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US bishops gather for their fall 2019 meetingLisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews

BALTIMORE, Maryland, June 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The importance of defending the right to life did not make it into the U.S. bishops’ proposed forthcoming priorities until Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities spoke up prior to last week’s General Assembly of the U.S. bishops.

The right to life for “the unborn and the vulnerable” was to be “vindicated” in the original proposed draft of the Strategic Priorities for their 2021-2024 Strategic Plan, but defending that right against the many ongoing assaults it faces was not mentioned.

Until feedback from the Pro-Life Committee was received, the document on the bishops’ focus for their next planning cycle lacked explicit mentions of abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide, and euthanasia.

At the same time the document said and still states the bishops will “protect and defend the dignity of migrants and refugees,” along with the poor and others on the peripheries.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met last week in Baltimore for their annual spring meeting, and considered among other things their 2021-2024 Strategic Priorities.

The presentation of the proposed Strategic Priorities, which are derived from input from the full body of bishops and the USCCB’s National Advisory Council, showed changes made after feedback was solicited from the bishops’ five standing committees, including the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The other areas of emphasis under the priority category of Life and Dignity of the Human Person had included racism, immigration and the poor, religious freedom, “Foster(ing) reverence for God’s creation, our common home,” and acknowledging the truth about biological sex.

Originally, the right to life fell under the same emphasis area as religious liberty, and its mention stated simply that the bishops would work to “vindicate the right to life[,] especially for the unborn and the vulnerable.”

After feedback from the Pro-Life Committee, the newly created Emphasis Area #3 is to:

Defend the right to life for all people, especially the unborn, elderly, sick, dying and persons with disabilities; and fight the advance of abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide, euthanasia and the death penalty.

Bishops draft ‘operational plans’ based on chosen priorities

The bishops choose four to five priority goals for each three-year planning cycle. The process begins years before the cycle, with the bishops currently focused on priorities approved in 2016.

The USCCB Committee on Priorities and Plans asks the entire body of bishops for input so that the Committee can prepare a strategic plan that reflects the prelates’ views.

The proposed Strategic Priorities before the bishops at their meeting last week were developed after two consultations with the full body of bishops, in the January-February timeframe of 2018 and then again in November of last year, and one consultation in January 2019 with the USCCB National Advisory Council.  

Four Strategic Priorities and their Emphasis Areas had been developed this past March. The final proposed draft was completed in April. The proposed Strategic Priorities were then shared in May with the full body of bishops via the documentation for the June 11-14 General Assembly.

Following this, the Committee on Plans and Priorities received the feedback from the five standing committees, approving the changes and additions to the proposed Priorities the day before the bishops’ spring General Assembly went into session.

The changes and additions based upon the feedback were shown in a revised set of Priorities and Emphasis Areas illustrated in a graphic displaying the changes to the original proposed document.

The Strategic Priorities had to be approved at the bishops’ June meeting, because they will be asking their committees, sub-committees, and departments to begin drafting operational plans based on the 2021-2024 Priorities beginning in July.

Those plans are then to be submitted for the bishops to review by the end of January 2020. They will then approve the Strategic Priorities and a full Strategic Plan at their General Assembly in November 2020.

The Pro-Life Activities Committee had given feedback as well on the need to articulate the Church’s teaching on anthropology of the human person, male and female.

The U.S. bishops approved the proposed Strategic Priorities for the 2021-2024 USCCB Strategic Plan 213 to 8, with four bishops abstaining.

The U.S. bishops have faced criticism for their significant emphasis on immigration due to their receiving millions of dollars each year in federal grants related to migration.

Archbishop Naumann was elected to chair the UCCB Committee on Pro-life Activities in November 2017. Since then, he has been a consistent and clear voice on life and the Church’s other related teachings.

The 2017-2020 Conference-wide Priority Initiatives have been:

  1. Evangelization: Open wide the doors to Christ through missionary discipleship and personal encounter.
  2. Family and marriage: Encourage and heal families; inspire Catholics to embrace the sacrament of matrimony.
  3. Human life and dignity: Uphold the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death with special concern for the poor and vulnerable.
  4. Vocations and ongoing formation: Encourage vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, and provide meaningful ongoing formation to clergy, religious and lay ministers.
  5. Religious freedom: Promote and defend the freedom to serve, witness and worship, in the U.S. and abroad.

The Emphasis Areas under the current 2017-2020 Human life and dignity priority are:

  • Form joyful disciples willing to proclaim in the public square the sanctity of human life and firmly reject the throwaway culture of abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide.
  • Work to eliminate the darkness caused by neglect, poverty, racism, and addictions including pornography.
  • Continue to provide healing for victims and ensure that safe environments are provided for children and young people through education, screening, accountability, and the ongoing promotion of public awareness regarding the scourge of sexual abuse throughout society.
  • Study and apply the principles of Catholic social teaching in service to all our brothers and sisters, with special emphasis on advocacy for the poor, disenfranchised, immigrants, and refugees.
  • Joyfully invite the imprisoned, disenfranchised, and neglected into the full life of the Church.
  • Teach and advocate about integral ecology, emphasizing environmental degradation and its impact on the lives of the most vulnerable.