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BALTIMORE – Today the bishops of the United States will debate and vote on three documents aimed at implementing the new universal laws promulgated by Pope Francis last month.

While the ostensible purpose of Thursday votes is to establish Vos estis lux mundi in the life of the Church in the U.S., the bishops gathered in Baltimore are aware that they are really voting to restore their own credibility among faithful and discouraged U.S. Catholics.

The laity have figured heavily in the bishops’ discussions, with many using Tuesday’s sessions to insist on establishing a clearly defined role for non-clerics in handling accusations against bishops.

The open sessions of the conference are being broadcast live, and the message many bishops appear to be sending is “We know you’re watching and we want you to know we are talking about you.”

Yet many Catholics are less interested in what the bishops have to say to them, and more about what the bishops have to say about one another.

The recent publication of a report into Bishop Michael Bransfield, formerly of Wheeling-Charleston, was the latest in a year of scandal and setback for the American hierarchy.

Although Bransfield looms large in the minds of the faithful and bishops alike, his name has yet to be mentioned at the bishops’ meeting. Similarly, although Theodore McCarrick was mentioned by the lay representatives of the National Advisory Council and National Review Board, his influence on the conference proceedings has passed largely unspoken.

One of the documents upon which the bishops will vote today is titled “Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments.” The text includes several expressions of collective failure and contrition.

An act of corporate responsibility and renewed dedication can certainly be a useful tool in communicating with the faithful across the country. But, many would argue, too much solidarity can actually work against them in the battle to win back trust.

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