also serve Eastern-rite dioceses that encompass several states and poor dioceses in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Archbishop Francis George of Chicago said "whole dioceses would be shut down" unless the new collection were approved.

As with votes on a number of measures before bishops at the meeting here, the vote on establishing a new collection was inconclusive. Absent bishops will be polled by mail.

The new media plan, titled "Pastoral Plan for Church Communications," calls for using the mass media to promote community and parish life, spiritual growth, spread of the gospel and religious participation in the nation's public life.

In Buechlein's report on catechetical texts, he said theological areas in which teachings are deficient include the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, Christian anthropology, the "ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs" and the authority of the magisterium, God's action in the world, the transforming effects of grace and the presentation of the sacraments.

Buechlein also said the Latin text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is to be the normative version, is expected to be sent to bishops around the world by the end of June.

National Catholic Reporter, July 4, 1997