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Newsletter Winter 2001

FutureChurch Covers Bishops' Meeting

Focus on FutureChurch is now a member of the Catholic Press Association which allowed FutureChurch executive director Sr. Chris Schenk to attend the November meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as a press representative.

The bishops near unanimous decisions on many social justice issues made one proud to be Catholic. They:

  • Passed a comprehensive statement on criminal justice urging reform and noting that "the current trend of more prisons and more executions with too little education and drug treatment, does not truly reflect Christian values and will not really live our communities safer."
  • Addressed violence in the Middle East, for the first time calling for an independent Palestinian state as well as respect for Israelšs right to exist.
  • Called the Sudanese government to accountability for "slavery, torture, execution, religious persecution, discrimination" and violence toward its citizens.
  • Issued a statement on immigration rejecting an anti immigrant stance, and making suggestions for advocacy, welcoming and ministry to the immigrants in our churches. They also called on Congress to revise the nation's immigration laws to uphold immigrants' dignity and human rights.
  • Agreed to give special attention in conference activities to the multiculturalism of the church.

Justice issues internal to Catholicism were predictably more problematic. Most troublesome was the discussion of procedural guidelines for granting the mandatum that all Catholic theology teachers in higher education are required to receive from the local bishop in order to teach as a Catholic theologian.

This sounds reasonable in theory until one remembers that certain present day 'definitive teachings' such as the non ordination of women were identified only by men in the Vatican with little or no consultation with either bishops or theologians, let alone the women who experience a priestly call. Plus there is the difficulty that very few bishops are doctoral level theologians. Presently only Bishop Ray Lucker is even a member of the Catholic Theology Society of America. If we compared the mandatum requirement to the medical profession, it would be like requiring a neurosurgeon to get approval from a general practitioner before being allowed to practice his or her specialty.

However, according to Archbishop Pilarczyk, the mandatum requirement will be nearly impossible to enforce, "We do not in law or in fact have the mechanism to enforce the requirement that a teacher have a mandatum." At a later press conference he reiterated that the presence or absence of the mandatum from a bishop can have no effect on a given university's decision to hire or fire. Over the next several months the bishops will meet with theologians in their dioceses to discuss the guidelines before their proposed adoption next June.

Demonstrators were also much in evidence. More than 100 people from a Christian Gay Rights group called Soulforce protested in front of the National Shrine where the bishops concelebrated Mass. In a separate action, women's ordination advocate Janice Sevre-Duszynska interrupted the Monday morning meeting. She urged the bishops to "take women down from their crosses" and be compassionate toward "those who are called by God to ordination." After being asked to desist, she chose instead to sit in silent protest for over an hour until police ushered her out. While a few bishops seemed sympathetic, most ignored her action.


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