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Health care among bishops' other concerns.

NEW ORLEANS -- The chilled air circulating throughout the Hyatt Regency Hotel June 17-19 did nothing to quell the heat generated from the U.S. Catholic bishops first open discussion of priest sex abuse. Several alleged victims were present at the gathering, along with scores of media personnel, some from as far as the London-based BBC.

But the issue -- the last item on the agenda for the second day of the meeting -- was among many the bishops took up during this semiannual spring gathering. New Orleans' "party town" atmosphere contrasted sharply with the serious tone of the discussions, which focused on a range of issues affecting church and society.

Chief among them was the subject of health care reform.

"In Catholic hospitals and clinics, our parishes and charities agencies, we pick up the pieces of a failing and unjust health system -- sick children without care, families without coverage," said Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop John Ricard, chair of the bishops' Domestic Policy Committee.

The bishops approved a statement on health care, outlining a criteria for reform that called for universal access, respect for life, preserving "pluralism" and containing costs.

Since President Clinton's health care plan is yet to be announced, the bishops' resolution does not offer any specific policy conclusions or advocacy strategies.

It does make it clear, however, where the bishops stand on such controversial issues as abortion funding. The bishops insist that abortion coverage should not be included in the government's reform package, saying "it would be a moral tragedy, serious policy misjudgment and a major political mistake to burden healthcare reform with abortion coverage."

In other actions:

* The bishops extended an additional $2 million line of credit (from National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference unrestricted fund balance) to cover increased expenses for the upcoming World Youth Day.

The revised budget puts the total cost at $6.5 million -- an increase attributed in part to a larger-than-expected attendance. While 60,000 were originally anticipated in June 1992, current registrations total more than 150,000 people. Additionally, the cost for site preparations for Cherry Creek Park -- where the pope will preside at a Saturday evening vigil and Sunday Mass -- has increased from a projected $1 million to $2 million.

* The bishops also passed a resolution urging Rome to move more expeditiously with the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They set an Aug. 1 deadline for its completion. One major source of contention, as expressed by several bishops, was that the delay was causing them to repeatedly postpone events related to its release.

* The bishops took the opportunity to showcase for the press its recent fundraising success with the Campaign for Human Development. During one of several scheduled news conferences, they announced that CHD had collected its largest amount in history -- $12.5 million. More than $7 million will be allocated to 225 community-based, self-help projects.

* The bishops also voted on an age range for confirmations. After much debate, they decided to have sacrament administered between the ages of 7 and 18 in U.S. dioceses.

* The bishops elected Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston as see-retary of the bishops conference to fill the post vacated by Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe. Sanchez resigned earlier this year amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Fiorenza beat out Boston Auxiliary Bishop Roberto Gonzalez by a secret ballot vote tally of 147-61.

* In addition, the bishops endorsed a plan to revamp the Catholic Telecommunications Network of America in order to make it more accessible by parishes for the first time in its 12-year history.

The three-day meeting in New Orleans took on added significance because the local archdiocese is celebrating its bicentennial. A special Mass was offered at St. Louis Cathedral during the bishops' stay to mark the occasion.

When the bishops weren't under the glare of bright camera lights during their meeting, it wasn't rare to spot a bishop or two -- under the plethora of city lights -- taking in the merrymaking sights and sounds of what many locals call "N'awlins."

The hotel where more than 200 bishops met was just minutes away from the famous French Quarter, where streets are filled round the clock with gawking tourists and the sounds of music wafting out of a wide assortment of bars, restaurants and strip joints.

Just as many of the bishops were shuttled back to the airport on the Sunday following the official close of their meeting, another heat wave of sorts -- a familiar one to them -- was about to hit the hotel where they had stayed.

Bishop George Stallings, who was excommunicated from the Catholic church for founding the African-American Catholic Congregation, was scheduled to arrive at the Hyatt the next day for a meeting there later that week. The occasion: The fourth annual synod with about 250 delegates from the seven churches that have formed since the first Imani Temple was inaugurated July 2, 1989.
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Title Annotation:National Conference of Catholic Bishops' June 1993 meeting
Author:Edwards, Robin T.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 2, 1993
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