5 Items to Watch at the US Bishops’ Fall Meeting

The discussion about Eucharistic coherence will garner the most media attention, but four other issues also warrant close consideration.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pray during their fall 2019 assembly in Baltimore, the last time they met in person.
Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pray during their fall 2019 assembly in Baltimore, the last time they met in person. (photo: Christine Rousselle / CNA)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is meeting in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the bishops have many issues to discuss since their virtual June meeting where a debate erupted over the drafting of a document on the Eucharist that addressed worthiness to receive Communion. 

While many in the media framed that debate as being aimed at President Joe Biden, a baptized Catholic who breaks with Church teaching on abortion but continues to receive Communion, the document is actually being issued alongside an initiative to teach U.S. Catholics about the Eucharist — in light of studies showing a pressing need for catechesis on the topic. 

Other items prominently on the bishops’ agenda include elections for important roles within the conference, as well as considering the causes for sainthood and beatification of three Catholic Americans. An update will also be given on a pro-life initiative the bishops began two years ago aimed at assisting moms in need.


Eucharistic Coherence

But the issue that will be front and center at the conference is the bishops’ statement on the Eucharist, titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” The document prompted a fierce debate in June over whether to go ahead with its drafting, given concerns expressed by some that it would be taken as a political move aimed at President Biden. Ultimately, a clear majority of bishops (168-55) voted to draft the document. 

The media and some politicians framed the move as a rebuke for Biden despite repeated statements from the USCCB that “the bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion” and noting that “the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.” 

The draft of the document, which will be opened up for discussion and amendments this week prior to a vote, was recently leaked and does not mention any politician by name. But it does restate the text of the bishops’ 2006 document on Catholics in public life that “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”

One possible dimension of the debate might be a discussion of where Pope Francis stands on the approach to Communion for politicians like Biden, who are at odds with Church teaching abortion and other issues the Church considers intrinsically evil. President Biden recently claimed that Pope Francis told him to “keep receiving Communion” in a meeting where the abortion issue was not discussed. The Vatican said the conversation was “private” when asked about the alleged remark.

Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was the lead author of the 2007 Aparecida document, which says, “We hope that legislators, heads of government, and health professionals, conscious of the dignity of human life and of the rootedness of the family in our peoples, will defend and protect it from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia. ... We must adhere to ‘Eucharistic coherence,’ that is, be conscious that they cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged.”

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, told the Register in October that he plans to propose these words be added to the Eucharistic coherence document. However, in past meetings, bishops such as Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago have invoked other writings of Pope Francis to de-emphasize the abortion issue. 

Given this backdrop, a discussion of the Holy Father’s perspective on the issue may occur, barring some greater clarity on the matter from Rome. 


Eucharistic Revival

While many in the media will focus on how the discussion of worthiness to receive Communion relates to President Biden and other pro-abortion politicians, many bishops have voiced greater concern over recent poll findings showing that only a third of U.S. Catholics believe in the Real Presence. In light of a desire to teach Catholics about the Eucharist, they will vote on a three-year initiative called “Eucharistic Revival: My Flesh for the Life of the World.”

During the spring USCCB assembly, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, gave a presentation about this revival effort. He said the initiative aims to “renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist” with “a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist — and sent out in mission for the life of the world.”

He told the Register in June that U.S. dioceses will spend the revival’s first year “enkindling the fire” through the training of Eucharistic preachers and missionaries and through hosting events. In the second year, parishes will have small groups, teaching Masses, and more widely available Eucharistic adoration. 

The initiative will culminate in a national Eucharistic Congress in 2024, modeled after World Youth Day, that will have a pilgrimage aspect and aim to send “at least 100,000 Eucharistic missionaries to dioceses and parishes,” according to Bishop Cozzens.



In addition to discussion of the Eucharist and potential debates over worthiness to receive Communion, the bishops will vote for important USCCB offices, including USCCB treasurer and new chairmen-elect of five conference committees: Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations; Divine Worship; Domestic Justice and Human Development; Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Migration. 

In the election for the chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship are Bishop Steven Lopes of the Anglican Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter and Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis. This vote may prove interesting, as Archbishop Rozanski has actually faced rebuke from the committee in March 2020 when he attempted to allow non-priests to administer anointing of the sick amid the coronavirus pandemic when he served as Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts. Bishop Lopes has also been regarded as an interesting choice given that the Anglican Ordinariate has different liturgical traditions from the Latin Rite.

It is safe to say that these two bishops hold very different views on certain issues. 

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in September, Bishop Lopes told attendees that “regardless of what the pundits say, the truth of the intrinsic and the inviolable dignity of the human person is not divisive, it is the foundation of all other rights,” and that "unity without truth is simply uniformity bound to fail.” 

Many bishops had invoked the importance of unity in the debate over the statement on worthiness to receive Communion in June. Archbishop Rozanski was among these bishops and signed a letter along with other prelates attempting to delay drafting of the document on the Eucharist by arguing for a slower approach to ensure “maintaining unity with the Holy See and the Universal Church” on the issue. He also introduced a motion in the June meeting attempting to delay drafting of the document, a motion that ultimately failed.

The winner of this election will be noteworthy, given that the chairman of this committee will head the implementation of Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition), which directed bishops to limit the use of the Traditional Latin Mass. Thus far, U.S. bishops have largely approached the implementation of the motu proprio through continued study without directly imposing restrictions on it.

The bishops will also vote for a new USCCB general secretary following the resignation of Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill who faced allegations of improper sexual behavior utilizing the “gay hook-up” app Grindr.


Sainthood Causes

The bishops will also consult on the causes of beatification and canonization for Servant of God Charlene Marie Richard and Servant of God Auguste Robert Pelafigue, both from Louisiana, as well as Servant of God Joseph Dutton of Hawaii. The bishops consult on advancing causes like these according to the requirement in the 2007 Vatican document Sanctorum Mater that the diocesan bishop promoting a sainthood cause consult with the body of bishops.

Charlene Richard, the second oldest of 10 children born in Richard, Louisiana, was given a terminal diagnosis of leukemia and joined her suffering in the disease to the sufferings of Christ. She died in 1959 at the age of 12 after praying for the conversion and healing of others, and people began to refer to her as the “little Cajun Saint.” Thousands visit her grave each year, reporting benefits from prayers asking for her intercession.

Auguste "Nonco" Pelafigue was born in 1888 and emigrated with his family from France to Arnaudville, Louisiana. He had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and organized the League of the Sacred Heart with some 1,200 members and 101 promoters. He was a door-to-door evangelist, visiting the sick and the poor. A Catholic school teacher, he also taught theology to public school students and distributed pamphlets about devotion to the Sacred Heart. He was awarded the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice medal by Pope Pius XII in 1953.

Joseph Dutton, born in Vermont in 1843, was a Civil War veteran who fought as a Union Army lieutenant. He converted to Catholicism in 1883 and felt a call to help St. Damien of Molokai minister to those suffering from leprosy there after reading about his work. He died in Honolulu in 1931 at the age 88 after serving four decades on Molokai.


Walking With Moms in Need

Among the initiatives that the bishops will hear updates on is one that aims to help mothers in need in the midst of unplanned pregnancies. The effort is intended to be a “service in which Catholic parishes and communities ‘walk in the shoes’ of local pregnant and parenting women in need.” 

Announcing it at the fall 2019 U.S. bishops meeting, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said of the initiative that “as the Church and growing numbers of pro-life Americans continue to advocate for women and children in courthouses and legislatures, the Church’s pastoral response is focused on the needs of women facing pregnancies in challenging circumstances."

The effort attempted to identify gaps in resources for pregnant women in need and address them along with arming parishes with the knowledge to assist these women at the local level. 

Archbishop Naumann said in a March statement that while some of the momentum of the effort was disrupted by the COVID pandemic, “We encourage even more dioceses and parishes to implement Walking with Moms in Need in their local area, as we work towards a society where mothers and children are protected in law and welcomed in love.”

An update on the results of this effort will be noteworthy as the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case comes before the Supreme Court where there is potential for the Roe v. Wade decision to be overturned.