This is a friendly challenge, and a recommendation, to all individual American bishops who care about the spiritual safety of their flocks. Some of you may be aware that the US Bishops Voters Guide, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, is a complete flop among the laity. There are multiple reasons for this. First, it’s too long. Second, it’s too complicated. Third, it’s too vague. Fourth, it appears to leave the door open to supporting candidates who back the intrinsic evil of abortion. Fifth, after multiple sex-abuse and cover-up scandals, especially following the McCarrick defrocking, the moral credibility of the US Catholic Bishops (as a conference and organization) is shot. While the organization still exists, the buildings are still present, and the employees are still being paid, the average Catholic layperson just doesn’t take it seriously anymore.
This is an indictment for how “out of touch” today’s American bishops are with their own flock. If they think the average layperson gives two hoots about anything the USCCB says or writes, they’re living in a fantasy world. I, for one, listen only to my own bishop, and a handful of others who have earned my respect, and I don’t think my views about episcopal leadership are uncommon among the laity. Such is the case for most Catholic laypeople these days. The USCCB, and anything it puts out, just isn’t on our radar and probably never will be. As laypeople, most of us see the USCCB as the epitome of all the corruption in the US Catholic Church. We don’t take it seriously anymore, and we haven’t in some time. Whatever the USCCB hoped to salvage in the way of credibility prior to the McCarrick disaster, that’s over now. It’s unsalvageable. The best thing individual bishops can do at this point is try to save face with their own dioceses.
Don’t shoot the bearer of bad news. I’m not your enemy here. I’m trying to help. I don’t care what you think of me, love me or hate me, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the future of the Church in the United States, and I’m trying to give you some good feedback. I can’t speak on behalf of the laity, but I can speak from among their ranks, and I think most people would agree I’ve had my proverbial “finger on the pulse” of the laity in the US Catholic Church for some time.
Here’s the deal. Individual bishops have one last chance to salvage their own personal relationship with their flock. That’s as good as it gets now. It’s not going to get any better. Lay Catholics may respond to their own local bishop, but they’re not going to listen to anything the USCCB says or writes. Honestly, if the USCCB were completely dismantled tomorrow, the average lay Catholic probably wouldn’t even notice. That’s how distant laypeople feel from it. If a local bishop tells his flock to read the USCCB voter’s guide for the 2020 election, or any election thereafter, it’s not going to resonate well among the laity. Only a fraction will even bother to open it. Of those who do, their eyes will glaze over after five minutes, the guide will be put down somewhere, never to be picked up again, unless it’s to be discarded into a trash bin. If bishops want to connect with their flock on issues related to politics, they’re going to have to do it individually. There is no other effective way.
So my challenge to individual bishops, across the United States, is to step up to the plate, and communicate personally with your flock on issues related to the 2020 election and every election thereafter, in perpetuity. You cannot rely on the USCCB or national bishops documents anymore. The time has come for you to be an actual shepherd to your flock, and if you fail to do so, your flock will wander all over the political landscape with no direction or guidance of any sort.
I have written my own guide to Catholic voters here, but I’m just a layman. I’ve based my guide on the direction of previous popes and respectable bishops over the last 100 years. But again, I am just a layman. I have no authority whatsoever. Catholics can use my guide of they want to, but they also have the prerogative to completely ignore it. You, as individual bishops, can issue directives with much more weight. So that’s what I’m challenging you to do.
My challenge is for individual bishops to write their own, very simple, one page voters guide, listing the pertinent social issues of our day, in numerical order from most important to least. For example, I’m talking about a pastoral letter that might look something like this…
To the Faithful of the (Arch)Diocese of _____________,
In these turbulent times it is important for Catholics to have an informed conscience when approaching their duties as citizens. As we enter into this election year, as your (arch)bishop, I would like to remind you of the issues most important to Catholic voters. I would like to ask that all (arch)diocesan bishops, priests, deacons and religious follow me in registering to vote, studying the candidates and ballot proposals, leading the Faithful by example as good Catholic citizens. The following is an enumerated list of issues from the most important to the least. As your (arch)bishop, I encourage you to compare all candidates and ballot proposals to these issues in their enumerated order of importance. The issues are divided into essential and prudential categories. Essential means that no compromise is permissible and these are the most preeminent issues of our time. Prudential means that Catholics can hold to different positions as to how to address these matters, provided their positions are based on good faith in accordance with Catholic teaching.
I am sincerely yours in Jesus Christ our Lord,
__________________, Bishop of the (Arch)Diocese of ________________
- That all innocent human life is to be held as sacred from conception to natural death, and may not be taken in abortion, euthanasia, or scientific research.
- That religious freedom is to be protected, and not infringed upon by government regulation, programs or mandates.
- That parents have the absolute right to determine the means and manner of education for their children.
- That the poor, sick, weak and elderly are entitled by the gospel to preferential treatment.
- That healthcare is a right to all persons in need.
- That the foreigners in our land (migrants, refugees and immigrants) are to be treated with compassion and justice.
- That capital punishment (the death penalty) should be as rare as possible.
- That the dignity of work should be made available to everyone.
- That an economic social safety net, of some kind, is a hallmark of every Christian society ever since the Middle Ages.
- That unjust wars must be avoided, and that just peace must be pursued at all times.
- That responsible care for the environment be pursued, while keeping in mind the needs of working families and the poor.
Of course, the above is just an example of what such a letter could look like. It’s certainly not a template. My point is, Your Excellencies, whatever you choose to write, it needs to be short, sweet and to-the-point. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time, and missing another opportunity to connect with your flock when they need your guidance.