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US Catholic bishops gather, discuss same-sex marriage, refugees

By Peter Smith • Nov 17, 2015 at 11:00 AM

BALTIMORE — U.S. Catholic bishops gathered here Monday listened as colleagues sounded alarms over the spread of legalized same-sex marriage and pornography while lamenting what they see are the erosion of religious liberties.

And the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Catholic refugee agencies would be willing to help resettle Syrian refugees while recognizing the U.S. government’s need to conduct security clearances of such persons.

“We have a tradition for doing it, and believe me we’re going to continue doing that,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the conference.

That stance was out of political fashion on a day when more than a dozen state governors opposed resettling displaced Syrians after a terrorist in the Paris attacks Friday was believed to have slipped into Europe amid the tide of Middle Eastern refugees.

Catholic and other charitable agencies throughout the United States have resettled thousands of refugees from throughout the world in conjunction with the U.S. government, which screens persons for security risks. Critics, however, argue terrorists can slip through such screenings.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh echoed his colleague’s stance in an interview, saying there can be a balance between providing security and helping refugees in need.

Kurtz spoke on the first day of this week’s gathering of the nation’s Catholic bishops, their first since Pope Francis made a historic visit to the United States this fall, raising the profile of issues such as poverty and immigration. The meeting also comes a month after a historic synod of bishops in Rome that responded to the pope’s call for greater openness to those who fall short of Catholic ideals of traditional marriage.

The bishops are preparing to vote Tuesday on a series of policy documents, including a list of strategic priorities for the coming five years and a guide for Catholics facing the 2016 election, both of which show a tension between the bishops’ agenda before and after the election of Pope Francis 2½ years ago.

The strategic plan calls for priorities on such issues as marriage, human life and vocations. The election-related paper, a revision of an existing document called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” quotes Francis numerous times on issues of poverty and the environment but removed section headings that called particular attention to those issues.

Both documents put strong emphasis on opposing the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage earlier this year.

Bishop Richard Malone, who chairs the bishops’ committee dealing with marriage, called the decision “tragic” and “immoral.”

Archbishop Joseph Nauman of Kansas City added that just “because five Supreme Court justices changed public policy on such a fundamental issue,” bishops should not accept it.

But Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., said the issue was more complex than the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, which he said bishops have correctly opposed directly as a matter of life. With marriage, he urged a strategy of gradually trying to shift public opinion.

The bishops also are planning to vote Tuesday on a pastoral document on pornography that cites the spread of sexually oriented businesses and decries the impact on individuals and families. It encourages users of pornography to see the exploitation of both the persons depicted and themselves, and it encourages church leaders to help people affected by its use.

“This is an issue of the dignity of women, the dignity of men and certainly the dignity of children,” said Kurtz, adding that those addicted to pornography become, like other addicts, focused on themselves rather than on the good of their families or communities.”

Zubik said the report is much-needed. Pornography “is getting out of control,” he said. “It’s such a degradation” of human dignity.


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