The Growing Rift Between the Vatican and USCCB

Last week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gathered for their “Fall Plenary Assembly” in Baltimore.

There seem to have been two main stories which have emerged from this event. One is the continuing insistence on the pre-eminence of abortion, with U.S. bishops approving a voting guide affirming this, despite resistance from Pope Francis’s favoured US prelates, Cardinals Tobin, McElroy and Cupich, who have repeatedly attempted to overturn this.

The second story is the open clash between USCCB president Archbishop Timothy Broglio and the papal nuncio Cardinal Christophe Pierre, the latter who, two weeks prior to the conference, gave an interview in America Magazine where he made a number of rather stark criticisms of the Catholic Church in the USA.

His remarks included an interesting emphasis on the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, commonly known as the Aparecida Conference, which took place in May 2007 in the city of Aparecida, Brazil and aimed to address various pastoral challenges facing the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as to provide guidance for the Church’s mission in the region.

The “Aparecida Document”, produced as a culmination of the conference, emphasises social justice, advocating for a preferential option for the poor, and addressing issues of inequality and poverty, all themes which were later taken up in Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (2013).

The Pope has referred to the conference as “a great moment for the Church”, while papal biographer Austen Ivereigh wrote in 2015 the Aparecida document “underlies the Francis program,” and in 2018 that the pope has drawn from the document a “vision…of how you evangelize a world in flux.”

However, in his interview with America, the nuncio suggested that a majority of US bishops were ignorant of what was going on “in their own continent”, and stated: “I was astounded that many of the bishops didn’t know what had happened in Aparecida. They did not know that Evangelii Gaudium, the first document of Pope Francis, was rooted in Aparecida.”

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