The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted last week to update the church’s guide on making conscience-driven choices at the voting booth to reflect Pope Francis’ teachings.
The vote was 144-41 among the bishops, with two abstentions, to have “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” ready before the 2020 presidential election.
The USCCB currently issues guidelines that advise parishes and Catholic organizations how not to run afoul of rules that prohibit participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. If candidates are invited to a church forum, all must be invited and topics must cover a broad range of issues because “focusing on one issue will create the appearance of endorsing some candidates over others.”
Parishes are allowed to encourage voter registration, conduct nonpartisan voter education, and support or oppose ballot measures if they fall within 501(c)(3) permitted lobbying activities. The USCCB has suggested the following notice for church bulletins: “We strongly urge all parishioners to register, to become informed on key issues, and to vote. The Church does not support or oppose any candidate, but seeks to focus attention on the moral and human dimensions of issues. We do not authorize the distribution of partisan political materials on parish property.”
The current version of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” is described by the USCCB as a “teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics” that “represents our guidance for Catholics in the exercise of their rights and duties as participants in our democracy.”
“Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic social teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens ‘to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest,'” the guide states. “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support.” The guide, which has been used since 2011, was last updated in 2015.
At the bishops’ conference last week, supporters of revising the document said it should reflect Pope Francis’ teachings on hot-button issues “such as restrictive immigration policies, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and the renewed threats posed by nuclear weapons” as well as economic inequality and “the USCCB statements on gun control and access to health care.”
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said there was a “new body of teaching” from Pope Francis and “the way he presents those topics seems to be a body of teaching we ought to integrate.”
San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy said the clergymen “need to speak as a collective body of bishops” on issues including rising racism.
The goal is to have revisions done for the bishops to review in November 2019.
According to an analysis released in April 2017 of American National Election Studies data by a political scientist at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Catholic voters in 2016 picked Hillary Clinton by 48 percent to 45 percent for Donald Trump. The pre-Vatican II generation went for Trump by 57 percent, while millennial Catholics picked Clinton by 59 percent.