Denver Newsroom, Aug 21, 2020 / 12:23 pm
The U.S. bishops’ conference has canceled its in-person November meeting in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Sources say that conference leadership is now considering whether to conduct an abbreviated virtual meeting in place of the canceled event.
If the bishops do conduct an online session, it will be their first meeting of any kind in a year, because the June meeting of the conference was itself canceled amid the pandemic.
The U.S. bishops were informed in an Aug. 17 letter from Archbishop Jose Gomez that the meeting will not take place in person, and that it could take place virtually if that plan is supported by a plurality of bishops.
But there is a list of pressing issues facing the Church in the U.S., and many of them are unlikely to be addressed meaningfully in a virtual session. As a result, some bishops may push for an in-person gathering to be scheduled as soon as possible. But others may see the diminished capacity of the conference to gather as an opportunity, and take advantage of that opportunity in their own dioceses.
Many conference staffers have told CNA they are eager for in-person meetings of bishops to resume, especially at the committee level. There is a push in the conference to ensure that priorities and projects are driven by bishops, not staff members. But in the absence of personal meetings with bishops in committees, it is harder for staff members to be sure their work reflects the intentions of the bishops, and harder for managers, and bishops, to hold staff members accountable to that mandate.
Still, there are a few items of business that the bishops’ conference would be able to address easily in an online November meeting.
The bishops will need to vote on several committee chairmanships, a strategic plan that has been in development for several years, and on some other procedural business.
The bishops will also have to elect a new general secretary, who functions as the executive director of the conference staff in Washington, DC.