The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


In contemporary culture some people misunderstand the nature of the Catholic Church, imagining it as a kind of supranational corporation in which the Holy Father issues the marching orders for Catholics across the world. In reality, the Catholic Church is a complex organism which exists in communion and in diversity. The Church’s own theology speaks of the Church as the “Body of Christ” and the “People of God.” She exists through the grace of the Lord Himself who called together a new family and entrusted this family with an ongoing share in His Own mission of healing and reconciling creation. By His plan, this family takes a concrete shape through the witness of His apostles who proclaimed the Gospel and drew believers of distinct places into communion with one another.
As successors to the apostles, Bishops govern their dioceses in communion with the Holy Father, and work in varieties of ways to draw the people of their territory into proper relationship with the Lord and unite them to the universal Church. Across the world, on every continent and in every culture, Bishops strive to sanctify, teach and govern. Each of their dioceses is an expression of the universal Church.
In the last century, the custom of establishing national conferences has arisen. It is not the creation of a “national diocese,” but rather a forum for communication and cooperation among dioceses. The first cooperative body here in the United States was established during the First World War to raise funds for the spiritual care of U.S. soldiers overseas.
Following the war, the bishops established the National Catholic Welfare Council in response to Pope Benedict XV appeal for help from bishops around the world. The Holy Father wished to promote labor reforms first outlined by Pope Leo XIII three decades earlier. The current United States Catholic Conference went through several organizational changes before taking its current form in 2001. The basic purpose of the Conference is to “unify, coordinate, encourage, promote and carry on Catholic activities” in the U.S. and to “organize religious, charitable, and social welfare work at home and abroad” (USCCB website). To accomplish this work, the Conference relies on 17 committees of bishops for various purposes as well as a permanent staff based in Washington, D.C.
All bishops in the U.S., including those of the Eastern Churches, belong to the conference. You may have seen reports of the plenary gatherings in November and June, but the committees have meetings throughout the year. Since my ordination as a bishop in 2018, I have served the conference in several capacities. I serve on the Doctrine Committee and as part of my work with Doctrine, I chair the subcommittee for translation of the Sacred Scriptures.
The latter is currently working on revisions of the Bible in English and Spanish for use in the United States. In addition, I serve on the subcommittee for the Church in Latin America. That body determines the distribution of funds raised by the annual collection for Latin America. We receive applications for assistance in formation programs, evangelization efforts, and many other worthwhile efforts to promote the Catholic faith. For me, it has been a real education in both the vibrancy of the Church in Latin America and its challenges for mission.
Our most recent meeting took place last week in Louisville Kentucky. In addition to the work done in committee and in plenary session, I always appreciate the opportunity to be with brother bishops, to renew friendships, share challenges, and learn of new initiatives. I always return from such meetings full of energy and ideas.
I share all of this with you as some of the media coverage of the meetings can be cynical, politically skewed and misleading. I also want you to be aware of this other work that I do beyond our beautiful shores. The USCCB is not a congress. It does not legislate or rule over bishops and dioceses. It is rather a forum for bishops to listen, to discern, and to find encouragement and wisdom from each other and from Catholic leaders across the U.S. I feel blessed to take part and I encourage you to consider praying for the work of the Conference and for the bishops of the United States.