USCCB Voting Guide Retains Focus on Marriage, Against Protests by Some Bishops

U.S. bishops at Baltimore meeting

Despite protests from several vocal bishops, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) passed a revised version of the election-year guide, “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship,” retaining a key emphasis on their opposition to same-gender marriage, now the law of the land throughout the U.S.

David Gibson of Religion News Service noted that the bishops’ discussion of the document at their annual Baltimore meeting revealed “unusually sharp disagreements on how much they can, and should, adjust their priorities to match those of Pope Francis.”  Though they didn’t follow Francis’ advice to not obsess about same-gender marriage, the “bishops at least had taken to heart the pope’s admonition to engage in robust debate, ” observed Tom Roberts of the National Catholic Reporter.

The document states:

“Some issues involve principles that can never be abandoned such as the fundamental right to life and marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

According to Rachel Zoll of the Associated Pressthe bishops cautioned voters against voting for candidates which support these issues:

“They said voting for a candidate specifically because the politician favors a ‘grave evil’ such as abortion rights amounts to ‘formal cooperation’ with that evil by the voter.”

But for the first time since 2007 when the current version of this voting guide was issued, a strong opposition was put forth by a number of bishops who felt the document was unhelpful and outdated.  They specifically cited Pope Francis’ new agenda for the church in their opposition.

Gibson reported:

Bishop Robert McElroy

” ‘In the most impassioned objection to the voter guide, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy took the floor to argue that the document — which was a reworking of an 84-page treatise first written in 2007 — should be scrapped because it did not reflect the way that Francis has elevated the battle against poverty and for the environment as central concerns for the Catholic Church since his election in 2013.

“ ‘I believe that this document is gravely hobbled,’ said McElroy, who was an outspoken advocate for the church’s social justice teachings even before Francis named him to the large and growing Southern California diocese earlier this year. . . .

“Apparently referring to political conservatives who argue that Catholics cannot vote for candidates who support abortion rights or gay marriage, McElroy said the new draft still ‘provides a warrant for those who will misuse this document outside this room to exclude poverty and exclude the environment as key issues and say they are secondary, and cite this document as they have done for the last two election cycles.’ “

Roberts reported another passage of McElroy’s intervention:

“The framework [of the voter guide], he said, ‘does not take into account the fact that Pope Francis … rapidly transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements — not the truth of them, not the substance, but the prioritization of them. [He] has radically transformed that in articulating the claims that fall upon the citizens as believers and disciples of Jesus Christ.’ “

Gibson also cited two other bishops who spoke out against the revised guide:

“ ‘I think we need a new document,’ said Tuscon Bishop Gerald Kicanas. ‘I think it was a mistake to try to revise a document from 2007 when so much has happened since then.’ He called Faithful Citizenship ‘very complex and not helpful.’ ”

“Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockon, Calif., agreed that ‘the times have dramatically changed’ and said the ‘cumbersome’ new draft needed to be scrapped.

The bishops passed the document by a vote of 210-21, with five bishops abstaining.

Writing before the vote on the document was taken, the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters offered what looks to me like one of the strongest criticism’s of the bishops’ guide.  At first he focused on their strange emphasis at this moment on marriage:

“If the bishops adopt the proposed draft of ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,’ their quadrennial document issued in presidential election years on the responsibilities of Catholics as citizens, they should have the honesty to rename it ‘Forming Consciences for Fighting Same-Sex Marriage.’ By my count, the issue is mentioned 10 times, which is strange. First, Pope Francis did not think it necessary to mention the issue directly even once during the six days he was here in the U.S. Secondly, the issue will not appear on any ballots next year, candidates may speak about it but they cannot really propose to do anything about it unless there is a court-packing scheme of which I am unaware. Finally, at a time when racial tensions are at their worst in my adult lifetime, the proposed text equates same-sex marriage with racism, calling them both intrinsic evils, even though civil same-sex marriage is not, and cannot be, an intrinsic evil. I can scarcely imagine a comparison better designed to alienate young Catholics. “

In his conclusion, he criticized the bishops for ignoring Pope Francis’ advice to them when he visited the U.S. earlier this fall:

“To be perfectly clear, if the bishops accept this document as is, it will be impossible for any reasonable observer not to conclude that the bishops of the United States have collectively decided to ignore what the pope said to them at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, as well as what he said to the U.S Congress. Set this text alongside the Holy Father’s Address to Congress and compare them. The bishops like to stick together and they are loath to permit a sign of disunity to mar their proceedings. But, the unity of the Catholic hierarchy is not the result of a vote, it is a unity with and under Peter, and this text reads like it is from a different planet from what he has said and taught.”

Sad it is that the U.S. bishops appear to be resisting Pope Francis’ new priorities and continuing on the road to vocal opposition to marriage equality, an issues squarely resolved in the nation’s law, and, more importantly, in the hearts and minds of millions of U.S. Catholics who support the law.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Francis’ priorities vs. the priorities of the U.S. bishops”



17 replies
  1. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    And those same bishops will wonder why young Catholics are leaving – those same Catholics who are struggling with legalistic and judgmental language! For the LGBT young Catholic it means the Pope is accepting of them but their local bishop calling them intrinsically evil! If my whole life had not been as a Catholic who ministered in the Church I too would leave – those bishops who voted in favor of such language are the pharisees of our times, at least in my mind.

  2. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    Searching the Scriptures, I found no evidence that marriage is a sacrament. Jesus the Christ did not clearly establish it as such; neither he ever spoke against homosexuality. Gay people are the way they were created by God’s evolutionary creation. Some of the RC are ‘teachings’ are truly becoming an effort to control rather than following the ways of the Christ! The above saddens me deeply …

  3. Loretta Fitzgerald
    Loretta Fitzgerald says:

    If the focus is only on issues of sexuality in Faithful Citizenship has it also ignored immigration? If they can ignore the immigrant in our midst, how much easier to ignore our children who no longer come to the table. If so, it is a blatant disregard of not only Francis but very specific Biblical and magisterium documents on core, uncontested issues. People may still be evolving when it comes to gay marriage, but the bishops overwhelming arrogance and ignorance is not just disappointing but frankly, it makes me sick. I’m having one of those “how can I stay” moments. But alas, you folks out there are my church. The Holy Spirit is alive and well.

  4. pjnugent
    pjnugent says:

    Once again the United States bishops missed an opportunity to become relevant and pastoral. So we go another four years ignoring their voting document and go right to Pope Francis for guidance. Works for me!

  5. winterhavenlarry
    winterhavenlarry says:

    In regard to “equating same-sex marriage with racism,” it seems to me that anti-LGBT actions are more akin to racism.

  6. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    With a vote count like that 210-21 we know the US Congregation of Catholic Bishops is entrenched in iitself. I don’t like these 210 bishops who want to keep opressing people rather than helping people. Is it time yet to shake the dust from our feet and move on??? Sadly, as the US Catholic church loses many faithfilled clergy and laity, hard-hearted poeple from other congregations will fill our seats and sit comfortably among their own. They will find Rome a sweet home to share core common beliefs full of discrimination and self importance. I hear the call to Episocpal life. What about you?

  7. brgeem
    brgeem says:

    All this talk about procedures. Did Jesus stop to calla conference and debate procedures before delivering his Gospel of Love? What he did say about rules and regulations is manifestly clear.

  8. Barbara Cooper
    Barbara Cooper says:

    Not only Pope Francis, but Jesus of Nazareth prioritize differently than these bishops. Which is why so many people ignore them. Brothers, it’s not “secularism” that is driving people away from Church, but You.

  9. Friends
    Friends says:

    And then…just for the record…we have the gleeful mad rantings of The Catholic League’s “Wild Bill” Donohue:

    It’s hard to believe that we all belong to (and profess membership in) the very same Roman Catholic Church. One thing is for certain: young people are having none of this nuttiness. Pope Francis has genuinely inspired them…and most of us as well. But the future of the sort of Catholic Church envisioned by Donohue is virtually non-existent.

  10. Friends
    Friends says:

    And yet another passionate response…this one from OUR position and perspective…written by Marianne Duddy-Burke, who is often cited in Bondings 2.0 postings:

    Quoting the lyrics of an old popular song, “Something’s Gotta Give”. Too many bishops, archbishops and Cardinals seem to be at war against common sense…and against any sense whatsoever of our shared humanity. Perhaps this is a wake-up call concerning what cloistered enforced mandatory celibacy does to human beings, over a long period of time.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] papal visit last fall. He called for the U.S. bishops’ document on political engagement to be scrapped last November because it was, in his estimation, “gravely hobbled” by its overemphasis […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *