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US Bishops Affirm Abortion as Preeminent Political Concern

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore presenting the supplemental materials to the U.S. Bishops voting guide for Catholics at the the third day of their general assembly on Nov. 15. (Credit: USCCB.)

BALTIMORE — When it came time for a much-anticipated debate among the American bishops over a voting guide ahead of the 2024 election, the surprise may be that there wasn’t actually any contention. They simply voted to approve the agreed-upon materials in a 225 to 11 vote, with seven abstentions.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ voting guide for Catholics, now has a new introductory note, five bulletin inserts, and a video script. The materials make clear that “the threat of abortion remains our [the bishops’] preeminent issue.”

In years past, bishops have debated and disagreed with labeling abortion as the preeminent issue, but in the absence of a public discussion at this year’s general assembly, it appears any differences were hashed out ahead of time.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the U.S. bishops’ conference vice president, who also led a task force charged with drafting the supplemental materials, told reporters after the Nov. 15 vote that abortion remains the top focus because the unborn “are utterly voiceless, are utterly defenseless.” With abortion, he also emphasized the importance of supporting women in difficult pregnancies.

“I think that protection of the unborn remains a preeminent priority because unborn children are utterly vulnerable, are utterly voiceless, and there are so many of them who die, and we are called to stand in radical solidarity with women in difficult pregnancies and their unborn children and provide them with the kind of support and services and public policy that they need,” Archbishop Lori said.

Following abortion, the voting guide’s new introductory note highlights life issues Catholics should consider when voting, including euthanasia, gun violence, terrorism, the death penalty, and human trafficking. From there, it cites 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 health care and education, and the environment.

“All threaten dignity to the human person,” the introductory note states.

The American bishops approved drafting supplemental materials for their voting guide at the November 2022 general assembly. The task force, which in addition to Archbishop Lori is made up of heads of other USCCB committees, has met multiple times, created drafts, and received input from bishops nationwide. The approved supplemental materials total 17 pages.

Following the introductory note, the five bulletin inserts approach the priority issues, and others, through five lenses: Church role in public life, dignity of the person, common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity.

The video script opens with the question, “What does it mean to be a faithful citizen?” before quoting Pope Francis’s encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” where he invokes the example of the good Samaritan. It then highlights the importance of voting in our nation’s elections.

“As Americans, the virtue of patriotism calls us to vote,” the video script states.

“Elections should contain a sense of gratitude and hope. Increasingly, it seems they are in a time of anxiety, division, and spiritual trial,” it continues. “Inspired by the good Samaritan, please join in helping bind these wounds and heal these bitter divisions.”

The original version of “Faithful Citizenship” was adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2007. In 2015, the document was updated to include “the wealth of papal teaching since the 2007 version of ‘Faithful Citizenship’ such as the later magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI and that of Pope Francis to date.”

The document has not been updated since.

At the November 2022 general assembly, the bishops chose not to rewrite or update the text of the document, determining that its overall teaching “remains relevant and that the newer teaching of Pope Francis on current issues could be adequately updated through supplementary materials,” Archbishop Lori explained.

Last November they committed to a full rewrite of the document after the 2024 election cycle. Pressed by reporters on why the bishops chose to hold off on rewriting the document, Archbishop Lori defended the decision, saying, “I don’t think we kicked the can down the road,” and noting that he accepts a very broad, consultative, even synodal, process to take place to rewrite the document.

“We made a very deliberate decision that we would rewrite the underlying document for the next election cycle and not this election cycle, and that will be a very thought through, detailed, consultative process,” Archbishop Lori said.

“One might even say that’ll be synodal and that will include consulting lively in our own dioceses, engaging our own consultative bodies, coming together as bishops in our regions, coming together in fraternal dialogue here, engaging the National Advisory Council — it’ll be a pretty big thing,” he said.