In mid-November I represented the Diocese of Rapid City at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops fall meeting in Baltimore, Md. It was another interesting experience in this journey as the diocesan administrator.
I visited with each of our former bishops and Bishop Steven Biegler and witnessed again the clarity of their teachings and guidance. We have been so blessed by the bishops who have called western South Dakota home. As the administrator, I was accorded the full rights and privileges of all the bishops. That was humbling.
I want to thank you for making this trip possible. Each year during the Annual Appeal we talk about the expenses for the Bishop’s Office. This is such an expense. It is important that our bishop connects to the greater work of the Catholic Church in America and the world. The meetings and the meals, the prayer and the casual conversations allow the bishops to connect with one another, to understand the experience of the Catholic Church in the United States. You make this encounter possible with your support of the annual appeal. I am deeply grateful.
The meetings began on Sunday with various committees of the USCCB convening to do the individual work each focuses on. The general sessions began on Monday and concluded on Thursday morning. The days were full, with two general sessions each day and a meeting of the bishops from each region (our region is Minnesota and the Dakotas) during the week. Mass was concelebrated each day and Morning and Midday Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours started the general sessions. On Thursday there was a two-hour period of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the opportunity for confessions.
During lunch times and in the evenings, groups, agencies and organizations that support the Catholic faithful hosted receptions to share about the ministry they offer to continue the mission of the church. The days started early and ended late and, although there were the inevitable moments of boredom that come from hours of intense listening through the general sessions, still the whole experience was uplifting and exciting.
The bishops of our country are, in my estimation a dedicated and faithful group of men. They love the church and they want to lead their people into an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ that calls them to continue his mission in our country. They are ordinary men who are, nonetheless, called to extraordinary service. They serve willingly, if not always perfectly. Praying with them, listening to them, sharing stories, laughing and reflecting, gave me a deeper respect for them and the burden they carry. They deserve our prayers and our support.
The topics at this conference would not be unfamiliar to any of us. Life issues were very present in the committee reports and action items that were discussed. They were attentive to the scourge of abortion and it is clear that they see it as the first issue among many that threaten the dignity of the human person. The immigration crisis was also notable on the agenda. Bishops who live along the southern border see firsthand the devastation that impacts the dignity of the real human persons caught in this legal battle. The magnitude of this crisis and the excellent work being done through the Catholic Church was documented for us. Whatever our political leanings, we cannot look at the face of Jesus Christ and not be moved to action on behalf of those who are suffering in this situation. I was impressed with the amount of lobbying that the USCCB does in Washington, D.C., on this and many other issues of concern to us all.
Another topic that was very prominent in the agenda was the sexual abuse crisis. There was a call to continue to be present to and listen to the victims of abuse, to see in them the suffering Christ. Building on the efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults that have been implemented in the past, the bishops continued in this session to develop a system for holding themselves accountable. In the new calendar year, a third-party system for reporting alleged sexual misconduct of bishops as well as their deliberate mismanagement of abuse cases will be available. As damaging as this whole experience has been and continues to be for so many, the bishops are striving to bring justice and healing to victims of abuse and our whole Catholic Church.
The conference also voted on some documents that they have been working on. These included a discussion of the pope’s apostolic exhortation following the Synod on Youth and Young Adults, an additional letter calling all Catholics to exercise their right to participate in the political process of our country, the acceptance of a new translation of the Latin text that outlines the RCIA process, and a new priestly formation program document to guide the formation of seminarians in our country. Some of these documents were not finalized and will continue to be developed.
This is just a smattering of my experiences at the bishops’ conference in Baltimore. It was eye opening, inspiring and challenging and reminded me again that we are so blessed to be a part of this great Catholic Church.