US bishops shelve statement urging greater use of Bible

Vote part of effort to cut spending

WASHINGTON — Despite pleas from Bible Belt bishops, the Catholic bishops of the United States yesterday voted to shelve plans to develop a statement urging greater use of the Bible, a move aimed at restraining spending and cutting down on a crush of publications they fear have little impact.

The cost of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to local dioceses has become an increasing concern for bishops, many of whom, including Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, face severe financial crises at home. Two US dioceses, in Tucson, Ariz., and Portland, Ore., have filed for bankruptcy, and the Spokane diocese, home to the president-elect of the bishops’ conference, is expected to file for bankruptcy this month.

The bishops’ conference, headquartered in Washington, has a budget this year of $127 million, of which 24 percent is paid by dioceses; the balance comes from grants and government funds, such as money for refugee settlement. The conference has employed an average of 371 people over the last three years, up from 357 in the 1990s but down from 418 in the 1980s.

The proposed statement on the use of the Bible by Catholics was the first victim of the bishops’ desire to restrain conference spending, but may not be the last: Today, the bishops are scheduled to debate the development of a national pastoral initiative on marriage, in part in response to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Supporters of the Bible statement, many from the South, warned that failure to pursue the statement could be misinterpreted. And they said they could raise money independently to finance the drafting of the document.

“I can imagine the headline tomorrow: ‘Bishops, in attempt to cut expenses, do not encourage people to read the Bible,’ ” said Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn.

Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb, of Mobile, Ala., said “from my position, where the Bible is so much a part of any effort at evangelization, this would be a disaster public-relationswise.” And Bishop John W. Yanta, of Amarillo, Texas, said, “Coming from a mission diocese, and also from the Bible Belt, I think it would be disastrous for us to vote against this, and I think it would be detrimental. The word of God is essential to evangelization.”

But opponents said that the catechism of the Catholic Church obviously encourages Catholics to read the Bible, and that a statement reiterating that support is unnecessary.

“All these arguments could be applied to just about every statement we make, but at some point we have to draw the line, as difficult as it might be,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, of Youngstown, Ohio.

The bishops voted 137 to 102 not to pursue the statement until the conference can decide what its priorities are.

Also yesterday, the bishops elected the chairmen of various committees. O’Malley lost a bid to head the bishops’ committee on marriage and family life. That post was won by Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Knoxville, Tenn., in a 151 to 92 vote.

The bishops spent the afternoon behind closed doors, discussing proposed revisions to their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Those proposed revisions are to be discussed publicly by the bishops at their next meeting, in June.

Outside the hotel where the bishops are meeting, leaders of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests called on the bishops to censure those among them who abused minors or failed to remove abusive priests.

“None of the bishops who enabled these crimes have experienced any consequences for their actions,” said Mary Grant of Long Beach, Calif. Grant is the Western regional director of the victims’ organization. “While bishops have whispered about abusive priests, they have been silent about one another.”

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