'Faithful Citizenship' to Include New Concerns on environment, assisted suicide and redefinition of marriage

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vt., listens to a speaker Nov. 16 during the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The U.S. bishops will vote tomorrow on whether or not to approve new additions to its quadrennial “Faithful Citizenship’ statement, refreshed this year to take into consideration some contemporary concerns and some of the new issues that Pope Francis has been bringing to the attention of the global church.

Cardinal Daniel Dinardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chair of the working committee which revised the statement, said in keeping with its mandate, the committee made no deletions from the 2012 statement, only additions. Among them were 25 new citations from Pope Francis distilled from “Evangelii Gaudium" and “Laudato Si’,” reflecting a new attention to issues of ecological sustainability, climate change and integral development.


More explicit concerns about the practice of euthanasia, assisted suicide and the treatment of the elderly were also part of this year’s revision. A statement that church teaching about the dignity of life calls Catholics to prevent genocide, protect noncombatants and oppose racism torture and unjust war was amended to include “the indiscriminate use of drones for violent purposes” and to “oppose human trafficking.”

The proposed statement associates the redefinition of marriage with racism as a violation of human dignity which can never be justified. And “support for redefining marriage” has been added to the list of those issues, like support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, which “may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”

Cardinal DiNardo said the additions “exemplified what Pope Francis asked of us at St. Matthews,” where Pope Francis urged bishops to accept a more pastoral role, which were “expressed in temperate language appropriate to our role as bishops.”

Other common updates dealt with religious liberty, immigration and poverty, according to Cardinal DiNardo. Noting that the statement was “substantially longer,” he joked, “There are not many who will be deterred by the new document’s length who were not already deterred by the old document’s length…”

At least one bishop expressed some concern with the document’s proposed changes. Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego questioned the consistency of the use of the expression “intrinsic evil” in the working document. He explained later that his concern was focused on uses of the term to describe public policy issues. “In the draft, for one thing it added the question of redefinition of marriage as intrinsically evil,” he told America. “Now redefinition of marriage is a public policy act; it can’t be, technically, ‘intrinsically evil,’ so it was wrong to describe it that way in the draft, so my objection was to the use of that language on one hand. At the same time, it’s also a bad use of marriage because it’s pastorally alienating.”

The term can be used by to push a political agenda outside the conference, he worried, and “in a way that’s injurious to people, to gay men and women and to their families and it’s injurious to our whole relationship with the millennial generation. It’s just the type of language that has a real technical meaning, and it should never be used in a public policy document.”

“Intrinsic evil is a technical term in Catholic moral theology,” the bishop said. “It’s used to describe a particular type of structure which can never be good. The problem is that at times its been used in ‘Faithful Citizenship’ and other venues as if it denoted what is a grave evil, which evils are the gravest evils, and that’s not what [the expression] does. Particularly it has been used by partisans outside of the conference to take the conference documents and to use [them] in a partisan way.” Bishop McElroy explained that the “intrinsically evil actions that have been identified within ‘Faithful Citizenship’ have all been what one would call ‘Republican issues’ even though there are intrinsic evils described in the documents of the church such as the exploitation of labor and inhuman working conditions which are not.”

McElroy’s concerns may lead to an alteration of the final statement after discussion tomorrow.

According to the proposed introduction, ‘Faithful Citizenship’ takes account of recent developments in the United States in both domestic and foreign policy: “the ongoing destruction of over one million innocent human lives each year by abortion; the redefinition of marriage…by the courts, political bodies, and increasingly by American culture itself; the excessive consumption of material goods and destruction of natural resources, which harms both the environment and the poor; the deadly attacks on fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world; the narrowing redefinition of religious freedom, which threatens both individual conscience and the freedom of the Church to serve; economic policies that fail to prioritize the poor, at home or abroad; a broken immigration system and a worldwide refugee crisis; wars, terror, and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity.”

All of these threats, according to the proposed statement, “speak to a breakdown in what Pope Francis has called an ‘integral human ecology.’ … Pope Francis reminds us that all individuals, nations, and members of the global community have the duty to place the needs of others ahead of selfish desires to possess and exploit the good things that come from God’s hand.

The proposed introduction includes a caveat: “This document is to be read prayerfully and in its totality. It is a serious mistake—and one that recurs with regrettable frequency—to use only selected parts of the Church’s teaching to advance partisan political interests or validate ideological biases.”

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