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USCCB fails to approve "pastoral message" on the economy.

After a long discussion, which I'll write up later, the document failed to receive the two-thirds majority support required for its passage. If fourteen more bishops had voted yes, the statement would have passed. More later.

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Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Glad to know that the bishops did not approve the pastoral message on the economy. After all, it would look rather hypocritical and lacking in empathy, since the USCCB June meeting in 2013 will be held in a resort in Coronada, in the Diocese of San Diego.

Can it be that the silent minority during these past four years and particularly during this past election season has found its voice?

That eighty-five bishops voted against the document may (that is, may) be an indication of a significant number of bishops being uneasy with communal and individual stances taken by members of the conference during the election cycle. And significant voices among the retired bishops, the "seniores," such as Archbishop Fiorenza, a former president of the conference, also spoke in opposition, though they have no vote.

I typed, as always slowly and erratically, before seeing Helen's comment. Sorry for the duplication.

Does the proposed statement die now, or does it just go back to committee for further work?Did the more outspoken and supposedly "prophetic" bishops vote for approving the statement, or against approving it?Of the bishops who voted against approving it, is there any reason to suppose that they have been among the supposedly "silent" bishops who apparently had reservations about the recent public activism of certain "prophetic" bishops?

Isn't every bishop sovereign in his own diocese? Why can't each one issue his own document on the economy? That way, there's no need for an individual shepherd to sign and seal a statement that overstates or understates his own views.

Yay, 85 bishops!

Give credit where credit is due. Change the headline. USCCB SUCCEEDS! in rejecting pastoral message on the economy.

Hey, Jack -- you been reading Lakoff? He's right, of course. Language influences mightily.

85 dissenting bishops is, at best, a weak number: less than 20%.According to the Official Catholic Directory, as of Jan. 1, 2010, there are 390 bishops and 59 archbishops. (I made a quick search and didn't bother to find any newer stats.)There are 456 currently active and retired Catholic bishops in the United States: 271 active bishops:4 Cardinal Archbishops27 Archbishops153 Diocesan Bishops 75 Auxiliary Bishops12 Apostolic or Diocesan Administrators185 retired bishops:11 retired Cardinal Archbishops25 retired Archbishops101 retired Diocesan Bishops48 retired Auxiliary Bishops

Jim McC == Retired bishops may speak, but they can't vote. So it's 85 out of 271 or so, which is significant.

The vote was 134 to 85.That failed to achieve the two-thirds majority of those present and voting (219) by 14. All of those voting, as Ann Olivier has pointed out, are active, not retired, bishops. For serious reasons some bishops are either not present at the meeting or were not present for this particular vote. Given the number of active bishops, 100% attendance is all but unheard of. The numbers tend to be even lower at the June meeting.

Helen, I was hoping that there might be one or two episcopal voices of disquiet over the site for the June meeting. But there were none. In the 1980s June meetings were held at such places as Notre Dame and St. John's, Collegeville.

Correction: CoronadoI think there were some abstentions. According to Rocco Palmo, +Morlino is in the hospital. Just talked with +Morlino in hospital -- he sounds himself and is keeping the usual very keen eye on things. Keep prayers up.Wonder if he could have had an absentee ballot.

Ann: I stand corrected. I would have been nice, however, if more than 30% of the actives had spoken up and out. Silent bishops are complicit bishops.Tacitus consensus pares is a position that is a far cry from Nunquam stercus.When it comes to way to many bishops I'm afraid it is a case of "Blessed are those from whom you expect nothing: you shall not be disappointed."

There were 228 votes (about the usual number of attendees), with 134 yea, 85 nay, and 9 abstentions. A number of conservative bishops also spoke against the document because they don't think the bishops should speak on these issues and they think that curing social ills like poverty is a matter of private charity, not government programs. My distinct sense was that a supermajority of the bishops did not like the document, but that in the end many wanted to salvage something or just save face and produce something, no matter how distasteful. Hence the 134 votes. It was a no-win situation: if they had adopted such a poor document, that would have been critiqued, and if they did nothing, as they wound up, it looks bad. Moreover, it is four years after the recession began. The question is why they weren't working on something four years ago. Why did they have to rush something out now?The document is dead, says Dolan. (He was not a happy camper.) It would take a couple years to produce anything else, and Dolan doesn't want the executive committee taking this on and becoming a target. The bottom line is the USCCB is so split that they just can't produce anything of consequence on complex issues.

David G. --It's split, but that's an improvement. Maybe some are learning to speak truth to power. Archb. Dolan is out next year. Wonder who will replace him. Will that be decided at this session or in June or when? He's not the worst, but I find him to be rash and sometimes intemperate in his public comments. Must say his speech at the beginning of this meeting showed a lot of humility. Now if only he'd figure out that what they need now besides humility are consequences for bad leadership. Bill deHaas' recent suggestions about such consequences were very good ones, I think.

"The bottom line is the USCCB is so split that they just cant produce anything of consequence on complex issues."I don't want to sound disingenuous, but why can't they just take direction from the Vatican and from what various Popes have written about economic justice? They seem to be able to follow the Vatican's lead on something as controversial as artificial contraception, so why not on something much more settled, an issue the Gospels actually speak to, our obligation to the poor?I am myself a proud cafeteria Catholic, but I didn't think that was an option for clergy.

One illuminating exchange on the "pastoral message on work, poverty, and the _economy_": Ret. Aux. Bishop Rosazza of Hartford "asked whether the drafting committee had consulted with an economist, which he said was one of the recommendations of the bishops in June. [Chair of drafting committee Abp.] Vigneron answered that they had not." An introductory paragraph explaining their drafting methodology might have preempted the need for detailed discussion.

why cant they just take direction from the Vatican and from what various Popes have written about economic justice?For that reason, why issue any statement at all beyond saying "everyone read Caritas in Veritate, etc."? Most of the documents the bishops' conference have issued have been wholly superfluous at best and an ill-advised use of their time given the six or seven people in the country who actually read the documents they pass.

"Isnt every bishop sovereign in his own diocese? Why cant each one issue his own document on the economy?"They could, and perhaps some have. But part of the theology of the bishop is that each has responsibility, not just for his own diocese, but for the universal church; and that they are part of a body, a college. There is also scope: there is no bishop of the United States, so there is no single bishop who can speak for the country as a whole. The conference needs to speak on matters of national importance.As a practical matter, it seems to me that when the bishops do manage to muster a consensus, their documents are almost always better than what individual bishops come up with on their own. Case in point: compare "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" to the various statements about politics and citizenship that have been looked at here on dotCom.

I will give a hint on a new economic letter."Just 4.6% tax increase on the rich will get the USA community past the cliff and get the rich through the eye of the needle. Look it up"

What Jim Pauwels said at 6:33pm. Also, the Vatican and the Pope talk in much more general terms that bishops should then adapt and interpret for their own situations. A little subsidiarity, ya know? Also bishops are to demonstrate communion, model it, and so it is good when they act in concert with and for the Church. So say I...

Back when the US bishops were preparing their pastoral letter on the US economy, I began a course on "The Church and Social Justice" with the sentence, "The US bishops are preparing a pastoral letter on the US economy." A student stuck his hand up and exclaimed: "What the hell do bishops know about economics?" A good question, though implying not only that they were unlikely to know economics, but also that it really wasn't their province to make pronouncements about it. If Bishop Rosazza wanted them to consult an economist (only one?), how were they to choose him? If they consulted more than one, how would they choose which analysis was to be preferred? There are serious methodological questions to be addressed if the bishops wish to give anything more than general principles. E.g., the appeal to the principle of subsidiarity: this says that smaller instances are to be left the freedom to deal with problems unless it becomes clear that they can't deal with them properly or effectively, when it is appropriate for a larger instance to intervene. But the principle itself gives no guidance or criteria for deciding when this moment is reached, nor about which larger instance is to intervene nor about how it is to intervene.For myself, I think that the most effective way for the Church to have an influence on the economic life of the country is for knowledgeable Catholic lay people to involve themselves in economic questions, to think the issues out in the light of faith and on the basis of real expertise. How to deal with economic problems is the province of the laity, not the clergy, and I say this as a member of the clergy who would have no expectation, were he suddenly and involuntarily promoted beyond his present status, that he would receive with episcopal ordination a sudden infusion of knowledge about economic realities. It is not by bishops putting out pastoral letters that the Church will have an influence on the US economy.

It seems to me that there are times when the bishops can and should speak to the needs of a country. (Consider the German bishops when Hitler rose to power and they didn't speak out as a group!) Surely the Vatican can't handle the whole world in any amount of specificity. The Vatican's province is general moral pricinples, but their application -- by the very principle of subsidiarity -- should generally be handled by the bishops of a country. If they don't know economics, well then, by damn, they should be taught it somewhere along the line. Maybe graduate schools for the more able prospects should be established, sort of like the U. S. War College that educates promising officers beyond West Point.. And if they can't understand what they need to understand, they shouldn't be bishops.Of course the laity and the lower clergy should be involved. This, I think, it the big flaw with the present system -- they aren't. The bishops are expected to know it all, and so they act like know-it-alls. Were there such a complex group there would no doubt be differences of opinion within the group, but minority reports could be a possibility when prudential judgments have to be made. There should at least be consulting bodies of laity and lower clergy who would have an automatic right to be heard by the bishops' group.

"If fourteen more bishops had voted yes, the statement would have passed."What is the purpose of this sentence?

What is the purpose of your question?

Obviously, Ann, to understand the purpose of the sentence. Do you understand its purpose?

@Mark Proska (11/14, 7:03 am) I don't know what the purpose of the sentence was. I interpreted it as simply a journalistic way of giving readers a sense of scale, a sense of how closely (or not) the statement came to getting the support it needed to be adopted by the USCCB.

Independently of the subject of discussion, I am happy that there is an expression of non-uniformity among US bishops. There is more of a chance for ideas to arise and be heard.

Luke--Thanks, but I still don't have a context for the scale, do you? Is 14 a lot? A little? My sense is some point was being made, but I have no idea what it was.

@Mark Proska (11/14, 10:07 am) I think the context you're looking for is provided above by Jim McCrea (11/13, 3:08 pm), Ann Olivier (11/13, 3:25 pm), and John Page (11/13, 4:06 pm).

"For myself, I think that the most effective way for the Church to have an influence on the economic life of the country is for knowledgeable Catholic lay people to involve themselves in economic questions, to think the issues out in the light of faith and on the basis of real expertise. How to deal with economic problems is the province of the laity, not the clergy"I agree. Bishops and clergy, and Catholic universities, can contribute by helping to form those knowledgeable Catholic lay people in Catholic social and moral teaching.

If I recall correctly, there was polling data in the 1980s that at least suggested (and may have demonstrated) that the USCCB's pastoral letters "The Challenge of Peace" and "Economic Justice For All" had a measurable impact on the views of American Catholics. In other words, those letters worked. They helped form the consciences and actions of American Catholics on issues related to war and peace, and the economy respectively.I'd suggest that was due in no small part to the way in which those letters were written. The conference of bishops voted to write a pastoral letter, appointed a committee, and gave it both staff and a budget. The committee then solicited testimony and advice from experts across a wide range of disciplines and experiences. Draft documents were presented to the full conference for feedback, debate, discussion and advice. All along the way, the process was publicized and input was solicited (and received!) from a broad array of Catholics and non-Catholics. When the letters were finally approved (by overwhelming majorities), they were used in the following years as teaching and reference tools throughout the Church and in the wider society.The lesson I take from this history is that there are no shortcuts for a bishops' conference that wants to act powerfully, both within the Church and in the wider society. The slow, hard, painstaking work of building relationships, researching an issue, and negotiating a broad consensus among themselves and with the wider Church is a necessary part of the process.

Luke--Thanks, but no, not really.

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