Bishops to supplement rather than revise Faithful Citizenship voter guide

Good debate and discussion. But if seems a bit ingenuous not to undertake a more fundamental revision given the times:

After nearly 90 minutes of fraternal debate about the future of their voter guide, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops opted to supplement rather than revise or issue a new document, resisting a push from a group of bishops who believed the current version is outdated in light of “a radically different moment” brought by the presidency of Donald Trump.

The bishops voted 144 to 41, with one abstention, to complement the current version of Faithful Citizenship with a short letter and videos aimed at inspiring prayer and action in public life; an amendment added to the proposal also holds the efforts to apply the teaching of Pope Francis to present times.

The U.S. bishops have been issuing Faithful Citizenship documents, reflecting on election issues, every four years since 1976. The current document was crafted in 2007; a new introduction for it was written in 2011 and some revisions made in 2015.

The proposed supplemental elements were put forth by a working group of chairs of a dozen bishop committees, led by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In introducing their proposal, Gomez said their goal was to increase the document’s influence and reach more Catholics through it. He said the working group viewed the document as having “lasting value” as a resource for state Catholic conferences, priests and fellow bishops, but that it was “too long and not particularly accessible or practical in helping the ordinary faithful individuals.”

“In the process of learn, pray, act, Faithful Citizenship does a good job of helping our people to learn,” he said. “So the task for us is to motivate the faithful to pray and to act.”

Once the proposal opened to debate, disagreement broke out about whether the document, as it stood, still held relevance absent revisions in light of the teachings of Francis and the country’s political climate.

While his name was never said, the agenda of Trump was acutely in the mind of bishops pushing for a new or heavily modified Faithful Citizenship document.

One by one, they took to the microphone to make their case why simply reissuing Faithful Citizenship would miss the mark.

“I think it would be a missed opportunity and a big mistake not to move forward with an entirely new document,” said Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who led off the floor discussion saying he would vote against the proposal.

A new document is necessary, he said, in order to integrate the body of teachings from Francis — highlighting the issues of climate change, poverty and immigration — into the bishops’ own teachings and guidance. Cupich also said a new document would allow an opportunity for bishops to model how public discourse over issues of disagreement should play out during this time of political polarization.

“Even if it means that we have to stand up, and discuss, and yes, disagree with each other, we can do our people and our nation a great favor to model how that should take place,” Cupich said.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, argued there is a “different context that we find ourselves in after the last national election.”

“Even though our teachings don’t change, the context changes and the priority of issues change,” he said.

Stowe referenced the U.S. withdrawals from the Paris Agreement on climate change and Iran nuclear deal, and the increased focus on issues of gun control and immigration. The latter two issues he noted are important to young people.

“Even if it means that we have to stand up, and discuss, and yes, disagree with each other, we can do our people and our nation a great favor to model how that should take place.”

— Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich

“I think if the church doesn’t have something to say about those issues, we’re missing a very important opportunity, especially if we want to reach out to youth and incorporate them more fully in the life of the church,” Stowe said.

“There’s not much in the document about Pope Francis,” said Bishop Michael Warful, adding that in his Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana, Faithful Citizenship is viewed as stale.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy pressed his fellow bishops that the “radically different moment” the country finds itself in requires from them a comprehensive statement “from the whole of the body, reflecting upon the signs of the times that we’re in.”

“We are living in a moment in which we witness the greatest assault upon the rights of immigrant people of the past 50 years. We live in a nation with racial and geographic and regional divides in which people of color feel victimized by institutional prejudice and violence and many white, working-class men and women feel dispossessed. We live in a time in which children are afraid to go to school because they may be killed. We live in a time in which we have the great challenge of bringing to the millennial generation an understanding that the instrumentalization of human life, at the beginning of life and at the end, is unacceptable and why laws should touch upon that,” he said.

“And yet, we see our institutions, legal and political, being distorted and atrophy. We need to speak to these questions and we need to speak as a collective body of bishops.”

McElroy said that Faithful Citizenship in its current form does not reflect Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) and that stated issues such as poverty, migration and the environment are not secondary but among “primary issues of claim upon the conscience of believers in public policy.”

More fundamentally, he said, the document has nothing to say about present moments “that traumatize us as a country.”

“Regarding the recision of DACA, it is silent. Regarding Charlottesville, silent. Parkland, silent. Faithful Citizenship of 2015 cannot be our response to the moment we are living in. It cannot engage with the signs of the times, it can only engage with the signs of the past and we should not move it forward,” McElroy said.

In response to calls for updating the document, Gomez and other members of the working group argued the document would only become longer and take more time to produce. Issuing videos from the current text, they said, could reach a new segment of Catholics who haven’t read Faithful Citizenship.

“We very much want to reflect this great Franciscan shift in emphasis,” said Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron. “Our fear is that we have to retain a lot of the things in Faithful Citizenship, which are very well presented, well argued, we’d just be making a much longer document.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, suggested that perhaps a new process was necessary, since the current one delays the conference’s ability to make “prompt and thorough and reflective responses” to what’s happening in the public square.

“Here, we’re a year and a half out from the elections, and we’re saying we don’t have enough time. I think that the process at least has to be questioned. And if this is the best process, we’ll stick with it. But maybe there’s a better way of doing things,” Tobin said.

A number of bishops took to the floor to voice support for packaging the same Faithful Citizenship in new, more accessible forms. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, noted on his flight to the conference he saw few fellow passengers, if any, reading; rather, most were staring at some type of screen.

Still, other bishops pushed back, saying that reissuing the same message, regardless of medium, would fall short of its stated goals of articulating to Catholics that faith comes prior to political leanings, they’re called to be faithful citizens at all times and not just during elections, and the need for respectful, civil discourse.

“Faithful Citizenship of 2015 cannot be our response to the moment we are living in. It cannot engage with the signs of the times, it can only engage with the signs of the past and we should not move it forward.”

— San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy

Bishop John Michael Botean, head of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George in Canton, Ohio, said the bishops have developed a reputation of taking too long to address issues facing the country.

“I think we are running the risk of it appearing that we don’t care or aren’t paying attention,” he said.

At one point, amendments were proposed to allow for revisions, to scrap Faithful Citizenship entirely from the vote they were considering and to table the motion until their November meeting.

The latter two failed. The motion to table was defeated in a vote, but the text was edited from stating “rather than revise or replace” to simply “rather than to replace,” apparently leaving an opening for revisions at some point. A clause was also added stating the new elements for Faithful Citizenship would “apply the teachings of Pope Francis to our day.”

Source: Bishops to supplement rather than revise Faithful Citizenship voter guide

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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