US Bishops Tackle Post-Dobbs Evangelization and Changing Political Landscape
The conference’s annual fall assembly included the election of new leadership, discussion over ‘Faithful Citizenship’ and updates on the Eucharistic Revival.
BALTIMORE — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the country’s changing political and cultural landscape as its members gathered in Baltimore for their fall plenary assembly Nov. 14-17.
The bishops elected new leadership, discussed approaches to pro-life evangelization in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and planned updates to their teaching document on “Faithful Citizenship” in light of current challenges.
On Tuesday, the bishops elected successors to fill the offices of the outgoing president, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, and vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit. In recent years, the USCCB’s vice president is elected president, but Archbishop Vigneron was too near retirement age to fulfill that role. Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services was elected to head the body. In a runoff, Archbishop Broglio defeated Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, 138-99. Archbishop Lori was then elected vice president over Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, in a runoff by a vote of 143-96.
Archbishop Broglio, 70, told reporters following his election that he was open to dialogue with U.S. political leaders, including President Joe Biden, a baptized Catholic who favors abortion and same-sex civil marriage, views that conflict with the faith.
“I don’t see my role as primarily political, but if there is any way to insert the Gospel into all aspects of life in our country, I certainly will not miss any occasion to do that,” the archbishop said. He also informed reporters, in response to questions about his stance in relation to the Pope, that he was “certainly in communion with Pope Francis, as part of a universal Church. We’re brother bishops; we certainly know each other.”
Archbishop Broglio formerly served as secretary of the conference, also acting as chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans. He has been a staunch advocate for religious freedom and spoke out last year against mandating COVID vaccines in the U.S. military for those who had religious objections.
Praise for New Leadership
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco told the Register Tuesday that he was pleased with the election outcome. He praised Archbishop Broglio for his vision and integrity and noted his work as chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans as “central to the work of the conference.”
San Francisco’s shepherd referenced his own past work with Archbishop Lori on the Committee for Religious Liberty, saying he is a man familiar with the workings of the USCCB, as well as the history of the Catholic Church in the U.S., so “he’s very well qualified for the position” of vice president.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, said Archbishop Broglio’s election has “a good sense of continuity,” as he will “carry on the work that he’s been doing together with Archbishop Gomez and Archbishop Vigneron” as conference secretary. He also praised Archbishop Lori for his extensive experience working on committees within the conference.
Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, told the Register that he has gotten to know Archbishop Broglio through various military chaplains. He referenced the archbishop’s service as a Vatican diplomat as part of his “vast experience of the Church.”
“The fact that so many of the bishops voted for him shows the confidence that we have,” said Bishop Daly, who also praised Archbishop Lori’s election to vice president and his past work on the pro-life committee.
Pro-Life Messaging Post-Dobbs
Archbishop Lori’s election to the role of vice president vacated the chairmanship of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, a key role in the conference, given the Church’s increased pro-life outreach following the Supreme Court’s June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision. Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, was elected to head the committee by a vote of 174-63 over Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri.
The issue of pro-life outreach in the Church featured prominently during the bishops’ meeting as Archbishop Lori gave a presentation in which he discussed methods of building a culture of life in the Church. “The demise of Roe was a great victory,” he told his brother bishops Tuesday, “but it will be a pyrrhic victory if we fail to win the minds and hearts first and foremost of our fellow Catholics.”
He encouraged “radical solidarity” with women in crisis pregnancies through initiatives like the bishops’ pro-life parish-based ministry Walking With Moms in Need that brings together various ministries in support of a mission of service and evangelization.
“We’re striving to create a society in which abortion and other attacks on innocent human life become more and more unthinkable,” he said. “Unthinkable because our radical solidarity gives many new hope and because our radical witness makes clearer that killing can never be the solution to our social challenges.”
He added that pro-lifers “must continue to strive to win legal protection for the most vulnerable among us, confident that winning for them does not mean losing for others,” and encouraged continued participation in the March for Life as well as state level pro-life marches.
Bishop Burbidge told the Register Wednesday that he would be continuing the “great work” that Archbishop Lori has done on the issue. He said that after the Dobbs decision, “the focus is now changed to the states, and we have a lot of work to do in education even among our own faithful.” He pointed out “extreme” pro-abortion ballot measures like those that passed during the midterm elections in California, Vermont and Michigan. He encouraged the faithful to engage their elected officials by “peacefully witnessing in state marches on behalf of human life” and meeting the needs of mothers who are in crisis pregnancies.
Pro-Life Efforts Amid Hostility
Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan, told the Register Wednesday that he almost felt as though he was “living in an alien land” as he watched Michigan voters pass a ballot measure to enshrine a right to abortion in their state constitution. He said the success of that measure has convinced him that the Church needs to refocus its priorities to change hearts and minds.
He said one way to do that is “witnessing by caring for people” and also helping people to see the dignity of the unborn in both word and deed.
He cautioned that the Catholic conferences in other states may have to face ballot measures such as the ones in Michigan and Montana, as this push to expand abortion access in state constitutions is becoming a common tactic by the forces of abortion in the post-Dobbs era.
Archbishop Cordileone praised the Walking With Moms in Need initiative and told the Register that reaching the culture on the issue could “take a very long time.”
He said that “it took centuries for Christianity to rise to be the dominant influence in the Roman Empire, but Christians for centuries cared for the sick and the poor, and they were persecuted; they were reviled; they were scapegoated. But the Christians remained faithful to the Gospel of love and provided that love and care and eventually won over a pagan Roman Empire to the Kingdom of Christ.”
Bishop Paprocki said that he expects some efforts to shift to the state level. His diocese is already planning a March for life in Springfield, the state’s capital. He said the event will take place on March 21, “on a Tuesday, when the Illinois General Assembly will be in session, so it will be an important time for us to get that message out while the legislators are there to hear and see us.”
Another target of anger in the post-Dobbs era is Church-related structures. Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, told the Register Wednesday that the Archdiocese of Portland has “experienced serious vandalism. ... Our pastoral center, our chancery offices were attacked by anarchists in response to a video that I put out on YouTube on the whole issue of abortion.”
Archbishop Sample said that, in this hostile climate, the work of changing minds and hearts is only beginning. He said there was a need for better “catechesis of our own people on this issue because if we’re going to continue to make an impact for the protection of unborn children, we’re going to have to get our people motivated and mobilized on the state level now to advocate for the dignity of life.”
Archbishop Lori told the Register Tuesday, in response to the vandalism and hostility the Church has faced because of its pro-life stance, that “we have to offer people a clear and compelling contrast to what is going on around us. To fight it on the terms that are being presented to us is self-defeating. I think we have to use the weapons of truth and love to overcome evil.”
‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship’
Another prominent agenda item for the bishops’ fall meeting was their discussion of whether to revise or reissue their teaching guide on political engagement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” The body of bishops voted overwhelmingly to reissue the original document, but with a new introductory note, along with supplemental materials. The bishops will reexamine the guide following the 2024 presidential election.
The guide, which has been reissued every four years since being approved in 2007, has been a source of contention in the past. A debate arose during the 2019 USCCB fall general assembly about whether or not the bishops should name the abortion issue as a “preeminent priority“ in their short letter supplementing the guide. Ultimately, the majority of bishops backed prioritizing the issue.
This year, several bishops expressed their sense of urgency to revise the guide in light of the current U.S. political landscape.
Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, called the guide “a 2007 document” and pointed out that “we have a different pope.” He said that “the time is now” to replace the document.
Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego asked for new materials that will give “great attention to the crisis of democracy that we’ve been experiencing,” mentioning the protest that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He said Catholics were uneasy about democracy, and “we must speak to this question in a nonpartisan way, in an elevating way, in a way that comes from our tradition.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said that as a teaching document, it “can’t be today’s news.” He added that the document already contains things advocated by Pope Francis: “As a basic document, it’s good.”
At a press conference following the vote, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said supplemental material to the document will be made with the current political landscape in mind.
“We will be taking a look at what we have put out in the past; what’s still relevant; what needs to be updated,” he said, adding the bishops will be asking, “What are the things that are on people’s minds that are presenting challenges?”
Archbishop Cordileone told the Register “Forming Consciences” is not meant as “a letter that people read through,” but a resource. He added, “Coming up with some sort of a summary of it that distills its essence that is easily readable could be something helpful.”
Bishop Paprocki said there was a sense among the bishops that “we should do something that would be more accessible to people.” He expressed support for doing videos to let the “Catholic voice be heard in terms of ‘What are some of the priorities that we think need to be addressed?’” He added that “we don’t talk about candidates, but we talk about the principles that we think are important.”
Another highlight of the bishops’ fall meeting was a discussion of their three-year Eucharistic Revival initiative that was launched this summer and will culminate in a Eucharistic congress in Indianapolis in 2024. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States, told the bishops that the revival should be “an evangelizing moment” for the Church.
In his outgoing presidential address, Archbishop José Gomez emphasized the importance of the Eucharistic Revival, saying that “the Eucharist is the mystery of our Creator’s love, the mystery of his desire to share his divine life in tender friendship with each of us. So let’s open the doors in all our churches, and let’s invite our people back, to come and see how much Jesus loves them.”