Report from the USCCB Spring Meeting: June 2021
Bishop Glen John Provost, Diocese of Lake Charles
I would like to share with you, the faithful of the Diocese of Lake Charles, some reflections on the recent Spring General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, conducted via remote means, and to clarify an issue that excited much discussion and media attention.
Teaching document on reception of Eucharist
One item involved approving the request of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine to proceed with the drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. The bishops of the Committee on Doctrine judged this document timely, because of the return of the faithful to regular church attendance following the pandemic lockdowns. As well, the Committee was concerned that various surveys indicate a substantial deficit in the faithful’s understanding of the Eucharist. There was some opposition to drafting this document. It was, however, apparent to many of us that to argue over the contents of a document which had not yet been written, for which only a draft outline existed, was premature. The Committee assured us that the intention of the document was to instruct. I was very much in favor of the Committee continuing with its work.
An issue surfaced, receiving disproportionate emphais by the media and overreactive commentators, concerning the denial of Holy Communion to those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” (Canon 915). The Canon Law of the Church which governs the behavior of Her members is clear in this matter. There is a procedure to be followed, in consistency with the Gospel mandates (cf. Matthew 18:15-18) and the apostolic teaching of St. Paul (cf. I Corinthians 11:27-29). All is done to assist with the conversion of heart which is necessary for the communicant in the Eucharist. The approach is truthful, honest, and forthcoming. For those of us from Louisiana old enough to remember, Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans in 1962 excommunicated a public official who had in a “manifest” way stood in opposition to the desegregation of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese. The Archbishop’s actions are still viewed as heroic.
Advancement of cause for canonization for Southwest La. priest
The example of heroism also came to the USCCB with a request from Bishop Deshotel of Lafayette. I had the privilege of endorsing, along with Archbishop Timothy Broglio, an effort by the Bishop of Lafayette to advance the cause for canonization for the Servant of God, Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur. Bishop Deshotel initiated this request for the support of the Catholic bishops of the United States, a measure required by the canonical process. I joined my endorsement to Archbishop Broglio’s because for eight years as a young priest, I was assigned to the parish where Father Lafleur served exemplarily in the late 1930’s. When the bishop assigned me to the parish in the 1970’s, there remained certain older parishioners who recalled with great affection Father Lafleur’s service to the parish. Before the bombardment of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II, Father Lafleur entered the chaplaincy to the armed services. The Japanese incarcerated him as a prisoner of war, where this young priest from Southwest Louisiana endeared himself to the other prisoners, never abandoning them, caring for them, sharing his rations, and comforting them in prayer. In transfer on an unmarked Japanese ship, he died trying to rescue prisoners when the vessel was sunk by a torpedo. He posthumously received some of the highest decorations, including the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Medal. He was truly a heroic priest and an example of what it means to give up one’s life for the sheep.
Other items appeared before the Conference, but I thought these two would be of particular interest to you. Please keep the bishops in your prayers. These are challenging times which require great discernment. In remaining open to the authentic teaching of the Church and to the Holy Spirit which guides us still, I am confident that we will constructively address these challenges.