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"Where there is no vision...."

Last night was not a good night for the nations Catholic bishops. They have spent most of the last year arguing that Catholics--and people of faith generally--should prioritize three key issues in this election: abortion, same-sex marriage, and the conscience rights of Catholic institutions. These issues were highlighted in a large number of communications from individual bishops as well as a two-week Catholic teach in that was described as a Fortnight for Freedom.The bishops have little to show for their efforts. The Catholic vote, to the extent that such a mythical beast exists, voted narrowly for Obama and I suspect the administration now feels little pressure to negotiate further with the bishops over the terms of the HHS mandate. Despite spending millions in opposition, the bishops were unable to prevent referendums supporting same-sex marriage from passing in Maryland and Washington, nor were they able to mobilize enough support to enact a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The one bright spot for the bishops appears to be a narrow win against physician assisted-suicide in Massachusetts.Earlier in the year, it looked like the outcome might have been different. While health care reform had divided the bishops and the Catholic health care community, the HHS mandate brought them together with other leaders of Catholic institutions in opposition. What seems clear in retrospect, however, was that this was an alliance among Catholic insiders that had little resonance among the Churchs rank and file, particularly younger Catholics who do not have the same sense of attachment to these institutions as their elders.

What struck me in observing the bishops this year was their narrowness of vision. Whatever its defects, this election has brought us some important substantive debates about the role of government, economic inequality and social mobility, and U.S. foreign policy. Within the Catholic bubble, however, none of this appeared to be very important. The only issues that Catholics were meant to consider were abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and the conscience rights of Catholic institutions.Virtually no one outside the Catholic bubble--liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat--saw the election in this way. Indeed, one might argue that it would be grossly irresponsible for any Catholic--or any citizen for that matter--to conceive of their civic responsibilities in such narrow terms. Merely repeating over and over that something is the most important issue does not make it so. It is the mark of a sectarian pressure group rather than a community with a robust understanding of the common good.This election has implications for the Church beyond the resolution of public policy issues. There is a rising generation in this country that is coming into its own. It is younger and tolerant, even welcoming, of diversity. It has been deeply shaped by a decade of war and the longest economic downturn in this country since the Great Depression. It is skeptical of large institutions, whether private or public. We also know that this generation is drifting away from organized religion, Catholicism included. What does the Church have to say to them?Ive been marking the 50th anniversary of Vatican II by taking some time to re-read the Council's documents and some of the theologians--such as deLubac and Congar--who shaped them. What emerges from these writings is a passionate conviction that the Church is the bearer of a message of universal salvation for humanity. In Jesus Christ is revealed both the fullness of our humanity and the inner heart of a God who is a communion of persons. All of creation is meant to be brought within that Gods embrace.Is this the message that this rising generation is hearing from us? Is that the message that our engagement in the public square conveys to all Americans whether Catholic or not? Can the Church, while holding fast to what must be held, find a way of expressing her convictions in a way that speaks to the deepest aspirations of this generation for meaning, purpose and community? Or will we be seen merely as an increasingly irrelevant group of reactionaries, clinging to a past that is slipping through our grip even as we tighten our fingers? The future of the Church in the United States may depend on how we answer those questions.

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A fine piece, Peter. Maybe now, the bishops--and we ourselves--can start focusing on the main point of the Gospel: that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." So many Catholics, not just many bishops, focus on other issues. St. Thomas wrote that the structure of the Church [the structure that is the Church?] is as strong as its faith, and by that criterion how well do we do?

Well stated. Very Well. I would go so far as to suggest that the conscience fight started by the Bishops redounded to the President's advantage and injected that issue into the Campaign, to the President's benefit.

The defeat in Massachusetts of "the right to die" referendum deserves careful examination. I suspect a very careful and different strategy was pursued than the one pursued nationwide. Can any Boston Commonwealer comment on my intuition here?

Ooops! Luke Hill has posted below answering the question.

We also know that this generation is drifting away from organized religion, Catholicism included. What does the Church have to say to them?

It doesn't much matter, Peter - they'll hear what they want to hear. Youth ages and is replaced by new youth, heedless of tradition and convinced that all elders are senile.Christian morality, like the American constitution, is pretty basic and vague stuff, infinitely flexible. In the end, it's always social preference, not any fundamental morality, that carries the day and shapes attitudes and change. The various communications revolutions have been marginalizing traditional religions, and that will continue until the religions dissolve into the background noise. We live in a post-Christian world, Peter. Get with the program.

Margaret, the "right to die" is still a growing notion. It'll prevail everywhere in a few generations. What aging person in his right mind wants to go where unfettered technology will drag him? What parent in her right mind will sacrifice herself to a crippled child? Abortion at one end and euthanasia at the other. Perfectly logical, perfectly sensible, perfectly humane.

"Last night was not a good night for the nations Catholic bishops."No, it was not a good night if winning is the only measure. But for most people, an occasional rebuke can be salutary. Little else clouds the mind so completely as a belief that one is always right and has only to speak to gather all people to oneself. A challenge to that belief may lead to a more rigorous self-examination, which could turn out to be a victory after all.Mind you, I did say for most people. It's not a sure thing.

DS: Apparently not now, not in Massachusetts. Sounds like it was an intelligent and sound strategy; unfortunate that the USCCB didn't pursue the same.

What parent in her right mind will sacrifice herself to a crippled child?One striving to do God's will.

Today the pundits are saying that the Republican leaders are considering where they went wrong. Many, apparently, realize that they will not prevail unless they can capture the minds and hearts of the middle Americans. But the failed Old Guard wants to hang on to its power in spite of losing the presidency and six senate seats. Let us pray that the bishops come to realize that solid persuasion, not empty rhetoric, must be their method, and pray that the bishops realize that they too need a new set of leaders.

Ann:"Let us pray that the bishops come to realize that solid persuasion, not empty rhetoric, must be their method, and pray that the bishops realize that they too need a new set of leaders."Why they "too"? The outcome of yesterday's election was really the epithomy of conservatism: let us stick with the same guys promising the same policies and hope for the best. Where are the new leaders?

"Can the Church, while holding fast to what must be held, find a way of expressing her convictions in a way that speaks to the deepest aspirations of this generation for meaning, purpose and community?" That is the challenge, and it is enormous. I think we underestimate how enormous it is. It will require the wisdom of both progressives and conservatives. Incoming generalization: I think conservatives rightly recognize the depreciation of dogma and liturgy. It's a caricature to talk about faith having being reduced to "Jesus is nice" but there's a element of sad truth in it, and in the unfortunate kitsch of too much liturgical style today. Progressives get the importance of reforming governance. The sexual abuse crisis is the poster child for that. These issues are important and deserve the focus they get. The trick seems to be in letting go of our sacred cows and accepting that both sides may actually have something intelligent to say.

I've been in Washington and around politicians for more years than I care to admit. This is an old story.It seems to me that the USCCB made a deliberate decision that they would exercise 'Catholic muscle.' in this election. They did everything they could to embarrass and challenge the President, and sought no opportunity for dialog and compromise. They seemed to feel that, in this closely divided race, they could sway enough voters to Romney to demonstrate that they are a power to be reckoned with, and that those confronting (disagreeing with) them would pay a political price.Oh well.Now they are being clumped together with the tea party losers of the Republican right. In their ambition they have been diminished. In time it will heal, but they played it very badly and no have no claim to a seat at the table, whereas they could have, had they done differently.

I agree that "[l]ast night was not a good night for the nation's Catholic bishops" or for Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdoch in Indiana. It was a bad night for the sex theorists.I like the reference to "the Catholic bubble." However, I can't imagine that the Catholic bishops will ever allow themselves to give up the Catholic bubble in which they live.

but they played it very badly and no have no claim to a seat at the tableAn unfortunate statement. In a democracy, EVERYONE has a right to a seat at the table. Denying that has been Obama's error. Otherwise, the democracy just becomes a tyranny...

Bruce: You can't be serious. When policy is hammered out it is the influentials who have input. It's not 'everyone.'

Margaret Steinfels wrote"The defeat in Massachusetts of the right to die referendum deserves careful examination. I suspect a very careful and different strategy was pursued than the one pursued nationwide. Can any Boston Commonwealer comment on my intuition here?i live in the Archdiocese of Boston. I was impressed by the approach of Cardinal San, who presented his views as points for a discussion rather than as a proclamation of truths determined by the Church which should be accepted by all, Catholic or not. As an example, see his blog post on "Ten Reasons to Oppose Question 2"http://www.cardinalseansblog.org/2012/10/19/ten-reasons-to-oppose-questi... first "reason" acknowledges religious beliefs but the whole rest of the post discusses issues that do not require you to accept the Church's teaching to agree that the proposed law is not a good solution to the problem"(1) Question 2 would legalize assisted suicide; suicide is always a tragedy and never a dignified way to die. For many people, opposition to assisted suicide is based on respect for Gods law, "Thou shalt not kill." However, one does not need to be a person of faith to understand the tragedy of suicide."That is very different from typical arguments against abortion, contraception or same-sex marriage which usually don't go beyond saying that the Church has determined as "truth" that scripture, tradition or the natural law prohibits doing or paying for these things and the civil law should also. That leaves no room for discussion or cooperation with people who don't agree that the Church has the right to determine the "truth" for them.

"Where are the new leaders?" They are the ones who helped bring sanity back to the electorate: People who do not believe that access to health care should be based on their employment status or controlled by insurance companies that provide absolutely no value-added to the process. People who do not believe that their access to health care should be based on their employers personal prejudices and religious biases (including religions-affiliated entities such as hospitals, schools, charities, etc.). Women in general. The US Senate has more women now than ever, including the first-ever openly gay woman (Tammy Baldwin) to run for and be elected to the job. People who believe in everyones right to be married to the person they love. As much as I dont believe in voting for civil rights, look at what happened in Maryland, Washington, Maine and Minnesota all states with active and blatant Catholic Church opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriages. This happened after 32 prior attempts that ended in defeat. Minorities, particularly those who are Spanish-speaking, and those African-Americans who saw blatant attempts to disenfranchise their votes and rose to the occasion. Do not count the young of these groups out by any stretch of the imagination. Younger people who are the future innovators, entrepreneurs and employers, and who have a much broader, more tolerant view of life than their parents generation. People who welcome and are comfortable with diversity of opinion, ethnic background, religions (including those with none).The days of the presumed leadership by entitled older white people (primarily males of my generation) are quickly coming to an end. They can either assist in the handover of the reins, or wake up someday soon and wonder what in the hell happened? By then it will be too late.

It's not that people, including young people, don't want to hear about God - studies seem to show that most Americans are interested in spirituality. If the church would make its mission facilitating a relationship between people and God, instead of making its mission the perpetuation and consolidation of the church's power, then the church would not be found irrelevant.

From near the Mother Church:http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/world-news/detail/articolo/stati-un... Catholic hierarchys hopes of a Republican victory were dashed.

"What struck me in observing the bishops this year was their narrowness of vision. Whatever its defects, this election has brought us some important substantive debates about the role of government, economic inequality and social mobility, and U.S. foreign policy. Within the Catholic bubble, however, none of this appeared to be very important. The only issues that Catholics were meant to consider were abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and the conscience rights of Catholic institutions.Virtually no one outside the Catholic bubbleliberal or conservative, Republican or Democratsaw the election in this way. Indeed, one might argue that it would be grossly irresponsible for any Catholicor any citizen for that matterto conceive of their civic responsibilities in such narrow terms. Merely repeating over and over that something is the most important issue does not make it so. It is the mark of a sectarian pressure group rather than a community with a robust understanding of the common good."Put these two paragraphs on the bishop's coat of arms, on their prayer cards, in their bathrooms, in their limos, on their coffee tables and in their wine cellars. On their website blogs.

To judge by the gender gap, the bishops got exactly what they wanted, a referendum on abortion. If they don't like the outcome, they have only themselves to blame.

Can the Church, while holding fast to what must be held, find a way of expressing her convictions in a way that speaks to the deepest aspirations of this generation for meaning, purpose and community?Looking for an example and how they do it might give some ideas.- Who knows or knew how to "speak" to this generation? Off the top of my head, maybe the Dalai-Lama, said to be very popular with the youth.- What is or was their secret?Maybe1. Stay above the mud of politics.2. Be poor, humble, and preferably persecuted.3. Have good looks or interesting outfits.- Does the Church have some people to put forward who might thus "speak" to this generation?

I voted for Obama, with some enthusiasm. His victory is a relief for me, but not a cause for euphoria. I see no signs that the electorate is becoming less individualistic, less materialistic, or more concerned with peace and the plight of the poor. On the one hand, it is hard not to fear that our governmental structure is an impediment to sensible dealing with big issues like global climate change, or global migrations of peoples, or unrestricted "private' control of capital. On the other hand, neither Obama nor Romney dared to suggest to their audiences that they "could not have it all," that the common good regularly requires the foregoing of any number of private goods, especially by those who are in positions of economic or political power. Regrettably, the public face of the Catholic hierarchy presented no thoughtful comment on matters like these. Instead they used what space they had at their disposal to try to play drum major for a small, albeit important, set of issues that lent themselves to easy sloganeering.As a nation, we come out of this election, still looking like a people who swear by American exceptionalism. As a church, the bishops present us in the guise of "Catholic exceptionalism.Not much humility, not much sense of the need that we all have for salvation and forgiveness, not much sense of the demands of justice that the truly poor of the world impose on us.So yes, I'm glad that Obama won. But, as a political society, we're no "shining light" on any hill.

Last night was not a good night for the nations Catholic bishops.How is this unlike saying, on a certain Saturday 2000 odd years ago, that yesterday was not a good day for that Jew from Nazareth, and his followers?The bishops sought to use the political process to bring us closer to God, no? To the extent their efforts on our behalf did not succeed, we are all diminished.

The bishops sought to use the political process to bring us closer to God, no?No.

There is a lot to agree with in Peter's analysis. I suppose one could read it and be led almost inexorably to the conclusion that the bishops should lower their profile and become much more tolerant of dissent in the ranks of their people, more conciliatory toward Democratic leaders, and more prone to stick to their knitting - liturgy, pastoral initiatives and the like - and become less outspoken on controversial political issues.I happen to think there is a fair likelihood that the hierarchy in the US could move in the opposite direction from what Peter's post may indicate. If that were to happen, here are some things that I think we could look for from church leadership in the coming decade:* A continued high profile opposition to abortion, to incursions against religious liberty, and to other social issues - gay marriage, euthanasia - that are undergirded by approaches to life that are untethered from traditional wisdom and morality. Rhetoric would be prophetic and lawsuits would continue apace.* Concrete actions taken by the hierarchy to draw brighter lines of demarcation between faithful Catholicism and those who tend to subsist closer to the margins of Catholic faith. As part of this, it's possible that we will see some high-profile heads roll. * Principle-driven (rather than financially-driven) closings of Catholic institutions that are prohibited by law from being able to exercise their ministry in a Catholic way. * Concerted efforts to elevate into leadership positions lay and clergy who are committed to this approach to the public squareI'm not saying that any of this should happen, nor that it will happen, nor even that it probably will happen. But it is possible it will happen, and the probability is more than tiny.These are just my views. There are a number of contributors and commenters here who follow the chess board more closely than I do and who may have more informed opinions on the matter.

"its possible that we will see some high-profile heads roll." Jim PauwelsAll right then! Gimme that old time religion! But personally, I think the burning stake makes a more impressive display than the chopping block. You've got the whoosh of the updraft. Plus more writhing.I'll bring the sausages.

"Ill bring the sausages."Don't get it too close to the chopping block, dude.

Excellent piece.Good comments."Can the Church, while holding fast to what must be held, find a way of expressing her convictions in a way that speaks to the deepest aspirations of this generation for meaning, purpose and community?"What might help is a stronger undercurrent of optimism, the viridity of the power of God at work in the world.I suspect that a segment of Catholicism and a few of their bishops will analyze the effects of running head down into a wall at 10mph. And they will conclude they didn't run fast enough. I think we should reject the call to try it at 20."I suppose one could read it and be led almost inexorably to the conclusion that the bishops should lower their profile ... become less outspoken on controversial political issues."Actually, I hope they don't disappear. But I do think they have duties, as carefully outlined in Christus Dominus, that they should be attending to more diligently. Should they be sent to Syria to survey the damage? Should they be sent to the Outback to investigate brother bishops? I think we need good (though probably better) bishops who can inspire their flocks, and not brownnose their superiors in the curia.

I don't think the bishops should disappear. Far from it. But they should listen, know what they're talking about, and try to persuade by using the capacity to reason they're always touting, rather than spouting one cliche and insult after another.

Maybe the more nastily vocal within the Brotherhood need a bit of "fraternal correction" and be told to shut the flick up for awhile. Credibility needs to be re-established before any claim to wisdom and teaching authority can be claimed by the bishops in general and certain ones in particular. That's you Morlino, Vasa, Crocodileone, ad nauseum. And maybe The Tim can stop running for Buffoon of The Year, too.