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Bishops' actions at spring meeting called a 'work in progress'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The gathering of U.S. bishops June 11-13 in Baltimore was anything but business as usual.

"The spring meetings are usually more pastoral, and the November meeting has a heavier agenda," said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, who said this meeting had a "sense of urgency" and momentum to it, both in the smaller group gatherings and when the bishops were all together.

"We were here for specific task ... and by God's grace we will move forward," he said during a June 12 news conference.

The bishops typically meet twice a year as a body. The spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is usually in June at different locations each year, and sometimes it is a retreat. The fall meeting in recent years has always been in Baltimore. This year's spring meeting was switched somewhat last minute to the Baltimore location where the bishops were not the only ones in the hotel space but were adjacent to other conference gatherings.

The other time a spring bishops' meeting was almost entirely devoted to the church crisis was the 2002 meeting in Dallas, just months after the church was reeling from a clergy sexual abuse crisis that made headlines in The Boston Globe.

But where that meeting focused on misconduct by priests, this year's meeting looked at responding to the misconduct of some bishops and the failure of some bishops to properly address abuse.

Since their two general assemblies last year, the bishops have been confronted with an overwhelming need to prove to U.S. Catholics that abuse within their own ranks won't be tolerated. They were hit with allegations last summer that one of their own, former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, had committed abuses over decades. Then just a week before the spring meeting, details emerged from the Vatican-ordered investigation of retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, highlighting financial and sexual improprieties.

Names of both bishops came up during the assembly at different points, when the bishops spoke about protocols to put in place to make sure these incidents wouldn't happen again.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opened the meeting June 11 by saying: "We begin the sacred work this week of purging the evil of sexual abuse from our church."

But just the week before, he had faced his own accusation, which he strongly denied, of having mishandled an accusation of sexual misconduct case against his former vicar general.

The bishops also had the weight of unfinished business upon them in this spring's gathering: policies and procedures in response to the abuse crisis that they had put aside at last year's fall general assembly at the Vatican's request. They also had a new, but related, item: their plan to implement Pope Francis' norms issued May 9 to help the church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.

Although the bishops passed all the abuse measures before them, none of them said these actions would hit the reset button for the church. In closing remarks, Cardinal DiNardo acknowledged that the steps they had taken were a "work in progress."

They voted to implement the norms contained in the pope's "motu proprio" on responding to sexual abuse in the church and they also approved all of their own measures including a promise to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," including a zero-tolerance policy for abuse.

"We, the bishops of the U.S., have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside the church over these failures," that document said, adding: "The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance and a desire to do better, much better. We will continue to listen."

In other votes, the bishops approved actions they can take when a retired bishop resigns or is removed "due to sexual misconduct with adults or grave negligence of office, or where subsequent to his resignation he was found to have so acted or failed to act." They also approved the implementation of an independent third-party system that would allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops through a toll-free number and online.

"It's right we give attention to this," Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said at the closing news conference. He said the collateral damage from the church abuse scandal is how it is "costing people their faith."

He also stressed that the possibility of "proceeding with what we passed today" without laypeople would be impossible and "highly irresponsible."

Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, which oversaw the all of the abuse documents the bishops voted on, except for the third-party system, told reporters at the close of the meeting that bishops are already collaborating with the laity. We are not in a church where the laypeople are here, and the bishops are there, he said, gesturing a gap.

Although some bishops had voiced hope on the floor June 13 that there be mandatory lay participation in church abuse monitoring, Bishop Deeley said the bishops couldn't "go beyond what the Holy Father has given" in the norms he issued, but that doesn't mean laity are or will be excluded, he said.

That was precisely the point Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, hoped to bring home near the meeting's close when he emphasized the need to involve laypeople because "it's the Catholic thing to do."

He said when bishops go home from this meeting, they should be able to tell people they did everything they were able to do to respond to this crisis.

He told Catholic News Service during a break in the meeting June 13 that the church needs to get back to its origins and the Second Vatican Council's vision of lay collaboration with clergy, adding: "Perhaps God is utilizing this crisis in a way to get us back on track again."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


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Update: Bishops affirm diocese's effort for Michigan man's sainthood cause

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Irving Houle Association

By Mark Pattison

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops, after being consulted about the sainthood cause of a man who, except for service in World War II, spent his life in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, gave vocal assent June 12 for the Diocese of Marquette to continue to pursue the cause.

Hearing no nays in the voice vote, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston declared the vote on the cause of Irving "Francis" C. Houle to be unanimous.

The current bishop of Marquette, John F. Doerfler, said he had talked to Houle's widow about her husband. And the former bishop of the diocese -- Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon -- had met Houle as a clergyman in northernmost Michigan.

Archbishop Sample said Houle came into the rectory of a church where a confirmation ceremony had just concluded. "At first, I didn't know who he was," the archbishop recalled. But as the conversation continued, Archbishop Sample said he might have gotten a whiff of "the odor of sanctity ... I could definitely smell a rose."

Then, he added, "I was glancing at his hands," and at this point Archbishop Sample, while recalling the encounter to his fellow bishops, was rubbing his hands as if he were lathering them with soap. "Then I saw the bandages on his hands, and I knew who he was."

Houle was said to receive the stigmata 16 years before he died in 2009, but well before that "many extraordinary physical and spiritual healings" were attributed to him, according to a biography of Houle (pronounced "hool") posted on the website of the Irving "Francis" Houle Association for the Cause of Sainthood,

"When I first spoke to Irving's wife and asked about her husband, her first words to me, were, 'He was a wonderful husband and father,'" Bishop Doerfler said. "His pastor described him as 'the guy next door, and a holy man.' These brief descriptions highlight the importance and the relevance of the (sainthood) cause."

Bishop Doerfler added, "Do we not need such illustrations of how one can lead a life of holiness in daily life?"

Houle was born in Wilson, Michigan, in 1925. Thrown from a galloping horse at age 6, his injuries -- which included broken ribs and a punctured lung -- were reported by a local newspaper as "believed to be fatal." But with sisters at a Franciscan convent praying for him -- his aunt was one of the nuns -- and after seeing a "beautiful man in a white bathrobe" at the foot of his bed one night, young Irving no longer struggled to breathe.

Houle went to daily Mass as a teenager and "it was not uncommon for him to be moved to tears at the consecration," the biography said. He had one sister and five brothers; as adults, Houle and his brothers, were fourth-degree Knights of Columbus, like their father. All were "devoted to Catholic life and to their families."

He married his wife, Gail, in 1948, and they had five children. They lived in Escanaba, the Upper Peninsula's third-largest city at 12,000, less than 20 miles from his childhood home. "His family knew him as a devoutly religious, loving, caring person who was fun to be around. Irving was known to be a teaser and a prankster," the biography said, adding, "He was also known to have his feelings hurt easily, and at times he had a temper."

At one job, Houle kept pictures of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart on his desk. "Once a comment was made about the religious pictures," the biography noted, and Houle replied, "If they go, I go." He was also known to go to church to pray the stations of the cross every day after work, no matter how late he worked. Houle received the stigmata on Good Friday 1993. "He suffered the Passion every night between midnight and 3 a.m. for the rest of his earthly life. He understood that these particular hours of the day were times of great sins of the flesh," the biography said.

After retiring, Houle talked to "tens of thousands" of people, it added. "He was most happy to learn of people returning to confession after 20, 30 or 40 years, and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist."

At speaking engagements at churches or elsewhere, "there were many extraordinary physical and spiritual healings, and he always made it crystal clear that these things came from God," the biography said. "He would simply say, 'I don't heal anybody," and 'Jesus is the one who heals.'"

Archbishop Sample verified this account. "He always wanted to act in communion with the local church. He always wanted to work in communion with the local bishop," he said of Houle. "He never wanted to draw attention to himself," adding Houle was "an ordinary, humble man who obtained some true sanctity in his life."

Deacon Mike LeBeau of the Houle Association, in an email to Catholic News Service, said a Marquette diocesan priest gave Houle the nickname Francis "to protect Irving and his family from being exploited by people."

Houle's cause was forwarded by the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance at the request of Bishop Doerfler.

The bishops, meeting June 11-13 in Baltimore, have been consulted at a growing number of their general meetings about the lives of holy men and women being proposed for sainthood. The question posed for each one: "Does the body of bishops consider it advisable to continue to advance on the local level the cause for canonization of the Servant of God?"

Such a question needs to be answered in the affirmative by a majority of the bishops present and voting.

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When Huy Doai Le was a little boy, he begged his father for piano lessons. At the time, his family...

Lay groups cautious about bishops' actions to boost accountability

IMAGE: CNS graphic/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops


BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Representatives of lay organizations expressed caution over the steps taken by U.S. bishops to boost accountability and transparency in dealing with clergy sexual abuse, saying future actions by the bishops will determine how successful the initiatives ultimately will be.

Full collaboration with laypeople will be the key to the success of the measures adopted by the bishops, they said in a series of statements following the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' spring general assembly in Baltimore June 11-13.

"Catholics are looking for robust actions and long-term solutions to the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures," Kim Smolik, CEO of the Leadership Roundtable, said in a June 13 statement.

"While the bishops took important initial steps, more remains to be done to address the root causes and create a new culture of leadership that values accountability, transparency and co-responsibility with clergy and laity," she said.

The Leadership Roundtable was founded in the wake of the 2002 abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston. It was officially formed in 2005 by lay, religious and ordained leaders to help the church address the abuse crisis and promote best practices and accountability in all areas. It has been working since then to help dioceses address leadership and governance issues.

The bishops approved four measures during their assembly including the operation of an independent third-party reporting system to accept abuse allegations and the implementation of Pope Francis' norms, "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), to safeguard church members from abuse and boost accountability of church leaders.

Smolik said that while she had not seen the final directives, her organization was "pleased that multiple bishops intervened to specify the need for greater lay involvement."

The roundtable had sent recommendations to the USCCB prior to the assembly calling for national standards to support the measures under consideration and a study into what led to the mishandling of incidents of clergy abuse.

"New procedures are a start," Smolik's statement said, "but the pervasive culture that led to the crises is still in place. A new culture of leadership is necessary if we are to truly address the crises.

"It starts by acknowledging the leadership failures, looking at the root causes, providing new information in seminaries and other educational institutions, setting up governance structures with checks, balances, etc.," she said.

"Lay Catholics are lending their expertise and look forward to continued work with the clergy to create a new culture of co-responsible leadership," she added.

During a news conference at the close of the bishops' meeting, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, acknowledged that the "twin-headed scandal" of clergy abuse and mismanagement by bishops "is costing people their faith."

He said that laypeople inevitably would be involved in the new systems being implemented even if the adopted measures did not specifically call for their participation.

"Proceeding with what we legislated today for us, the possibility of doing that without qualified laypeople I would say is next to impossible. It is impossible and it would be highly irresponsible," Cardinal Tobin said.

Still, skepticism remained from Catholic-led organizations that have been highly critical of the bishops' handling of clergy abuse for years.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said June 13 that none of the measures adopted require all allegations of misconduct to be immediately forwarded to civil law enforcement authorities.

The plan governing the third-party reporting system will find reports funneled through a central receiving hub, which would then be responsible for sending allegations to the appropriate metropolitan, or archbishop, and to the papal nunciature in Washington. The metropolitans will be responsible for reporting any allegation to local law enforcement authorities as the first step toward investigating a claim.

SNAP said in its statement that "church officials have so far refused to mandate lay involvement, instead leaving it up to each metropolitan to decide, and have not yet said if every allegation received will be routed to police."

"Without these mandates, there is no guarantee that reports will be routed to police and investigations will be transparent and public. Instead, all reports can remain secret and insulated within the church's internal systems," SNAP said.

The organization called for each metropolitan to establish "a truly independent" lay review board with members to include least one clergy abuse survivor and two members chosen from investigators recommended by the appropriate state attorney general.

SNAP also wants any investigation of a bishop to be conducted "in a locale far from the area where the complaint originated." It said full transparency and accountability requires that the investigations and lay review board reports and findings must be publicly released with appropriate redactions to protect victims.

Terrence McKiernan, president and co-director of, said June 13 that it was "encouraging that the bishops are grappling at last with sexual and managerial misconduct in their own ranks."

In a statement, he called for greater involvement by laypeople in all aspects of the new standards.

McKiernan also appealed for ways to assure greater accountability among bishops as well as independent auditing of the new procedures, which he described as having "obvious structural weaknesses" that will likely guarantee "that the system will not command the confidence it requires to succeed."


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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at


BALTIMORE (CNS) — Although the U.S. bishops’ spring assembly in Baltimore was mostly devoted to responding to the sexual abuse...

Update: Mitigate global warming, spare further injustice to poor, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Faced with a climate emergency, the world must act immediately to mitigate global warming and avoid committing "a brutal act of injustice" on the poor and future generations, Pope Francis told a group of energy and oil executives and global investors.

"Time is running out! Deliberations must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done and concentrate on what needs to be done from today onward," he said.

"We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits. The climate crisis requires our decisive action, here and now," he said June 14 at the Vatican.

The pope spoke to leaders taking part in a conference June 13-14 on "Energy Transition and Care for Our Common Home," sponsored by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business in the United States.

It was the second private meeting -- the first was in June 2018 -- aimed at dialogue with invited executives of leading energy, petroleum and natural gas companies, global investment firms, climate scholars and academics.

Organizers said that participants this year included CEOs from Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum, Occidental Petroleum, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Pope Francis thanked participants for returning for the second meeting, saying it was "a positive sign of your continued commitment to working together in a spirit of solidarity to promote concrete steps for the care of our planet."

The dialogue was taking place during a "critical moment," he said, because "today's ecological crisis, especially climate change, threatens the very future of the human family, and this is no exaggeration."

"For too long, we have collectively failed to listen to the fruits of scientific analysis and 'doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,'" he said, citing his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home."

It would be grossly unfair for future generations to inherit "a greatly spoiled world," the pope said. "Pardon me if I want to underline this: They, our children, our grandchildren, should not have to pay, it is not right that they pay the cost of our irresponsibility."

All dialogue and action must be rooted in the best scientific research available today, he said, pointing particularly to last year's special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"That report clearly warns that effects on the climate will be catastrophic if we cross the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius" above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the Paris Agreement goal, the pope said.

The report, which outlined detailed ways to limit global warming, warned that "only one decade or so remains in order to achieve this confinement of global warming," he added.

"Faced with a climate emergency," the pope said, "we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations. We must take responsible actions bearing in mind their impact in the short and in the long term."

Recognizing that "civilization requires energy," he said that it is also important that energy use not destroy civilization.

"A radical energy transition is needed to save our common home," he said, and the Catholic Church was "fully committed to playing her part."

"There is still hope and there remains time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, provided there is prompt and resolute action," he said.


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The Norbertines at St. Michael’s Abbey have launched a new video series called “After the Upper Room,” which explores the...


ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Before the St. Louis Blues beat the Boston Bruins in Game 7 on June 12 to...

More than a few fans prayed for St. Louis Blues to win Stanley Cup

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters


ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Before the St. Louis Blues beat the Boston Bruins in Game 7 on June 12 to win the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup for the first time in the team's 52-year history, Twitter was alive with hopes for a little divine intervention for such a victory -- maybe even from St. John Paul II.

Many a tweet recalled a Jan. 26, 1999, visit the pontiff paid to St. Louis and just how comfortable he looked holding a hockey stick given to him by young people gathered for a rally at the arena that is home to the Blues, then called the Kiel Center.

At the end of the rally, which drew a crowd of 20,000, the pope also received a special jersey in the Blues' colors -- bearing the name "John Paul II'' and the number "1.''

When the Blues headed to the Stanley Cup Final, Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Louis were praying hard for their team, said a May 23 editorial in the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper.

"Our city has caught Blues fever with fervor," it said. "Even Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, not a native of St. Louis but no stranger to hockey as a Minnesota native, exclaimed at the end of his May 22 State of the Archdiocese address to employees: 'Go Blues!'"

"Many people had given up on the Blues, who in January were the worst team in the NHL," the editorial noted. "It's a lesson in perseverance and never giving up. It's a lesson that we certainly could apply to our lives, and especially our faith. There's always hope. For Catholics, that hopes lies in Jesus. And, for #CatholicSTL, in the Blues, too."

The long-suffering team and its loyal fans finally got their magical moment in Game 7 with a 4-1 victory in Boston. And the celebration will continue with a parade to honor the champion team June 15 in St. Louis.


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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at