By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) — The U.S. bishops’ National Advisory Council, a 48-member group that meets in tandem with meetings of the bishops’ Administrative Committee, is "the church in miniature," according to its chair, Renee Miller.
The council’s membership is drawn from the laity as well as deacons, priests, women religious sisters and brothers, and bishops from around the country. Members come recommended by their diocesan bishop and represent the 15 geographical regions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
They "reflect the adult Catholic population by age, occupation, ethnicity, geography, vocation and avocation," Miller said Nov. 11, the first day of the USCCB’s fall general assembly in Baltimore. "It offers a rich diversity of perspective and leadership."
The council’s work is to review, discuss and advise the bishops on the agenda items from Administrative Committee meetings that may be coming before the full USCCB for action at the bishops’ annual fall general assembly.
Council members vote on each action "to express the extent of our agreement or disagreement with the action," said Miller, who is from the Diocese of Grand Island, Neb. "Some issues can be difficult or more complex than others, and NAC members bring distinct perspectives. However, the process is characterized by mutual respect and consideration."
Among the items to which Miller said the council gave "strong agreement" were:
— A proposal for a formal statement on pornography; a vote to develop such a statement was on the bishops’ meeting agenda.
— An extension of the bishops’ "Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Freedom"; it was released to be used especially during church’s Year of Faith, scheduled to end Nov. 24, the feast of Christ the King.
— The need for evangelization to be "an ongoing priority of the (bishops’) conference."
— The inclusion of a curriculum and nontraditional methodologies in parish-based religious education programs for children with developmental disabilities.
— The Administrative Committee’s statement supporting Pope Francis’ plea for a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict.
In addition to strongly supporting a new position of spokesperson for the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference — the bishops approved that position at last year’s general assembly to unify messages on USCCB activities and stances — the council supported "a communication model that would enhance a broader dissemination of USCCB resources from its website and other media for greater utilization at the parish level."
The council also discussed items that did not appear on the agenda for the USCCB fall general assembly.
There was agreement among council members, Miller said, "that a concerted effort be made to make Catholic education more available to underserved populations."
The council also had concerns about the federal government’s Common Core State Standards initiative "and its impact on (the) Catholic school curriculum," Miller said. "There was discussion that an episcopal review of the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative is needed."
While the council agreed with the church’s new evangelization priority, "there was concern on how to get this information to the parish level where it is utilized. There was some discussion that regional trainings may benefit dioceses in assisting their parishes," Miller sad.
The council also resubmitted a recommendation "for comprehensive and long-term mentoring and training programs," Miller said, to support newly ordained priests as they transition from the seminary to active ministry.
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