Bishops OK supplements to 'Faithful Citizenship,' affirm abortion 'preeminent' among issues
BALTIMORE (OSV News) -- The U.S. Catholic bishops approved supplements to "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" -- a teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics -- on Nov. 15 during their annual fall plenary assembly in Baltimore.
"The purpose of these items is to address current, recent policy issues and to incorporate the teachings of Pope Francis since the last update," Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained to bishops in a presentation he gave the day before as chair of the task force charged with drafting the supplemental materials.
A new introductory note, five bulletin inserts, and a template video script supplement the document, last updated in 2015, that outlines the bishops' guidance for Catholics in forming their consciences as they exercise their rights and duties as U.S. citizens. The bishops will reexamine the document following the 2024 election.
Archbishop Lori told bishops the materials were the result of "extensive consultation and collaboration among the chairmen of the 10 committees of the conference that make up the task force."
No bishops asked questions of clarification during the preliminary presentation or ahead of the vote.
Two-thirds of the conference membership needed to vote "yes" for approval. A majority of 225 bishops voted yes, 11 voted no, and seven abstained.
While quoting Pope Francis' 2020 encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti ("Brothers All"), the new supplements encourage Catholics to follow the example of the Good Samaritan and serve as neighbors to all.
In years past, the bishops have debated whether to call abortion "our preeminent priority" in the guide. The new introductory note reads: "The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks our most vulnerable and voiceless brothers and sisters and destroys more than a million lives per year in our country alone."
The new introductory letter explains, "The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed."
At a Nov. 15 press briefing following the vote, Archbishop Lori addressed the language on abortion.
"I think that the protection of the unborn remains a preeminent priority because unborn children who are affected by this are utterly vulnerable, utterly voiceless, and there are so many of them who have died," he said. "And we are called to stand in radical solidarity with women in difficult pregnancies and their unborn children, and to provide them with the kind of support and services and public policies that they need."
"So it's not simply a public policy issue," he said. "It is a deeply, deeply pastoral issue of loving the moms in need, walking with them, helping them bring their babies to term, and then providing them with what they need to move forward."
In addition to abortion, the new introductory letter identifies grave threats to the life and dignity of the human person, including euthanasia, gun violence, terrorism, the death penalty and human trafficking.
"There is also the redefinition of marriage and gender, threats to religious freedom at home and abroad, lack of justice for the poor, the suffering of migrants and refugees, wars and famines around the world, racism, the need for greater access to healthcare and education, care for our common home, and more," it states.
Archbishop Lori also told reporters, "In our midst, there are people who are vulnerable for many, many different reasons. The reason we focus on the unborn as we do is because they are utterly voiceless and defenseless and abortion is a direct taking of human life."
During a Nov. 14 press briefing, the USCCB's president, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, addressed the bishops' role concerning abortion as states vote on abortion policy. He stressed the importance of education and the message that "we're talking about human life, and an end to human life -- especially innocent human life -- is just simply not acceptable."
"Our role continues to be one of catechesis and education," he said. "And I think we'll also continue to do whatever we can to influence those who do go to the polls to vote for one question or another."
He said, "I don't think the role has changed very much, other than perhaps we need to make our position clearer."
The bishops' guidance in "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" dates back to 2007. At the 2022 fall plenary assembly, the bishops voted to reissue the document without revisions and include supplemental materials: a new introductory note, multiple bulletin inserts, a template video script, and a social media kit.
With "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," the bishops stress that they do not intend to tell Catholics who to vote for; instead, they identify their purpose as helping Catholics form their consciences.
Catholics, the statement reads, "are called to participate in public life in a manner consistent with the mission of our Lord."
The document is divided into three main parts: a reflection by the bishops on Catholic teaching and political life, a summary of the USCCB's policy positions, and challenges for citizens, candidates, and public officials.
"We urge our pastors, lay and religious faithful, and all people of good will to use this statement to help form their consciences; to teach those entrusted to their care; to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue; and to shape political choices in the coming election in light of Catholic teaching," the bishops say on their website. "The statement lifts up our dual heritage as both faithful Catholics and American citizens with rights and duties as participants in the civil order."
- - - Katie Yoder is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.- - - NOTES: A link to the introductory note can be found here: https://www.usccb.org/resources/2023-Nov-15%20FCFC%20action%20item%20text%20final.pdf.