US Catholic bishops concerned about views on abortion in pews


BALTIMORE– Even as they signaled a continued hardline stance on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, the country’s Catholic bishops acknowledged on Wednesday that they were struggling to reach a key audience: their own flock.

Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops completed their leadership bench on the final day of public sessions at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, which concludes with private meetings Thursday.

They also have a plan in place to recirculate their longstanding election document in 2024 – a 15-year-old statement that prioritizes opposition to abortion – while acknowledging that it is outdated and adding a cover statement addressing such things as the teachings of Pope Francis and the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June that struck down the nation’s abortion rights.

The bishops elected Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley as secretary in a 130-104 vote against Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, who had been named a cardinal by Pope Francis. It is the second time in five years that the bishops have passed over a cardinal appointed by Francis for a key leadership position.

Earlier this year, Coakley applauded the Archbishop of San Francisco’s decision to deny Communion to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic Democrat from that city who supports abortion rights. So has the bishops’ new point man on opposition to abortion — Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Va., who was elected chairman of his committee on pro-life activities on Wednesday.

The votes came a day after bishops elected Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the archdiocese for military service as their new president. Broglio is also seen as more of a culture warrior than Pope Francis, although Broglio dismissed the idea of ​​any “dissonance” between the two.

Meanwhile, Coakley cited the importance of Francis’ priorities during a press conference on Wednesday.

Coakley is leading the bishops’ review of “Training Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a document they have used during election years with only minor revisions since 2007.

While a full review will take years, the bishops endorsed Coakley’s recommendation to begin drafting a new introduction to be published with the document in time for the 2024 election. It would incorporate recent events such as the war in Ukraine. and the Dobbs decision.

The plan also includes using church bulletins and social media to share the main ideas of the long document.

Coakley said the new introduction should reflect Pope Francis’ priorities, such as promoting civil discourse and protecting the environment.

“It’s a rich pontificate that has a lot for us to offer people…to embrace the vision that Pope Francis has articulated,” Coakley said.

Bishops from the progressive and conservative flanks of the church have echoed the concern that Catholics are not reading the document.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, appointed by Francis, said the bishops needed a relevant statement amid shaken confidence in democracy in the wake of the U.S. Capitol riot and in the wake of Dobbs and defeats abortion opponents in votes on five state ballot measures. “It is irresponsible to post old teaching and suggest that the church has nothing new to say when so much of that context has changed,” he said.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, one of the most vocal conservative bishops, lamented recent state ballot measures. Polls show Catholics are mixed on legal abortion.

“I think it’s a solid document,” Strickland said, but “I think we have to recognize that people aren’t listening.”

The rift between Francis and the U.S. bishops partly reflects the conference’s continued focus on culture war battles over abortion and same-sex marriage.

Francis, while also opposing both in line with Church teaching, has used his papacy to emphasize a broader agenda to bring mercy to those on the margins, such as migrants. and the other poor. The Vatican said in 2021 that the church cannot bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin,” but Francis has made outreach to LGBTQ members of the church a hallmark of his papacy. Just last Friday, Francis met Reverend James Martin, an American Jesuit priest whom the pontiff has supported in his calls for dialogue with LGBTQ Catholics.

Pelosi and President Joe Biden, another pro-legalized abortion Catholic, have received communion since 2021 in churches in Rome, the pope’s own diocese.

The bishops also heard an impassioned speech on Wednesday from Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archieparchy of Philadelphia on behalf of war-torn Ukraine.

Gudziak thanked American Catholics for providing millions of relief supplies to displaced Ukrainians and urged the United States to continue supporting Ukraine’s self-defense, saying Russian aggression has left many vulnerable over the past the coming winter.

At the same time, he said that during a conference call with the staff of a Catholic university in Lviv, he heard only joy and resolution, even amid the electricity losses during the barrage of Russian missiles on Tuesday. A staff member told him: “It’s better without electricity and with Kherson,” he said, referring to the recently liberated city.

Gudziak accused Russia of “genocide” through such attacks and its denial of the identity of Ukrainians as a distinct people.

Also on Wednesday, a small group of sexual abuse survivors and their supporters held a press conference on the sidewalk outside the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, where the bishops meet. As this year marks the 20th anniversary of the bishops’ historic policy barring all abusers from the ministry, advocates are seeking more transparency.

They called on bishops in every diocese to release detailed lists of credibly accused abusers and to stop lobbying against state legislation that would extend statutes of limitations for abuse suits.

David Lorenz, Maryland director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, cited Archbishop Broglio’s archdiocese as one of the few that doesn’t publish even a minimal list of abusers. Broglio declined to comment.

“I don’t need any more excuses because it does nothing to protect the children,” Lorenz added. “I want actions to help children. I want them (the bishops) to be totally, absolutely transparent.

Also on Wednesday, bishops voted to advance efforts to have three American women declared saints.

Among them is Michelle Duppong of North Dakota, a campus missionary who died of cancer in 2014 and was credited with showing faithfulness in suffering.

They also include two 20th-century women: Cora Evans, a Catholic convert from Utah who reported mystical experiences from an early age; and Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy of Texas, founder of a religious order, who provided education and other ministries to African Americans.


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