US bishops to address full slate of issues at fall meeting
By Marianne Medlin, Staff Writer
Bishop Gerald Kicanas and Cardinal Francis George.
Bishop Gerald Kicanas and Cardinal Francis George.

.- At their annual fall assembly, the U.S. bishops will elect a new president, vote on a new ecumenical agreement on baptism and discuss the reform of its social justice-funding arm, which has come under fire for possibly funding pro-abortion and pro-gay groups.

The annual Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will be held Nov. 15-18, at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel.

The bishops’ current president, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, will be stepping down having completed his three-year term.

The bishops will vote on a new president and vice president from a slate of 10 candidates.

Those up for consideration are: Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans; Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver; Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville; Bishop George Murry of Youngstown; Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore; Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit; and Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City.

Election of the new president requires the vote of at least 50 percent of the bishops. A conference vice president will be elected from the remaining nine candidates.

In the past, the bishops have usually opted to elect the conference vice president to succeed the outgoing president. The current vice president is Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson.

The bishops will also appoint a new treasurer-elect, a general secretary, and chairmen for six conference committees.

Also on the agenda is a discussion on the reform of the controversial Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The campaign launched a program of “review and renewal” last month, acknowledging mistakes and pledging to uphold “Catholic principles” in all future decisions.

Critics have highlighted the campaign's history with groups promoting abortion and homosexuality. The campaign's new guidelines give priority to funding Catholic groups, while screening other recipients more rigorously.

Bishop Roger Morin, who heads the bishops’ subcommittee that oversees the campaign, acknowledged that the campaign has made mistakes in the past in funding certain groups, in a conference call with reporters Oct. 26.

Perhaps the most substantive item on the agenda is a vote on a “common agreement” that would commit the bishops to recognizing the validity of the baptisms performed in four Protestant denominations.

The proposed Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism is the result of six years of study and dialogue between the bishops’ representatives and the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, and the United Church of Christ.

“The U.S. bishops stand at an important juncture in affirming the unity that Christ has given to the baptized members of his body, a unity that is ever fragile and always in need of support from the pastors of the Church,” according to Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the ecumenical committee.

The proposed agreement would hold that baptism is to be performed only once in a person’s lifetime, and that it be performed by an authorized minister, with flowing water and the employment of the Scriptural Trinitarian formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Although other bishops’ conferences around the world have established similar mandates, this is the first of its kind in the U.S.

Also up for the bishops to consider at the November assembly is the request of the Pro-Life Activities Committee to begin drafting a brief policy statement against physician assisted suicide.

The prelates will also address the Church’s response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Other items for discussion during the Nov. assembly include the work of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, an informational update on World Youth Day 2011 and the needs of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

Additionally, the bishops will receive a formal introduction of Professor John H. Garvey, the new president of Catholic University of America.

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