By Peter Pinedo of Catholic News Agency

The U.S. bishops will continue to highlight the threat of abortion as a “pre-eminent priority” in the introduction to a guide they’ll disseminate to Catholic voters ahead of the 2024 election.

That designation, the source of debate among some bishops in recent years, was retained when the bishops voted overwhelmingly (225-11, with seven abstentions) to approve a revised introduction to the guide, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” at their annual fall assembly Wednesday in Baltimore.

The bishops also voted to approve several brief excerpts from the guide to be inserted in parish bulletins during the upcoming election cycle. 

“The threat of abortion remains our pre-eminent priority because it directly attacks our most vulnerable and voiceless brothers and sisters and destroys more than a million lives per year in our country alone,” the new introduction to the guide says.

The new introduction also lists euthanasia, gun violence, terrorism, the death penalty, and human trafficking as “other grave threats to life and dignity of the human person.”

The revised introduction also now states that the “redefinition of marriage and gender … threaten[s] the dignity of the human person.”

While the previous version of the guide included language condemning gender ideology, there was no mention of that issue in the document’s introduction. 

In a press conference after the vote, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while many issues are important “not all issues are equal.”

“We are called to stand in radical solidarity with women in difficult pregnancies and their unborn children and to provide them with the kind of support and services and public policies that they need,” he explained. 

“So, it’s not simply a public policy issue. It is a deeply, deeply pastoral issue of loving the moms in need, walking with them, helping them bring their babies to term, and then providing them with what they need to move forward,” he said.

“In a culture where there is so much death and so much disregard for life, we bishops and together as a Catholic family, a united Catholic family, we need to stand together.”

Forming Catholic Consciences

The U.S. bishops first issued “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” in 2007 which they have updated every four years, in 2011, 2015, and 2019, ahead of the next presidential election.

At last year’s fall assembly, however, the bishops voted not to postpone a full revision until after the 2024 election, opting instead to limit revisions in 2023 to the guide’s introduction and “supplemental inserts” disseminated in parish bulletins nationwide.

“I think the underlying document has served us very, very well,” Archbishop Lori said Wednesday. “It‘s based on Catholic social teaching. It’s not based on one‘s favorite political ideology. It’s rooted very much in the tradition of the Church.”

“I think it is important to recall the purpose of this, which is to help first and foremost individual members of the Church to form their consciences. Not simply to ask themselves, ‘Who’s my favorite candidate? Who do I like? What kind of ideology attracts me?’ But rather to step back and say, ‘What does my Church say? What does our tradition say about the public order and what is good and true and right and just?’” 

“In these materials,” he emphasized, “the bishops do not tell Catholics for whom to vote or against whom to vote. Rather, we seek first and foremost to help Catholics to form their consciences through prayer, study, reflection, and dialogue so that they can discern with prudence their decisions about public life.”

Archbishop Lori said the bishops made a “very deliberate decision” to “rewrite” the guide after the 2024 elections through what he described as a “very thought-through, detailed, consultative process,” adding that “one might even say it will be synodal,” a reference to Pope Francis’ call for a synodal Church characterized by greater dialogue, inclusion, and openness.

One of the newly approved bulletin inserts addresses the Church’s opposition to gender ideology. “We support the dignity of the human person, created male or female,” it reads, “therefore, we oppose a gender ideology that fails to recognize the difference and reciprocity between man and woman.”

Another bulletin insert, adopting language used in the bishops’ existing guide, stresses that “family – based on marriage between a man and a woman – is the first and most fundamental unit of society: a sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children.” The insert goes on to say that traditional marriage “should be defended and strengthened, not redefined, undermined, or further distorted.”

‘A Planet for People’

The bishops’ nearly unanimous approval of the revised introduction (93% voted to approve it) underscored both the gravity of abortion in the eyes of the Catholic Church and the powerful influence the issue continues to exert on American political life. Some Church observers expected more debate and a closer vote. 

In his remarks to the media, Archbishop Lori pushed back on the suggestion that the bishops’ revisions fail to place enough emphasis on climate change, an issue Pope Francis has highlighted in his encyclical Laudato Si and this year’s apostolic exhortation Laudato Deum.

“First, I would remind you that the vote was 225 to 11,” Archbishop Lori said, referring to the vote on the new introduction. 

“No. 2, if you look at Laudato Si and when [the pope] talks about integral human ecology, the earth is our common home, but it is the home of people. And certainly in our midst, there are people who are vulnerable for many, many different reasons. The reason we focus on the unborn as we do is because they are utterly voiceless and defenseless. And abortion is a direct taking of human life,” he said.

“I would also say that if you go to read what Pope Francis has said about abortion, it is said in far more stark terms that we have said it, and he would identify abortion as a primary instance of the throwaway culture. And so I think we have done our level best to reflect fully, fairly and lovingly the magisterium of Pope Francis, to whom we are most, most grateful.”

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