On the afternoon of June 14, a rather spirited, fascinating, and unexpected debate broke out on the floor of the USCCB spring meeting in Ft. Lauderdale.

At issue was the possibility of reconsidering “Faithful Citizenship,” the 2007 statement of the U.S. Bishops on the formation of conscience regarding matters political. A group of bishops, including myself, had proposed that instead of producing another lengthy document to succeed “Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops ought to write a brief and pointed letter on the political challenges of the present moment and then to create a video or a series of videos bringing forth the salient points of Catholic social teaching. Our thinking was motivated by recent research, which indicates that a very small percentage of Catholics actually read that formal statement from ten years ago. Though it had been taken in and appreciated by the bishops themselves, by lobbyists and political activists, and by members of the Catholic commentariat, it was largely ignored by the very people we were endeavoring to reach.

Once the formal proposal had been made, a number of bishops rose to speak against it and in favor of writing a document to replace “Faithful Citizenship.” With considerable eloquence, they reminded us of the shift in emphasis that has taken place with the magisterium of Pope Francis. Concern for the environment, for economic justice, for the poor, for the victims of violence, for refugees and immigrants has been brought to the fore in a new way, and our teaching, they insisted, ought to reflect this change. 

About midway through the discussion, I rose to make a clarification. I said that the members of our group were fully aware of what I called “the Franciscan shift” in emphasis and that we very much wanted the bishops’ teaching to reflect this change. What was really at issue, I explained, was not so much the content of the teaching but the vehicle for its transmission. I said that practically all of the people in the room are on one side of the page/screen divide, so that we rather naturally privilege written texts and find them more substantive.

Read more at Catholic World Report. 

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