No one's quite sure what will be discussed at the next meeting, though it's probably safe to say they'll have a pretty full plate.
As for me, I'm still hoping they'll vote for a Plenary Council to discuss the true causes of the sex-abuse scandal. Unfortunately, there's been a bump in the road.
Let me explain.
The committee that decides the agenda for the bishops' meeting has recently convened to determine what issues will be discussed in November. Instead of deciding to bring the Plenary Council idea up for a vote, they've put it aside, scheduling a debate on the issue instead.
This despite the fact that over 80 bishops – and possibly many more – signed the letter calling for a Plenary Council. (There are over 400 bishops and archbishops in the U.S.)
I admit, I'm a little disappointed. However, I do understand the reasons the committee gave for not calling for the full vote. According to a well-informed source, there were three main reasons for turning down the vote in favor of a debate. First, the committee was afraid the bishops wouldn't have enough time to really study the idea. Second, they were afraid the proposed Plenary Council might have too narrow a focus. Third, the committee wonders if a Plenary Council is really necessary at all.
Fine. While this might sound like more footdragging, it could end up being a good thing. With an open debate, the supporters of the council will have a better chance of convincing their peers that a Plenary Council is the best hope the bishops currently have for addressing the deep-seated problems in the Church today. A written document (like the letter calling for the Council) will never be as persuasive as a stirring and convincing debate, where specific objections can be addressed and answered.
I have two hopes for this whole situation. First, I'm praying that the bishops realize just how serious the current crisis in the Church is. Acknowledging this – rather than avoiding the real root problems – is an essential first step towards healing the Church.
Second, the bishops need to realize that this problem is too big to be handled by the regular bishops' meeting. One brief weekend just isn't enough time to get to the bottom of things, let alone a weekend that's already packed full with other agenda items. The controversy surrounding the June charter should be enough evidence of that.
In the end, I'm hoping this debate will get people enthusiastic about a Plenary Council. Debate and discussion are all well and good, just so long as it doesn't turn into another delaying tactic.
On that note, I would like to acknowledge the passing of Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who died last week of stomach cancer. If you're not familiar with Cardinal Van Thuan, let me tell you a little bit about this great man. He spent 13 years in a Vietnamese prison – jailed by the communists for being a Catholic priest. In that time, he celebrated Mass with small bits of bread he hid from his captors. He was a saintly presence in the prison, and actually brought about the conversion of several of his jailers.
When Van Thuan was released in 1991, the pope brought him to Rome, eventually making him a cardinal last year.
I had the great honor of knowing him. In fact, CRISIS published a book of his prayers and meditations CRISIS Magazine, a Catholic monthly published in Washington, DC. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.