An October 10 press release for the upcoming meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (November 13-14) announced the gathering’s agenda. It consists mostly of reports and committee votes and business as usual. But a lot has changed since October 10. The bishops ought to scrap that agenda. Instead they should talk seriously about how they are being called to change—as a conference—in response to the leadership of Pope Francis.
The kind of change the pope has repeatedly called for—from the whole church as well as from the bishops—is different from “doing better” that which we’re already doing. The pope, from Evangelii Gaudium onward, has called repeatedly for a radical re-evaluation of priorities and outlook. Yet so far it seems the USCCB has shown precious little interest in doing anything other than what they already planned on doing.
Consider how Francis’s recent motu proprio, Magnum principium, has caused not even a ripple. A month after he announced a basic and consequential change in the bishops’ responsibility for liturgical translations, giving them new criteria by which to judge the prior instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam, what do we see on the agenda? They are going to vote on the new translation of the Order of Baptism, prepared according to Liturgiam authenticam. It’s as if Magnum principium didn’t even exist.
To be fair, it could be that the bishops’ advisors on canon law told them Liturgiam authenticam is still in force and therefore nothing really changed. But if so, that was misleading advice. If you read the whole motu proprio, and not only the canonical text, the need for a genuinely new departure stares you in the face. The bishops’ conference of New Zealand got the memo. The German-speaking bishops got the memo. Why does it seem there is so little comprehension among our bishops when they read what Pope Francis has to say? They seem to be screening out anything that would call for change.
Yet change is indeed in the wind, and subsequent events have sharpened the point. On October 22, Pope Francis publicly corrected Cardinal Robert Sarah of the Congregation for Divine Worship, when he voiced the opinion that translations would still be subject to Liturgiam authenticam in all its particulars. Whatever the bishops thought when their agenda was being drawn up, do the bishops now still think “everything will stay the same”? Are they seriously proposing to approve new texts prepared according to Liturgiam authenticam, as if the implications of Magnum principium, laid out in black-and-white by the Holy Father, don’t matter?