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Chicago Auxiliary Bishops Alberto Rojas and Andrew P. Wypych, along with other prelates, take part in morning prayer June 14 during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual spring assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted today to revise their document on Catholics in public life, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," in advance of the 2020 presidential election. 

The bishops supported the actions 144-41, with two abstentions after an 85-minute discussion that found some bishops calling for an extensive revision of the quadrennial document that traditionally has been issued a year in advance of a presidential election.

Approval came after the working group included a reference that the new materials, a short letter and video, would "apply the teaching of Pope Francis to our day."

Supporters of a full revision said the current document, first adopted in 2011 and revised in 2015, does not reflect the extensive teachings of Pope Francis and on issues that have emerged in recent years such as restrictive immigration policies, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and the renewed threats posed by nuclear weapons.

The proposal for a letter, video and other materials came from a working group that included the chairmen of several USCCB committees that regularly deal with public policy issues, including poverty, abortion, family, marriage, health care and international affairs.

The materials will be prepared in time for the bishops to review at their fall general assembly in November 2019. The bishops traditionally have issued updated versions of the Faithful Citizenship document about a year before a presidential election.

The discussion found several bishops saying that the most recent edition of the document does not incorporate the teachings of Pope Francis on worldwide concerns such as the migration of people, economic inequality and protecting earth's resources.

They also pointed to the need to incorporate the USCCB statements on gun control and access to health care.

In calling for a new document, the bishops said the current document has gained little attention from Catholics -- with about one in six churchgoers having read at least part of it -- because it is too long.

The push for a major revision of the document started with Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, who said, "It would be a missed opportunity and a big mistake not to move forward with an entirely new document."

He said there was a "new body of teaching" offered by Pope Francis and "the way he presents those topics seems to be a body of teaching we ought to integrate."

Their discussion of a new document and how to address differences of opinion could also model for the country how "how public civil discourse can take place," the cardinal added. "People have very few examples of how this should take place."

Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, saying he welcomed the new materials, echoed the cardinal and said including gun control in the document was important as young people rise to challenge the nation's gun laws after several mass shootings in schools.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy added that it was vital for the Faithful Citizenship document to reflect "the signs of the times" by addressing rising racism, economic inequality and the "greatest assault on immigration law in the last 50 years."

"We need to speak to these questions and we need to speak as a collective body of bishops," he said.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, who presented the working group's proposal, explained that drafting a new document on Catholic participation in public life would require a long effort and regular review of the USCCB as a whole. He expressed concern that it might not be done by November 2019.

Several bishops offered their support for the working group's plan, saying what was being proposed would be a good step toward reaching new audiences, especially people who depend on digital platforms for their news and information.

"We have to remember who the audience is. As it has developed, the audience for Faithful Citizenship is probably not most people in the pews, unless they happen to be policy wonks. Really it's (state) Catholic conference directors, it's the clergy, its ourselves," Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said.

"While we can talk about reworking and revising, that is a very tall challenge," he said.

After more than an hour of back-and-forth discussion, a vote was taken to move forward with the working group's proposal.

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Justin Ramza
5 years 8 months ago

I remember reading an article on pastoral advice re: voting, about 15 years ago. Basically it was an admonition to vote pro-life, which meant voting Republican. It did not even consider whether the candidate claiming to be pro-life was pro-life "cradle to grave," only that he was pro-life at conception. Nor did it consider whether a candidate was believable, or truthful, in the platform he promoted, or even strongly convicted to that platform (Gov. Rauner, of Illinois, as a case in point). I do wish there would be greater nuances in the advice given by clergy, as voting involves many facets of consideration, and the laity are capable of discerning these.

JR Cosgrove
5 years 8 months ago

It sounds like the church is becoming political. This will not end well. I have 16 years of Catholic education and heard thousands of homilies without feeling a sense of voting for one political party or not. The author believes the new guidelines will tilt to the Democrats.

Jay Cuasay
5 years 8 months ago

I’m not sure how one might say in one hand “the church is becoming political” and on the other hand, “it will tilt to Democrats” when the whole point of Faithful Citizenship and Catholic Social Teaching in general was to demonstrate the necessity of bearing witness to our faith which includes our actions in the secular sphere. We are not just Catholics on Sundays.
To say we might tilt Democrat overlooks that an observer might see more Republican tilts in other areas like sexuality and reproduction of the document is limited. Some conclude it is mostly for the clergy to help disseminate it. Practical speaking that remains the same as it ever was. Priests will refer us to a website link and encourage laity to read for themselves...and we’ll still banter around whether pro-life/anti-abortion is the litmus test or starting point...I doubt we’ll come out of it with clarity over the concept and application of prudential judgment, no matter what the issue(s).

Greg Fishel
5 years 8 months ago

While I, like most, struggle with trying to find a balance on the issues, I am certain of one thing. For the unborn baby who becomes the victim of abortion - there is only one point - life has ended. Everything else is moot from that point on. And for that, it seems to me, there is only one prudent judgment to be made. Not sure how that plays out in the political process of the world in which we live today - but in the moral realm - . . .

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