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Catholic bishops join Christian alliance
Wednesday, November 17, 2004 Posted: 11:33 AM EST (1633 GMT)
Chicago Archbisop Cardinal Francis George, left, talks to Camden, New Jersey, Bishop Joseph Galante during the annual meeting.
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• Bishops elect president from troubled diocese
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops voted Wednesday to join a new alliance that would be the broadest Christian group ever formed in the United States, linking American evangelicals and Catholics in an ecumenical organization for the first time.
The alliance, called Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., is set to kick off next year. It would include mainline Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and black and other minority churches. With about 67 million U.S. members, the Catholic Church would be the largest denomination.
"It's not to create some kind of megabody or megachurch," said Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the ecumenical committee for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It is a forum for participation so that we can pray together, grow in our understanding together and witness together our faith."
The vote came as the bishops worked to wrap up business at their fall meeting, which ends Thursday.
It is considered a biblical imperative for Christians to find ways to build unity among their different denominations. Pope John Paul II has made such efforts a priority of his pontificate.
The bishops approved the proposal 151-73. Blaire, of Stockton, California, called Wednesday's vote "important and historic."
The Catholic Church has ongoing ecumenical dialogues with many denominations. However, some evangelical and Pentecostal churches have resisted participating. In the floor debate Wednesday, New York Cardinal Edward Egan noted those churches were worried that such talks risked "watering down their faith."
In fact, the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, which has more than 16 million members and is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, has so far not agreed to fully join Christian Churches Together.
Blaire said that among the evangelicals who have agreed to participate are the Salvation Army and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.
Later, the bishops will consider launching a multiyear initiative that would strengthen marriage, as the divorce rate remains high and gays lobby for the right to wed, which the church opposes. Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was also expected to give a presentation on his task force on the moral obligations of Catholics in public life.