Debate over ‘Faithful Citizenship’ at meeting of U.S. bishops

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy: 'Faithful Citizenship' “doesn’t reflect the full-bodied teachings of Pope Francis,” document undermines current thinking in the Church "by its tendentious use of ‘intrinsic evil"

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, speaks June 13 during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual spring assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

What some expected would be a brisk vote turned out to be a lengthy discussion at the USCCB general assembly meeting on Thursday, covering the future of the bishops’ guide to political engagement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

At the end of the vigorous discussion, when the bishops eventually voted on the action item June 14 in Ft. Lauderdale, 77 percent supported a measure calling for the production of a short letter to inspire prayer and action regarding public life, and a short video and other secondary resources — to complement rather than to replace the existing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship document, and to apply the teachings of Pope Francis to our day.

Preceding the debate was a presentation by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who chairs the bishops’ working group on Faithful Citizenship. The working group is already looking ahead to the 2020 presidential election, and wants to produce “user-friendly” supplements to the document.

Gomez noted that Faithful Citizenship “has lasting value” but is too long, and perhaps not particularly accessible to those in the pews. While it does an excellent job of conveying information, he said the document lacks the ability to inspire voters, “so the task before us is to motivate the people to pray and to act.”

The first bishop to respond to the Los Angeles archbishop was Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who said he planned to vote against the working group’s proposal, citing an apparent need to replace Faithful Citizenship with an entirely new document reflecting the “new body of teaching” from Pope Francis on issues including climate change, poverty, and immigration.

“The way he presents those is a body of teaching we need to integrate into what we’re talking to our people about,” the cardinal stated.

Cardinal Cupich, who lost an election to chair the bishops’ pro-life committee to Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas in November 2017, was giving voice to a faction of bishops who have recently called for a significant reworking of Faithful Citizenship, though new revisions were adopted by the USCCB only three years ago.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego walks away after greeting Pope Francis during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 23, 2016. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Gomez noted that producing an entirely new document to replace Faithful Citizenship would be a lengthy process, and that “the one we have is very good, theologically.”

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego charged that the current edition of Faithful Citizenship (last revised in 2015), doesn’t engage with current issues and “Catholic teaching as it is now.”

Since the 2016 election, he said, “legal and political institutions are being atrophied” and we are in “a radically different moment”, noting widespread opposition to immigration, profound racial divisions, and school shootings.

According to Bishop McElroy, Faithful Citizenship “doesn’t reflect the full-bodied teachings of Pope Francis,” mentioning in particular Gaudete et exsultate, saying that a wide variety of issues have “not a secondary, but a primary claim on conscience,” and that Faithful Citizenship “undermines that by its tendentious use of ‘intrinsic evil.’”

Bishop McElroy’s comments seemed to invoke the “consistent ethic of life,” or “seamless garment” approach of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Supporters say the “seamless garment” perspective served to raise consciousness among Catholics regarding a number of issues which threaten human dignity; while critics say that it implied moral equivalency between abortion and other issues, diminishing the significance of abortion, and suggesting that there was not room for a diversity of opinion on other economic and social issues.

This “seamless garment” approach seemed to be rebuffed by St. John Paul II, who identified abortion as a uniquely grave offense against human life, but it has been revitalized by some thinkers in recent years.

Archbishop Gomez responded to Bishop McElroy, praising Faithful Citizenship, and saying that it is already a particularly long document, and a new document addressing new concerns would be even longer.

Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles and a member of the working group on Faithful Citizenship, noted that the document is long, and the group didn’t want to make it longer.

“We have to retain a lot of what’s in there now, and we would just be making a much longer document” if it included the “Franciscan shift.” He suggested that instead of a replacement document, video might be a much more effective means for conveying new priorities.

Bishop Jaime Soto chimed in to mention the “new paradigm” introduced by Pope Francis, including his encyclical Laudato si’, and said the proposal of supplementary materials might not take that new paradigm into sufficient account.

Another Los Angeles auxiliary, Bishop David O’Connell, agreed with the proposal and suggested, “we need to take time to think about how Pope Francis’ teachings inform our pastoral practice.”

After numerous suggestions from those and other bishops, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco rose to note the dizzying number of alternative proposals, none of which had been clearly formulated.

A vote on Bishop Coyne’s proposal to table the discussion was held, with two-thirds rejecting his proposal. The discussion continued, focused on developing amendments to the original proposal which might satisfy those bishops with objections.

Bishop McElroy suggested that all reference to Faithful Citizenship be removed from the wording of the proposal.

Bishop McElroy’s suggestion was rejected by the working group.

The working group did, however, concede to changing the language for the pending action item, which was amended to say that the short video and other secondary resources should “complement, rather than replace” Faithful Citizenship (the original had read “complement, rather than revise or replace”). The working group also added a clause saying that newly developed resources should also “apply the teachings of Pope Francis to our day.”

With the revised wording, the proposal came to a vote. The measure passed with well more than a two-thirds majority, though it required only a simple majority. 144 bishops voted in support of the action item, with 41 (just under 22 percent) opposing it.

The discussion was pointed, and took a great deal more time than was anticipated, pushing the public session of the meeting into the afternoon rather than ending before lunch. Faithful Citizenship continues to be the guiding document for civic engagement by Catholics in the US.

Amid repeated reference to “new teachings” of Pope Francis, the unexpected argument demonstrated a deep division among the US bishops.

Full story at Catholic News Agency.


  1. St. Christopher says:

    Phony positions by (largely) feckless Catholic bishops. The USCCB’s voting guidelines were a significant assist to Barack Obama in his elections. B. McElroy is surely beyond, far beyond, what bishops have any competence to address. Cardinal Cupich engages in heretical teachings and actions by his complete disrespect for the Holy Eucharist (“I will give communion to anyone. . .”)

    The USCCB should disband and save the Church much money. These bishops need to focus on teaching the True Catholic Faith and combating sin and encouraging holiness. Stop being corporate clergy.

  2. Abigail says:

    I hate bureaucracy. Here’s a fact: no bishop needs the permission nor a document from the USCCB to do or say whatever he wants in his own diocese. Why don’t these bishops just do whatever they want in their own dioceses and let others do whatever they want in their own territories instead of trying to foist their particular vision on the whole United States by requiring the conference to issue a collective document? Such a waste of time these meetings and collective documents are.

  3. drewelow says:

    deuteronomy 30:15-20 …”i have set before you life and death…..choose life’ no better citizenship guide ever given.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You’ve heard of the phrase “Beware if judges who ‘legislate’ from the bench?” This Bishop McElroy is just like that! He wants to legitimize his own doctrine. He is actively and constantly using EVERY platform granted by his office to push HIS AGENDA. What agenda is that? One that is NOT authentically Catholic! Bishop McElroy publicly teaches the following: “There is NO theological difference between the Protestant communion and Catholic Eucharist!” When Bishop McElriy speaks or writes we say BEWARE of HIS ANTI-CATHOLIC AGENDA!

  5. Anonymous says:

    “We must take into account how the teaching of Pope Francis influences our pastoral practice.” This is double-speak for: we will legitimize undermining Dictrine, Tradition, Scripture and Magisterial teaching! This discussion DOES demonstrate a rift which exists in the HEART of these poor ordained men and that divide is fundamentally call a SCHISM.

    • Anonymous says:

      No. That is not schism. Look the word up in a Catholic dictionary or in the Catechism of the Catholic Church..

  6. Cardinal Cupich and Bishop McElroy are correct and praised in their persistence of Pope Francis teachings. Their positions reflect the needs and interests of not only Christ’s Body but to the entire world. The US is currently on a road of destruction with the current Trump Administration who wants to destroy relationships with our international allies. He is dangerous and is not making policies for the citizens of the US. Thus, Cupich and McElroy’s courage is greatly needed. May God bless them.

    • St. Christopher says:

      “Nancy,” you are so wrong. C. Cupich and B. McElroy are simply lost. Much of what they “teach” is heresy, and far outside established Catholic doctrine. They are architects of a “NewCatholicChurch” that seems much like the regular old Democratic Party. Their “positions” are not those of Christ’s Church, although they may be those of the USCCB, a feckless (largely) group that largely exists to obtain federal funding and to defeat Catholic Tradition.

      The Church exists for only one thing: to be a guide for the salvation of Mankind. Clergy are not to be “social justice warrior,” but are to be savers of souls.

    • bohemond says:

      Nancy, Trump is telling the rest of the world that the free ride is OVER and the US is NOT the world’s dumping ground for the poor. These Bishops say NOTHING about abortion or birth control which is the source of the corruption in this country. Cupich and McElroy are feckless little men who should be removed from office and defrocked

  7. As regards Faithful Citizenship, I have two observations: 1) Catholics are bound in conscience to vote for a non-intrinsic evil candidate over an intrinsic evil candidate, and 2) non-legal immigration is sinful.

  8. Immigrant Gomez was sent to minister to “newcomers” from dysfunctional countries and cultures, has lived only among such marginals, regularly demonstrates an ignorance of and antagonism towards US history and culture, and whose English can only be described as marginal. So whom does the USCCB choose to chair the working group on Faithful Citizenship? Insanity, thy name is Bishop.

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