Ubi Caritas et Amor
There have always been, for lack of better words, conservative and liberal wings of the U.S. Catholic Church, and that's true of its bishops, too. Since at least the 1980s, the conservative faction has generally held sway. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is meeting in New Orleans, says Michael Paulson at The New York Times, and the bishops are trying to figure out how to talk and act in the age of Pope Francis. Paulson reports:
They are rethinking what kinds of houses they live in, and what kinds of cars they drive. They are wondering whether, in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election, they need to rewrite their advice to parishioners to make sure that poverty, and not just abortion, is discussed as a high-priority issue. And they are trying to get better about returning phone calls, reaching out to the disenchanted and the disenfranchised, and showing up at events. [The New York Times]
These aren't all tonal and substantive shifts leftward, but they would certainly put the U.S. bishops more on the side of the parts of Francis' pontificate that make him popular: Humility, charity, non-judgmentalism. The U.S. bishop closest to Pope Francis, Boston's Cardinal Séan O'Malley, is ahead of the curve on this — he sold the opulent archbishop's palace in 2004 to pay for sex abuse settlements.
The bishops are still dealing with the loss of legitimacy and other fallout from the sex abuse scandal that spread nationwide (and beyond) from Boston in 2002. Not all of the bishops are on board with shift in emphasis, but the era of Pope John Paul II is over — and a change will probably do America's bishops some good.