By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
A new advisory body formed to represent the “church in miniature” today told the American bishops that it supports a pastoral document on reproductive technology, to remedy what it called a “serious lack of understanding” of the church’s teaching on human sexuality, as well as a “social and cultural bias” against that teaching.
The National Advisory Council also indicated its support for a new church law that would require bishops to obtain approval from their diocesan finance councils and colleges of consultors before taking specific kinds of financial action, such as going into debt above $1 million.
The council is composed of 50 members, including, lay women and men, members of religious orders, deacons, priests, and four bishops. It is intended to represent the membership of the church across boundaries of age, ethnicity, geography and occupation, though its members are largely appointed by the bishops.
In general, the idea of the council is to provide a “feedback loop” for the bishops on the items that form the heart of their agenda during their annual meetings. The group takes a “profile vote” on each of the action items facing the bishops, in theory offering them a gauge for the extent of the support they enjoy in the rest of the church.
Speaking on behalf of the council, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix told the bishops that members had discussed the new draft of “Faithful Citizenship,” the document intended to set out the church’s approach to public policy issues heading into the 2008.
Unlike the other action items, however, the council did not offer an endorsement, but instead confined itself to observing that it represents an instrument to “form consciences.” Olmsted also said that the group offered certain suggestions that had been taken up by the Administrative Committee, the central organizing body of the bishops’ conference.
The council also called for more effective techniques of grassroots political mobilization for the church, including a legislative alerts system that would allow Catholics to address political issues on a national level.
The council also suggested that the Catholic New Service, the new agency of the bishops’ conference, find ways to consolidate resources with other agencies of the conference in order to achieve “economies of scale.”
tThe council also called upon the bishops’ conference to “monitor and review emerging reproductive technologies to keep the faithful informed and engaged,” Olmsted said.