Support This Website! Shop Here!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Short History of the USCCB

Follow this link, and see what the USCCB says about itself.

Then read below and discover a few of the details the USCCB omitted from its own history.

To understand how the USCCB came into existence, we must first understand the spiritual background of the man who essentially provided the impetus for the foundation of the organization.

Father John J. Burke was a Paulist priest, and therein lies a tale. Whether rightly or wrongly (and here the reader should research and judge for himself) the Paulist priests have a history that is closely associated with scandal.

Fr. Isaac Hecker founded the Paulists in 1858, and Father Hecker himself was a definitely controversial figure, but a discussion of his life is outside the scope of this essay. The Paulists, like most religious orders, like to believe they were founded by an extremely holy person, a saint. And like most religious orders, they worked hard to demonstrate the sanctity of their late, great founder after he passed away in 1888.

By 1897, his biography had both been translated into French and been given quite an eye-opening foreward. For various reasons peculiar to the age, his biography became quite popular in France, and French priests were urged to take up the ideas Father Hecker was said to espouse.

Word of these ideas reached Rome.

Pope Leo XIII was so struck by them that, by January 22, 1899, he felt compelled to compose an encyclical letter, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, in which he condemned seven of the propositions that seemed to emanate from America – a suite of ideas Pope Leo condemned as "Americanism":

The condemned ideas:

  1. The Church should shape her teachings in accord with popular custom, relax her disciplines or omit or de-emphasize doctrines that non-Catholics find scandalous, that is, a tendency towards silence that omits or neglects Catholic doctrine;
  2. The Church should grant to the faithful the same kind of freedom in spiritual matters that the state grants in civil matters;
  3. Catholics need only adhere to infallible teachings of the Roman pontiff;
  4. License is coterminous with liberty;
  5. External spiritual guidance is not necessary;
  6. Active virtues are superior to "angelical virtues, erroneously styled passive" virtues;
  7. Religious life and vows are harmful to human perfection and/or society.

The American bishops agreed with one voice that such heretical ideas could never be found in America. Yet, despite the bishops' protestations, the ideas seem somehow rendolent of Father Hecker's "social justice" spirituality. In fact, Americanism was the first heresy in 300 years to be named after a specific geographic region.

In any case, events at home and abroad were moving forward. The mainstream Protestant churches formed the Federal Council of Churches in 1908, and many Catholics looked with a certain degree of envy upon the organization. The Federal Council seemed to have a certain amount of clout and Catholics were desirous of emulating their success.

With the start of what turned out to be World War I, Paulist Father John J. Burke decided to create a Catholic analog to the Protestant model, the National Catholic War Council (NCWC). The National Catholic War Council organized after two meetings in April/August 1917 at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington DC had several purposes, for it simultaneously:

  • represented Catholic interests in the U.S. Congress,
  • addressed the needs of soldiers at home and overseas,
  • promoted the Americanization of recent immigrants, and
  • developed a Program for the Social Reconstruction of American society after the war.

If you see no particular aspect of liturgy or sacrament addressed, you would not be the first to notice.

In November 1917 the National Catholic War Council was reorganized to give the bishops more direct operational responsibility. The Knights of Columbus did most of the footwork. The council even produced a nice little handbook.

In August 1918, the War Department recognized the National Catholic War Council as part of the United War Work Campaign of 1918. It received $36 million dollars as its share of the fund drive, most of which went to the Knights of Columbus and the NCWC overseas units.

On 24 September 1919 the American bishops created the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) and three months later it took over War Council work with its headquarters remaining in Washington, D.C. Bureaucracies die hard. The National Catholic War Council, which the Welfare Council had now displaced, would not finally officially dissolve as a corporation until April 30, 1931. But, back to the story of the Bishops' shiny new Welfare Council.

Pope Benedict XV died on January 22, 1922.

Cardinals O'Connell and Dougherty arrived in Rome on February 6 to help elect a new pope, only to learn that a new pope had been elected only a half hour before. As Dougherty was leaving Rome, he was handed a decree of the Consistorial Congregation, signed by Cardinal Gaetano De Lai, one of O'Connell's friends, and dated February 25. It ordered the immediate disbanding of the NCWC.

In response, the members of the administrative committee of the NCWC immediately petitioned the new Pope Pius XI to delay publication of the decree until they could make a representation in Rome.

Bishop Louis Walsh of Portland, Maine, a member of the administrative board, saw in the Consistorial Congregation's action "a dangerous underhand blow from Boston, aided by Philadelphia, who both realized at our last meeting that they could not control the Bishops of this country and they secured the two chief powers of the Consistorial Congregation, Cardinals De Lai and Del Val [sic] to suppress all common action."

Walsh hoped to enlist the support of Archbishops Curley of Baltimore and Hayes of New York in the effort to ward off the order to disband. As O'Connell told Cardinal De Lai, he regarded this circularizing of the bishops as a "plebiscite" designed:

"to annul the force of the decree. The customary maneuver demonstrates again more evidently the wisdom of the decree. Today we are in full 'Democracy, Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism.'" And now it seems more than ever that this N.C.W.C. shows more clearly that not only does it tend little by little to weaken hierarchical authority and dignity, but also wishes to put into operation the same tactics against the Consistorial [Congregation]. It is incredible that Rome does not see the danger of conceding today in order to have to concede much more tomorrow.

In Rome, the American delegation learned that the Consistorial Congregation was inclined to accept the attacks of O'Connell and Dougherty against the NCWC because of a concern about a resurgence of Americanism and an anxiety regarding the implications of such a large hierarchy meeting on an annual basis.

The Consistorial Congregation's decree, moreover, reflected tension between Gasparri, who was supporting the Americans, and those cardinals who wanted a return to the policies of Pope Pius X. Ultimately, however, the American delegation won the day.

On July 4, 1922, the Consistorial Congregation issued a new instruction. The NCWC could remain in existence, but the congregation recommended, among other things, that:

  • the meetings of the hierarchy take place less often than every year,
  • attendance at them be made voluntary,
  • decisions of the meetings not be binding or construed in any way as emanating from a plenary council, and
  • the name "council" in the title be changed to something like "committee."

Now, it is worthwhile to take notice of these restrictions. Apparently, the American bishops of the Welfare Council had begun to take on airs. The styled themselves a true council of the Church, apparently thought they could require attendance, and felt their own decisions were so important that all America's bishops were bound by them. It took a congregation of Rome to knock them off their high horse and dash their high sense of self-esteem. Does this sound like Democrats at work?

In 1922, after nearly being suppressed by both the dying Pope Benedict XV and the new Pope Pius XI, the administrative board did, indeed, change the name of the National Catholic Welfare Council to the National Catholic Welfare Conference (now the USCCB). It had 5 departments each run by a bishop:

  • Education,
  • Legislation,
  • Social Action,
  • Lay Organizations, and
  • Press and Publicity.

The "social justice" Welfare Council - now Conference - was the basis for the 1966 formation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and the United States Catholic Conference (USCC). The NCCB was responsible for internal affairs of the Church, the USCC was responsible for its external relationships.

In 2001, both organizations merged together to become what we now call the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Thus concludes the short history of the USCCB, but a further word can be said.

Again, for reasons known only to itself, while the USCCB's own history of itself takes care to quote documents of Vatican II and various popes which authorized its existence, it somehow fails to make any mention of the papal documents and canon law which describe the extent of its authority.

Though we are sure this is merely an oversight which will soon be rectified, we thought it apropos to discuss the authority the USCCB wields.

Apostolos Suos Christus Dominus, authored by Pope John Paul II, not only expresses the hope that the venerable institution of Particular Councils would be revitalized (cf. No. 36), but also dealt explicitly with Episcopal Conferences, acknowledging the fact that they had been established in many countries and laying down particular norms regarding them (cf. Nos. 37-38).

The document is well worth reading, if only because it constantly reiterates a single theme:

10. At the level of particular Churches grouped together by geographic areas (by countries, regions, etc.), the Bishops in charge do not exercise pastoral care jointly with collegial acts equal to those of the College of Bishops.

11. In fact, only the faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of a particular Bishop are required to accept his judgement given in the name of Christ in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a religious assent of soul.

12. Nonetheless, this territorially based exercise of the episcopal ministry never takes on the collegial nature proper to the actions of the order of Bishops as such, which alone holds the supreme power over the whole Church. In fact, the relationship between individual Bishops and the College of Bishops is quite different from their relationship to the bodies set up for the above-mentioned joint exercise of certain pastoral tasks.

19. This provision is found explicitly in the Code of Canon Law where we read: "A diocesan Bishop in the diocese committed to him possesses all the ordinary, proper and immediate power which is required for the exercise of his pastoral office except for those cases which the law or a decree of the Supreme Pontiff reserves to the supreme authority of the Church or to some other ecclesiastical authority"

20. In other cases "the competence of individual diocesan Bishops remains intact; and neither the Conference nor its president may act in the name of all the Bishops unless each and every Bishop has given his consent".

In short, the Pope took enormous pains, indeed, almost unheard of pains, to make clear that organizations like the USCCB's authority over any particular lay Catholic is:

  • Zero
  • Nada
  • Zilch
  • Zip
  • Goose Egg
  • Empty Set
  • Non-Existent
  • Completely Absent
  • A sounding brass and tinkling cymbal signifying nothing

In short, according to the infallible ordinary Magisterium, the teaching authority of the USCCB does not exist. Fifty cents and any USCCB document would not buy a candy bar, unless the cashier didn't want to charge sales tax. The USCCB is a purely consultative body whose opinions aren't worth rust in the scales. The only person a Catholic is required to at least listen to is his own bishop.

No decree of the USCCB has any weight unless the local bishop endorses it.

And the Pope felt it necessary to knock the USCCB off its high horse by creating a document that the USCCB officially refuses to notice on its own website.

Why does this matter?

Because within the USCCB there is a fight between bishops who wish to promote the Catholic Faith and bishops who wish to promote secular "social justice." We must pray for the bishops of the USCCB, that all of them eventually gain the mind of good Catholics, or at least retire so they can be replaced by those who have such a mind.


Bruce said...


I don't know if there were two organizations or if it is an editing glitch, but you seem to go back and forth between National Catholic War Council and Natinonal Catholic Welfare Council.

Estase said...

One of the main problems with USCCB is their creation of Campaign for Human Development, which many Catholics are misinformed about. Most Catholics think it provides assistance to poor people, whereas it engages in "community organizing."

Steve Kellmeyer said...

The National Catholic War Council was founded by the Paulist priest. The Popes forced the bishops to disassociate from the National Catholic War Council - they formed the National Catholic Welfare Council, which took over all War Council work in 1922, but the War Council continued to exist until 1931.

The Welfare Council then eventually became the NCCB and the USCC, which merged to become the USCCB that we have today.

As for the "community organizing", go to and look for the Saul Alinsky link in the links section of column 1.

That goes straight to an article about WHY the CCHD is so fixated on community organizing. It was essentially created by Saul Alinsky followers.

So, we have a bishops' council created by a Paulist and its charity arm created by Alinsky.

A match indeed, but NOT made in heaven.

St. Corbinian's Bear said...

Just what I was looking for. After seeing scandalous material on the USCCB website, I began to wonder what its authority really was and do a piece for my own blog. (You'll get credit for anything I learn here.) Thanks. (St. Corbinian's Bear)