By DENNIS SADOWSKI
Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) — The U.S. bishops adopted a revised version of their quadrennial statement on political responsibility, but not without questions being raised by some bishops, including Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who said it should better reflect Catholic social teaching.
The questions came from five bishops who said that the document does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has asked the church to do.
Despite the concerns, the bishops moved to a vote on the document Nov. 17, the second day of the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They cast two votes, the first for the introductory note, which passed 217 to 16, with two abstentions. They approved the limited revision of the document 210 to 21, with five abstentions. Both needed 181 votes for passage.
The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and euthanasia, that some people “outside of this room” would “misuse” the document and claim other issues did not carry the same moral weight.
“It does not take into account that Pope Francis has rapidly transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements, not the truth of them, not the substance of them, but the prioritization of them,” Bishop McElroy said.
“If I understand (Pope Francis) correctly, it is that the issue of poverty, particularly global poverty, with all its victimization of men and women and families across the world, the global poverty in relation to the earth which threatens all of humanity, this lies at the center of Catholic social teaching. They are priorities for us in every public policy position. And this is not reflected in this document,” he said.
Bishop McElroy’s comments came after similar, if less forceful, concerns were raised by Bishop Kicanas; Bishop George Thomas of Helena, Montana; Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky and Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif. All of the bishops said they would prefer to see the document better reflect Pope Francis’ priorities.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB vice president, who chaired the working group that revised the document, explained that the mandate given to the group of bishops was to keep the basic structure of the statement intact but to reflect the latter teachings of Pope Benedict XVI as well as Pope Francis.
The revised document is longer than its predecessors of 2007 and 2011, which garnered much public attention during the two previous presidential election years.
The document reflects on long-held concerns related to abortion and the needs of poor people. It also references emerging issues related to court decisions on same-sex marriage, public policies that impact religious freedom and a rising concern for the environment as climate change affects more people around the world.
Notably, the document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” draws on the words of Pope Benedict’s 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”) and Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) and “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”
The bishops have issued a statement offering guidance to Catholic voters every four years for nearly four decades.