.- Religious liberty and evangelizing in the increasingly secular American culture topped the list of issues that the U.S. bishops proposed as new priorities for their 2013-2016 strategic planning cycle.
A discussion on conference priorities took place on Nov. 15, the second day of the bishops’ three-day fall General Assembly in Baltimore.
Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, Ohio, who serves as the chairman of the conference’s Committee on Priorities and Plans, facilitated the discussion.
Bishop Murry explained that the conferences’ long-term priorities are worked out through the 16 standing programmatic committees, which include the committees on Doctrine, International Justice and Peace, Pro-Life Activities and Catholic Education.
In addition, the conference designates short-term priorities, specific conference-wide initiatives that the bishops choose to focus on during given periods of time.
From 2009 to 2011, the five priorities chosen by the bishops were faith formation and sacramental practice, strengthening marriage, human life and dignity, priestly and religious vocations and cultural diversity in the Church.
Bishop Murry highlighted achievements that the bishops have made in these areas, including catechetical preparation for the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, which is set to go into effect this Advent, as well as launching websites to promote marriage and religious vocations.
“The past three years has been a time of gestation and birth for many projects and resources that have now become mainstream bishop responsibilities,” he said.
The bishops took time during their meeting to debate which issues were pressing enough to be considered priorities in the 2013-2016 strategic planning cycle. They gathered in regional groups to formulate and submit ideas for new priorities.
After receiving the suggestions, Bishop Murry announced that the Committee on Priorities and Plans would need time to reflect on them and decide how to integrate them into the bishops’ strategic plan.
The two issues that received “overwhelming support” from the regional groups were religious liberty and the New Evangelization, he said.
The bishops had also shown a “clear desire” to continue their work on the current priorities, he added.
Other suggestions for issues to add as new priorities included communication, leadership, the economy and immigration.
In the coming months, the Committee on Priorities and Plans will consider the bishops’ ideas and work to create a framework that will incorporate the two new priorities into the current initiatives.
The committee will give a presentation on its progress to the Administrative Committee in March and then to the entire body of bishops in June.