Congratulations to Catholic Bishops in the Chicago area, across Illinois, and throughout the United States for getting it right! The bishops haven’t gone “right” in terms of right-wing politics — as some have alleged – but rather by taking the correct actions for guiding Catholic citizens in the Unites States. Their latest revision of “Faithful Citizenship”, a voting guide for American Catholics, urges Catholics to “Do the right thing”, as Spike Lee might say.
Since 2007, Catholic Bishops in the United States have been issuing guidelines on how faithful Catholics can vote in a way that reflects the social positions and teachings of the Catholic Church. The completed work is issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as a voting guide called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, and it is distributed in election years in the United States. The document was revised in 2011, and the latest revision comes at the end of 2015, after 16 months of “painstaking work” by 12 different committees. This updated guide will be issued for the 2016 election, serve as the template for Catholic citizens through 2020, and reflect the strategic priorities and values of the U.S. Catholic Church for the next five years.
Sadly, the latest revision, announced on November 18, 2015, has been the subject of backlash from much of the mainstream media. The Huffington Post went so far as claim that the document “Betrays [the] Catholic Church” (their article can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marianne-t-duddyburke/us-bishops-conference-bet_b_8612012.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592) and others have made wild accusations that the document is an “insult” to Pope Francis or reflects the views of “only” a tiny amount of Catholics. Some even allege it is the result of some “strict hardliner” bishops running rough-shot and imposing their views by a narrow majority in a “contentious” debate among the bishops. Many of the publications making such broad statements about what Catholics “believe” and how the bishops reacted are actually secular publications that have contempt for Catholic theology and dogma, but nevertheless, such allegations warrant a response.
In contrast to the claims that the new version of Faithful Citizenship ignores Pope Francis’ focus, the reality is the new version quotes him no less than 25 times, and frequently cites the Pope’s policies for adding weight to important issues. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston observed that the bishops made a conscious effort to stay in line with the Pope’s statements, so that Faithful Citizenship would be aligned with the Catholic Church worldwide. Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford rightfully pointed out that many in the mainstream media have tried to selective quote Pope Francis “to downplay or somehow repudiate the totality of the church’s witness to hard teachings”, and it was the responsibility of the USCCB to clarify where the Pope really stands on various issues.
Likewise, the claims that the document was the result of a small group of narrow-minded “extremist” bishops prevailing over numerous “moderate” dissenters is without merit. In reality, the Catholic bishops throughout the United States were strongly unified on the wording of the document, and it was approved by a near unanimous vote. For example, USCCB members voted 210-21 (with a handful of abstentions) to promote a Voters’ Guide that instructs Catholic citizens to evaluate candidates based on their positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. In an even more lopsided vote (233-4), the bishops set down the criteria of the document that would be in effect for five years. The bishops overwhelmingly approved strategic priorities that focused on: evangelization, recruiting priests, opposing abortion and assisted suicide, promoting traditional marriage (including support for government officials who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples) and fighting for religious freedom in the U.S. and abroad.
Faithful Citizenship sets out very clearly and definitively what the Catholic Church believes about numerous hot button issues that affect American citizens, and why. For example, “Human Life” is the first issue in the guide’s list of policy positions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It begins as such:
“Our 1998 statement Living the Gospel of Life declares, “Abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others.” Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed. Cloning and destruction of human embryos for research or even for potential cures are always wrong. The purposeful taking of human life by assisted suicide and euthanasia is not an act of mercy, but an unjustifiable assault on human life. Genocide, torture, and the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks are always wrong.”
“Laws that legitimize any of these practices are profoundly unjust and immoral. Our Conference supports laws and policies to protect human life to the maximum degree possible, including constitutional protection for the unborn and legislative efforts to end abortion and euthanasia. We also promote a culture of life by supporting laws and programs that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion and by addressing poverty, providing health care, and offering other assistance to pregnant women, children, and families.”
Such statements like the one above are totally in line with the position of the Pope and the worldwide Catholic Church, regardless of whether the media chooses to ignore it, pretend or imply that the Vatican and Pope Francis believes otherwise, or tries to make the argument that issues like income equality and climate change somehow outweigh the fundamental right to life. Many Catholic voters in the Unites States may be uninformed about where the Catholic Church stands on these issues; or they may be unaware that they are in direct defiance of their faith by voting for politicians who support abortion and gay marriage. Accordingly, it is the duty of the USCCB to set the record straight.
The newest version of Faithful Citizenship was approved at this week’s USCCB meeting in Baltimore, and will include some additional editorial changes and a new introduction before it goes to print. The secular media and socially liberal Catholics may not like where the Catholic Church stands, but it will not change the fact that American Catholic bishops are getting it right.