The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) began its four-day fall general assembly Monday, November 12, 2012, in Baltimore.
In his presidential address, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York spoke of the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Challenging his brother bishops to undergo their own conversion and renewal, the Cardinal said, "This is the sacrament of the new evangelization, for as Pope Benedict reminds us, 'We cannot speak about the new evangelization without the sincere desire to conversion.'
"I know I risk the criticism -- I can hear it now: 'With all the controversies and urgent matters for the church right now, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the sacrament of penance. Can you believe it?' To which I reply, 'You better believe it!' First things first!"
Cardinal Dolan said, "We cannot engage culture unless we let him (Jesus) first engage us, we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with him, and we cannot challenge unless we first allow him to challenge us."
The bishops are scheduled to vote on a statement encouraging Catholics to consider Lent 2013 as an opportunity to return to regular celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The statement highlights the connection the pope has made between confession and the New Evangelization during the Year of Faith.
"Our pastoral plan offers numerous resources for catechesis on the sacrament of penance, and the manifold graces that come to us from the frequent use of confession," he said. Next June, he added, the U.S. bishops will have a special assembly to pray and reflect on their mission, including "our witness to personal conversion in Jesus Christ" and to the New Evangelization.
The Bishops also received a report from San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, Chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. He noted that Election Day was “a disappointing day for marriage” and pointed out that same-sex marriage laws were approved in three states and a fourth state rejected an amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The election results are "a symptom of a much larger problem," basically that "people don't understand what marriage is," Archbishop Cordileone said at a news conference following the session where he presented his report.
In delivering his report, he praised the work of the bishops in those four states to defend the traditional definition of marriage, drawing applause from the bishops in the assembly meeting room. "In all these states where we did not succeed, we were outspent," he said. In Washington, for example, supporters of the legalization measure outspent opponents by 12 to 1, said the archbishop.
Archbishop Cordileone noted that the U.S. Supreme Court is thought likely to take up one of several cases challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. It defines marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
The Obama administration has stopped defending the law in court and several federal courts have found its definition unconstitutional.
Those cases or any of several other pending cases related to marriage could redefine marriage throughout the country, he said, warning they could have implications for religious liberty "in serious and unforeseen ways."
A ruling that redefines marriage nationwide would be "the Roe decision for marriage," he said, in a reference to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion virtually on demand in every state.
The Bishops meet again in public session Tuesday. The session is available online.