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U.S. Bishops Debate Effectiveness of Election Voting Guide for Catholics

BALTIMORE — On the second day of the U.S. bishops’ conference fall general assembly, a proposal to update the conference’s voting guide for Catholics fostered the most discussion, with multiple bishops calling for the next iteration of the document to address current political realities and societal divisions.

In the end, the bishops voted to forgo major changes to the document before the 2024 election. They will instead develop an introductory note for the document that will incorporate more recent papal teachings and policy developments and then tackle a full “re-examining” of the document once the election passes.

The document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” has been issued every four years since 2007, always a year ahead of presidential elections to avoid the conference appearing partisan.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington said the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the COVID-19 pandemic, and national divisions are examples of societal changes that make it “irresponsible” for the conference to suggest it has nothing new to say, and he urged changes to the document.

Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego, echoing Bishop Stowe’s sentiment, urged the conference to give great attention “to the crisis of democracy” that the nation has experienced.

“Our people are uneasy about this, and we must speak to this question in a non-partisan way, a way that comes from our tradition,” Cardinal McElroy said. “I feel like if we let this moment go … I think we will be missing out on what is probably the central challenge to us at this moment as a people.”

Other bishops acknowledged that it doesn’t appear the document is reaching people in the first place. Emeritus Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said if the voters’ guide doesn’t address the nation’s division, then it’ll be hard to get people’s attention and therefore form their consciences.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, suggested one way to reach people — both Catholics and non-Catholics — is making every November “faithful citizenship month,” where the USCCB would encourage people to look at Catholic social teaching.

“We have to do a better job of getting that into the hearts and minds of people,” he said.

After the public session ended, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, told reporters that the bishops recognize that not enough people have access to the document. He said it will be important to figure out new ways for people to access and digest its content.

The Nov. 16 public session also included an immigration update from Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, the outgoing chair of the USCCB Migration Committee, who spoke about the importance of continuing advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform.

Bishop Dorsonville highlighted that the past two years — under President Joe Biden — were expected to be “the best opportunity in quite some time” to make progress toward immigration reform, but little was done.

Now that the Democrats have lost control of the House of Representatives, the outlook is even bleaker, according to Bishop Dorsonville.

“Millions will continue to live in the shadows without legal status. Family members will remain separated. The most vulnerable will suffer,” he said. “Disorder will continue at the border, and the very future of our country will hang in the balance without a functioning immigration system.”

Earlier in the day, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, chair of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, gave an update on the Eucharistic Revival, revealing that they’ve been able to cut the cost in half, from $28 million to $14 million.

Bishop Cozzens added that they’ve traveled to Indianapolis several times to prepare for the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress. He said that it will be a three-day event that will have the same environment as the World Youth Days, with catechetical sessions in the morning, a festival atmosphere in the afternoon, and all 80,000 attendees gathered together at night.

After launching Corpus Christi processions nationwide in June, the National Eucharistic Revival is still in its first stage, which takes place at the diocesan level. Cozzens said the goal of the initiative is trying to “bring people to an encounter with a living Jesus,” which leads to a missionary conversion.

Earlier in the public session, eight bishops were elected to fill USCCB leadership positions:

  • Archbishop Coakley as conference secretary and chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans
  • Bishop Michael Burbidge, as chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities
  • Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois, as chairman-elect of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance
  • Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, as chairman-elect of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
  • Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, as chairman-elect of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis
  • Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, as chairman-elect of the Committee on International Justice and Peace
  • Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond, as chairman-elect of the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People
  • Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, as chairman-elect of the Committee on Religious Liberty