Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Catholic Bishops Join Evangelicals in Broad, New Alliance

U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops Vote to Join Broad Christian Alliance
11-17-2004 10:32 AM
By RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer

WASHINGTON -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops voted Wednesday to join
a new alliance that would be the broadest Christian group ever formed in
the United States, linking American evangelicals and Catholics in an
ecumenical organization for the first time.

Separately, church leaders also authorized a third-round of annual audits
of all U.S. dioceses to determine whether they are complying with the
bishops' policies on preventing clergy sex abuse.

The bishops also agreed to launch a multiyear initiative that would aim to
strengthen marriage by, among other projects, raising awareness about
church teaching on the importance of the sacrament and provide resources
for church programs on preventing divorce.

The votes came as the bishops' worked to wrap up business at their fall
meeting, which ends Thursday.

The alliance, called Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., is set to
kick off next year. It would also include mainline Protestants, Orthodox
Christians, and black and other minority churches, though with about 67
million members the U.S. Catholic Church would be the largest
denomination.

"It's not to create some kind of megabody or megachurch," said Bishop
Stephen Blaire, chairman of the ecumenical committee for the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It is a forum for participation so that
we can pray together, grow in our understanding together and witness
together our faith."

It is considered a biblical imperative for Christians to find ways to
build unity among their different denominations. Pope John Paul II has
made such efforts a priority of his pontificate.

The bishops approved the proposal 151-73. Blaire, of Stockton, Calif.,
called Wednesday's vote "important and historic."

The Catholic Church has ongoing ecumenical dialogues with many
denominations. However, some evangelical and Pentecostal churches have
resisted participating. In the floor debate Wednesday, New York Cardinal
Edward Egan noted those churches were worried that such talks risked
"watering down their faith."

In fact, the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, which has more than
16 million members and is the largest Protestant denomination in the
country, has so far not agreed to fully join Christian Churches Together.

Blaire said that among the evangelicals who have agreed to participate are
the Salvation Army and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.

On the abuse issue, the bishops voted for a third round of audits next
year and authorized the collection of data from every diocese on new abuse
claims, the resolution of ongoing cases and related costs.

This year's audit results are due to be released in February. Archbishop
Harry Flynn, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sex Abuse, said
auditors so far have found that most dioceses are in compliance with
reform efforts.

However, he said some dioceses still have failed to conduct background
checks on clergy and diocesan workers, and to enact programs meant to
teach staff to identify abuse and help prevent it. He did not say which
dioceses were out of compliance.

"This lack of progress in these dioceses and eparchies is a matter of
serious concern for all of us," Flynn said. "It's necessary for all of us
to maintain our vigilance."

The audits are part of the sweeping reforms bishops adopted in June 2002
at the height of the abuse crisis. That policy is now undergoing review.