Bishops’ Meeting – Third and Final Day
No bishop attending this meeting needs to pay for any meals. Lunches during the past three days are provided by the Conference to its staff and bishop membership and there are enough free breakfasts and dinners plus receptions put on for the bishops by a myriad of sponsors that eating out or even using the hotel’s restaurants is unnecessary, unless you just want to get away from each other. Seminaries, Catholic organizations, the military chaplains, insurance companies – they are all here in great numbers ready to feed the bishops so that they might “feed” off us with our business or support. There is even an ecclesiastical equivalent of the International Mall here at the hotel with vendors from Europe and the US showing vestments, church art, church furnishings, you name it. An attendee can end up spending a lot of money or no money – it is all a part of the “Fall Classic” in the bishops’ world.
As I mentioned yesterday we concluded our public business at the end of a long day and began this day with a closed session or executive session. All meetings of the U.S. bishops were closed to all but bishops until the early 1970′s when it was noted that even the Second Vatican Council allowed non-bishop observers to attend. Additionally, the media were gaining access to many previously closed meetings of “semi-public” organizations and I think it was Archbishop Philip Hannan, then an auxiliary bishop of Washington who with others convinced the bishops to open their meetings to approved observers and the media. In the ’80′s with the growth of Mother Angelica’s EWTN network, the meetings began to be covered live on TV. I have been around long enough to experience what open meetings do to the quality of discussions and debate – they stifle it! Our best, most honest and candid discussions occur behind closed doors. There can be a lot of playing to the media in open session which is not present in executive session. So there has been a steady erosion in openness and many of the newer bishops, if they had their druthers, would prefer all closed sessions but, of course, that horse is long out of the barn and it is not going to happen. This meeting, however, has probably set a new record for the length of time spent behind closed doors. I will honor always the confidentiality of these executive sessions and not reveal what happened but almost without fail, you can find what we talked about if you research enough places. That, too, is a shame.
This meeting this afternoon concludes with an afternoon of prayer and a Holy Hour. Then we disperse. I will write later today about my final thoughts and should have in front of me some of the more important texts arising from this meeting. It is time for the morning concelebrated Mass and I am on my way there, remembering to pray for all my friends back in the five counties of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.