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Posted November 4, 2010

Internal matters expected to dominate
bishops' public agenda this fall

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When the U.S. bishops gather in Baltimore for their 2010 fall general assembly, there will be no blockbuster topics on their public agenda, unlike in past years when clergy sex abuse or the issue of Catholic politicians who support abortion took much of their attention.

Instead, the Nov. 15-18 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will be devoted primarily to internal matters -- the election of new conference leaders, discussion of how their own statements should be produced, budgetary and structural questions and information about how they can better integrate new media into diocesan structures.

For Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, the meeting will be his last one as president. He has held the post for the past three years.

If the conference follows past practice, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., will succeed Cardinal George as president. As USCCB vice president since November 2007, Bishop Kicanas will be among 10 candidates proposed for the posts of president and vice president. Once a president has been selected, a vice president will be chosen from the other nine candidates.

Even more integral to the day-to-day operations of the USCCB will be the election of a new general secretary to succeed Msgr. David Malloy in June 2011. The candidates are Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, a priest of the Diocese of Austin, Texas, who has been an associate general secretary at the USCCB since 2006, and Msgr. David Kagan, who is currently serving as vicar general for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill.

The bishops also will choose a new USCCB treasurer-elect and will vote for the chairmen-elect of six committees.

Among the topics scheduled to come before the bishops for debate and vote in their public sessions are a proposed agreement on mutual recognition of baptism by the Catholic and four Protestant churches, guidelines on stipends and benefits for retired bishops, and revised regulations on USCCB statements and publications.

The common agreement, which requires an up or down vote by the bishops and cannot be amended, was drawn up over the past six years by a team of scholars from the Catholic-Reformed dialogue group, made up of representatives of the USCCB, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.

Calling baptism "the sacramental gateway into the Christian life," the agreement says baptism "is to be conferred only once, because those who are baptized are decisively incorporated into the body of Christ."

For baptisms to be mutually recognized by the five churches, the baptismal rite must use water and the Trinitarian formula, "Father, Son and Holy Spirit," the document says.

Also up for a vote will be a brief document giving guidelines for "the provision of sustenance" to retired bishops. Although it is designed to give "some degree of uniformity" to policies across the country, it notes that dioceses "should take upon themselves the responsibility to interpret and implement these guidelines, taking into account the local economy."

Effective Jan. 1, the guidelines set a minimum stipend of $1,900 a month for retired bishops and said he also should be provided with "appropriate" housing and board, health and welfare benefits, an office, a car and insurance and travel expenses to various episcopal meetings and events.

A third document before the bishops in November will codify the procedures for the review, approval and issuance of USCCB statements. The procedures have been in place informally since the conference was reorganized in 2007 and require that the bishops be consulted before any statement is drafted, except in extraordinary circumstances.

The bishops also will vote on whether to draft a policy statement on physician-assisted suicide; if they agree to do so, the actual document will come before them at a later meeting.

They also will be asked to approve the 2011 USCCB budget, the 2012 assessment on dioceses to support conference work, a timeline for evaluation of the conference reorganization and a one-year break between the present and the next planning cycle.

Among the topics of oral reports expected to be presented are the church's response following the earthquake in Haiti, the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Defense of Marriage, ways to integrate new media into diocesan communications structures, World Youth Day and the needs of the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services.

Another topic of discussion likely will be the new report on review and renewal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which calls for "stronger policies and clearer mechanisms" to guide how grants are awarded to poverty-fighting groups and strengthen oversight of how funds are spent.

Although its official dates are Nov. 15-18, only 10 hours on Nov. 15 and 16 are scheduled for public sessions. The bishops are expected to spend up to 10 and a half hours in executive session or prayer and reflection and an hour and a half in regional meetings.

The bishops as a body had been invited to participate in a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Nov. 18 for the inauguration of John H. Garvey as the new president of The Catholic University of America, but the inauguration was postponed to Jan. 25 after Pope Benedict XVI announced a Nov. 20 consistory at the Vatican to install new cardinals.

Those to be installed include Cardinal-designate Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, who as university chancellor was to be the celebrant and homilist at Garvey's inauguration.