November 15, 2013
At the moment of our nation’s birth, before our Constitution was written or ratified, Pope Pius VI established a new Catholic diocese—to lead and organize the Church in the United States, which had previously been governed by the Bishop of London.
The American diocese was established as the Diocese of Baltimore, and its territory spanned the United States. In one way or another, every diocese of the United States is a daughter of the Diocese of Baltimore.
The first bishop of Baltimore, John Carroll, was a great American, and a great bishop. Bishop Carroll was anadvocate for education, for patriotism, and for fraternity and communion among America’s Catholic leadership. In 1791, he called together the priests of the United States for a synod—a meeting to establish common practices of prayer and Catholic life in America.
The Synod of Baltimore is an important part of our Church’s history. We have long been governed by leaders seeking consensus and solidarity with one another, as they lead the flocks entrusted to their care.
In the 1800s, the Councils of Baltimore continued the great tradition of Bishop Carroll. The Councils were assemblies of America’s bishops, gathered together to discuss the mission of the Church in America, to come to agreements about governance and worship, and to find new ways to teach the faith. Generations of American Catholics learned the faith through the Baltimore Catechism, which was developed at the request of America’s bishops after the Third Council of Baltimore, and was written and promulgated in the city of Baltimore.
To honor the legacy of John Carroll and the Church of Baltimore, the bishops of the United States, united as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gather annually in Baltimore to pray together, and to plan for the leadership of our Church.
I’m writing this week from the Baltimore meeting of the USCCB. It is a grace, and a joy, to spend time in prayer and fellowship with my brother bishops. And I’m proud to be a part of the important work our conference is doing.
The USCCB, which continues the history of the Councils of Baltimore, is a body dedicated to fraternal leadership of the Church in the United States. The Conference was established in 1966, at the request of Pope Paul VI. The Conference is charged with establishing some norms for worship and prayer in our country, for providing common standards of governance, for offering catechesis, and for working, on behalf of all Catholics, to promote justice, peace, and truth, in America’s public life.
Most importantly, the USCCB is a forum for America’s bishops to join one another in fraternity and solidarity, working together for the salvation of souls. At its best, the USCCB continues the legacy of the synod called for by John Carroll, and of the great Councils of Baltimore.
This week, the USCCB elected a new slate of leaders. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the Archbishop of Louisville, was elected the new President. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo was elected Vice-President. These good men are charged with leading the bishops in their efforts to advance the Gospel.
We discussed our common commitment to defending religious liberty, the dignity of human life, marriage, and to fighting the evil scourge of pornography. Most importantly, we discussed our commitment to the new evangelization, to discipleship, and to holiness.
On Tuesday, Archbishop Kurtz said that the mission of the bishops is to "turn outwards, looking at those in need" in order to, through Christ, "win hearts and heal wounds." Our commitment to win hearts for Christ began in Baltimore, with Bishop Carroll. I’m proud that this week, in Baltimore, we could continue that legacy.