During their annual three-day fall assembly in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops' discussed threats to religious liberty, efforts to support traditional marriage and the need to keep a close eye on health care issues.

And on Nov. 15, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl announced that a new ordinariate --- functionally similar to a diocese --- will be created Jan. 1 to bring Anglicans into the Catholic Church.

The cardinal said that 67 Anglican priests have submitted their dossiers seeking ordination in the Catholic Church, and 35 of those have received the initial approval from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That means they can move to the second stage of approval, which includes a criminal background check, psychological evaluation and a recommendation from the Catholic bishop where he lives and from his Anglican ecclesiastical authority.

The actions followed the November 2009 issuance of an apostolic constitution authorizing the creation of an ordinariate to bring in Anglicans, or Episcopalians as they are more commonly known in the United States, who seek to leave their tradition and join the Catholic Church.

On the first day of the Nov. 14-16 meeting, bishops voted to establish a permanent Subcommittee on Health Care Issues under the jurisdiction of their Committee on Doctrine.

Prior to the 214-15 vote, Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford said he was "strongly in favor" of the new subcommittee because health care is part of "the Gospel mission of the church" and involves "billions and billions of dollars in funding."

"We run the risk of losing a major ministry of the church if we don't keep a close eye on health care issues," he said.

The new subcommittee will address such issues as guidance in implementing the bishops' "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services," non-Catholic hospitals in Catholic health systems, for-profit Catholic health care, canonical status of Catholic health facilities, conscience protection and health care reform.

In votes cast during the first two days of the meeting, the bishops approved a $217.4 million budget for 2012 and a 3 percent increase in diocesan assessments for 2013. They also overwhelmingly approved a five-year extension of the resolution that calls bishops to adhere to sound financial reporting within their dioceses and voted to approved priorities and plans for 2012 for the USCCB with a 219-6 vote.

The bishops approved Oct. 22 as an optional memorial for Blessed John Paul II in the proper of saints calendar for the United States. They also approved an optional memorial for Blessed Marianne Cope, with the date to be determined.

On the first day of the meeting Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., and chairman of a new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, outlined threats to religious liberty issues, saying there seems to be a pattern in culture and law to treat religion "as merely a private matter between an individual and one's own God."

"Some decisions and some administrative regulations treat religion not as a contributor to our nation's common morality but rather as a divisive and disruptive force better kept out of public life," he said.

Regarding efforts to support traditional marriage, the chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth reported to the bishops Nov. 14 that their campaign to strengthen marriage has reached a large audience and has been honored by professional advertising organizations.

In a presentation on the work of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., said public service announcements with the theme of "a good marriage goes a long way" were released in September to 1,600 television stations and 7,000 radio stations.

He also announced the launch of a new website --- www.marriageuniqueforareason.org --- aimed at educating Catholics on the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The website corresponds with a new DVD, guide, and booklet.

In a related report, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, chairman of the defense of marriage subcommittee, said there are a great many challenges on the legal front to traditional marriage, ranging from various states legalizing same-sex marriage to the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.

He said one thread of the subcommittee's efforts is to work on persuading the Obama administration to "press the reset button on the trajectory of undermining marriage."

The bishops also heard from three cardinals about the church's efforts to expand and strengthen the church's post-abortion healing ministry, Project Rachel.

Women who have had abortions, as well as the men and parents who might have encouraged it, "need to know that God forgives them and that all is not lost," said Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who described Project Rachel as "one of our best pastoral initiatives."

In another report, two bishops who recently visited Iraq said the United States and American Catholics must do their part to help keep Iraq from sliding into chaos once U.S. troops leave the country at the end of the year.

"The U.S. withdrawal of combat troops does not reduce the obligation to help," principally to protect Iraqis and provide assistance, said Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, during a Nov. 15 press briefing at the bishops' meeting.

"It would be extremely important for our government to participate in an orderly transition. ... The great fear right now is if the troops leave, the violence will intensify," Bishop Kicanas said, adding the United States must "make sure people's lives are protected and violence doesn't erupt."

In his opening address Nov. 14, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, USCCB president, said the church needs to restore its luster, credibility and beauty in the hearts of its members.

He called on his fellow bishops to communicate to the world that the sinfulness of the church's members is not "a reason to dismiss the church or her eternal truths, but to embrace her all the more."

The archbishop said the church still has plenty to say to the modern world.

In later remarks, he said he was encouraged by a Nov. 8 private meeting he had with President Barack Obama at the White House. He found the president to be "very open to the sensitivities" of the U.S. Catholic Church on issues related to religious freedom that the two discussed.

At a Nov. 14 news conference, Archbishop Dolan spoke about Penn State University's sex abuse scandal, which he said "shows that the scourge (of sex abuse) is not limited to any one faith and certainly not limited to priests," he said.

During the first day's session, the bishops also met Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the new apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishops also elected new chairmen-elect for the communications, cultural diversity, doctrine, pro-life activities and national collections committees.

One worship-related item on the bishops' agenda --- a new English translation of the Rite for Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick, and for Consecrating the Chrism --- was deferred until the Vatican develops new texts. The bishops were advised to use the texts currently found in the Sacramentary for the year 2012.


{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/1118/bishops/{/gallery}