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 Press, the 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guide was issued, a strong opposition was put forth by a number of bishops who felt the document was unhelpful and outdated.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.
” ‘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
National Catholic Reporter: “Francis’ priorities vs. the priorities of the U.S. bishops”