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Bishop answers questions about recent meeting

Bishop Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City was among the prelates to attend the bishops' annual spring general assembly held June 15-17 in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle. Following the meeting, the bishop answered questions asked by The Catholic Globe.

Why was it important for the U.S. bishops to make a formal statement on physician-assisted suicide?

For a couple of years there was not much interest in physician-assisted suicide legislation, but now there seems to be more and more interest in more states. We, as bishops, felt it was important to make a clear statement of where the Catholic Church was in terms of teaching about euthanasia and assisted suicide to give our people the information they need.

In our society today, sometimes we tend to want an easy way out; we want to end suffering – even if that means the death of the person. But we as Catholics and Christians believe in the redemptive value of suffering. Suffering really can mean something in terms of our salvation and joining it with Christ. We want to do everything we can in keeping people comfortable but we don’t want to directly end their life.

The bishops, in our teaching role, wanted to try to help our people understand the importance of respecting life and that God is in charge of that from natural conception to natural death.

Given that same-sex marriage is now legal in Iowa and becoming more of an issue in other states, did you find that defense of traditional marriage was a timely topic to be addressed at the bishops meeting?

(On press day, June 22, the New York Senate was gearing up to vote whether they would legalize same-sex marriage. Currently, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, and Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey have approved civil unions.)

If New York passes this, it will be the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage. Again, in our teaching role, we want to tell the people, whom we are responsible for, that marriage is a very important institution. A couple of years ago the bishops decided to establish five priority positions and one was marriage and family life. The vote in New York once again tests our understanding of what we really mean by marriage.

In our own experience here in Iowa, we fought the battle and we lost because of the Supreme Court but it’s still important to share the facts with the people. Marriage is defined by God not by the state or anyone else. We know it to be between one man and one woman. This has nothing to do with discrimination against a particular group who may have same-sex attraction. This goes back to Genesis to understand that marriage is between one man and one woman coming together to form a family if God blesses them with children. We want to preserve that basic, fundamental grounding of our society and marriage.

The bishops keep teaching, trying to get the word out to help people understand. We have a video and other resources available to help everyone, especially the young people, understand the value of traditional marriage. It’s much more than equal rights for one particular group.

Revisions to the Charter for the Protection of Young People were among the tasks completed at the bishops meeting. What value is there in continuing this work?

The charter was put in place after the difficult times, difficult reports of priestly sexual abuse of minors several years ago. In response, the bishops came together and devised a charter as well as the norms to implement that charter. It was time to review it. Our No. 1 priority is to protect the children.

We know that the charter gives us a practical guide and procedures to help us deal with these terrible abuses of minor children by priests or by others in the church. We wanted to reinforce that and make sure that all of us understand the importance of protecting children. The good thing that has happened since we have had the charter is that in most places accusations of priests abusing minors has gone down. There is an awareness that the church is serious about this and we are doing our best to deal with the problems.

A document on preaching will go to a vote in a year. Do you believe that such a document is a good idea? If so why?
Yes. The bishops several years ago wanted to write a document on preaching because it is so important in our day and age. We delayed it and it has now been revised. We see it as an opportune time now with the Holy Father setting up a new congregation for the new evangelization that preaching is a way that we can evangelize.

Priests, deacons and bishops meet 90 percent of our Catholics, 90 percent of our time, at the pulpit at Sunday Mass. That is a crucial, important time for us to share the word of God and make it mean something to the people today. Preaching, the techniques of preaching, the importance of understanding Scripture and how it all comes together can always use some refreshing. We all studied homiletics in the seminary but preaching is an art and the bishops want to help our priests and deacons see the importance of preaching. They need to spend time on preparation to make sure they do the best they can with the talents God has given them. This document will help us focus on that.

Were there any other topics of significance that were addressed at the meeting?

We also broke into regional meetings. I met with Region IX that is made up of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. Each of the regional meetings discussed a proposal for a National Marriage Sunday where we can give emphasis to marriage on a particular Sunday every year like we do for Right to Life Sunday. We are looking at cooperating with Marriage Encounter groups throughout the country and looking at a day either in June or February where we can celebrate marriage and have time to focus on the importance of marriage.

Besides the business happenings, what value is there in gathering as one body of bishops?

We meet as a body of bishops twice a year, normally in November in Baltimore and at a different city for our spring meeting. These meetings are good for us as bishops because we get to share with each other, knowing each other’s burdens. Besides doing the work of the church, there is time to get to know one another and support one another – giving and getting advice from each other. The bishops come together to pray. We always have a spiritual component, a day of prayer with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

There are a number of new bishops and these meetings are a way for us to get to know them and for them to get to know us. It’s a good time for us to get to know each other and be together.

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