US bishops approve updated seminary program, Hispanic ministry efforts

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference on Tuesday passed several action items, including an update of seminary formation and an effort to catalyze the evangelization of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S.

Approval of the measures came as the bishops met for the second day of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, held from November 11-14.

The bishops approved a new edition of the Program of Priestly Formation, as well as a new translation of the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults and a new translation of Latin hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Program of Priestly Formation is the blueprint for the formation of seminarians in the U.S.; the sixth edition, which was approved on Tuesday, incorporated the Vatican’s 2016 document “The Gift of Priestly Vocation.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said in a presentation on Monday that the updated program provides flexibility for dioceses, provinces and regions to adapt to individual circumstances of seminarians.

It focuses on benchmarks of priestly identity rather than “chronological time” in the advancement of a diocesan seminarian toward the priesthood, he said, by drawing from the concept of a “propaedeutic stage” of priestly formation that was called for in the 2016 Vatican document. This is a beginning stage with an emphasis on the study of philosophy, prayer, and discipleship.

Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, in floor discussions preceding the vote, said that in the last two years both he and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, had been working as part of a larger group on a “deepening” of understanding of priestly celibacy in seminary formation.

This understanding of clerical celibacy, he said, is “based on an effective maturity” that is “both spousal and paternal.” Estevez said that he and Bishop Cozzens would be working to publish a book on this called “Spiritual Husbands, Spiritual Fathers.”

The bishops approved the new edition of the priestly formation program by a vote of 226-4 with three bishops abstaining.

Also on the agenda was a new, reportedly more user-friendly, translation of the Latin edition of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), under a more accurate title of “Order of Christian Initiation of Adults” (OCIA).

The bishops first voted to approve a translation of the Latin edition of the rite, followed by a second vote on the book in its final form, to be sent to Rome for approval.

A text for RCIA had been in use in the U.S. since 1988. The new translation was approved on Tuesday, by a vote of 217-3, with three abstaining.

The bishops also voted on a new translation of Latin hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours.

To provide a sample of the new hymns, a choir with members from The Catholic University of America and the Fellow of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) performed two of the new hymns for bishops at the fall meeting.

The bishops voted to approve the translation 205-5, with two abstaining.

The votes were followed by a discussion of the V Encuentro meeting of 2018, a national gathering of more than 3,000 Hispanic Catholic leaders in the U.S. The bishops discussed some of the results of the Encuentro as providing a blueprint for the future of the Church in the U.S., and how the conference needs to incorporate those results at the parish level.

More than a year after the close of the V Encuentro, the bishops voted on Tuesday to start the process of incorporating the meeting’s conclusions and findings into its strategic plan for 2021-2024.

Recently, a Pew Research report on religious identity in the U.S. found that Catholics no longer make up a majority among Hispanics. The percentage of Catholics among Hispanics fell by 10% over the last decade.

Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, Ohio, said a statement from the conference in response to the V Encuentro should emphasize leadership development among Hispanic Catholics, as well as vocations to the priesthood or religious life, successful models of ministry, and a vision of the Church as a defender of social justice and human dignity.

Regarding the upcoming statement of the conference, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, expressed his hope that the vision outlined in it would be “very practical” and not full of “platitudes and too generic.”

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont said that bishops should produce a pastoral plan of evangelization rather than a statement that would simply be a “large document that just disappears on a shelf.”

Catholic education was a key topic for much of the discussion, as the cost of education was cited as a significant obstacle to the Church’s efforts to provide a nurturing environment for Hispanic Catholics at the parish level.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston emphasized a push for tax credits and school vouchers for Catholic schools, as well as more youth centers, after-school programs and weekend programs for Hispanic Catholic children to involve families in local parish life.

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