VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is urging U.S. bishops to teach Catholic voters how to discern major moral issues embedded within politics.
The Holy Father on Monday told 26 bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas to inform American voters how to cast their vote along moral lines. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston reiterated the pope's directive to the bishops during their ad limina visit.
The pontiff's instruction to the bishops was to "teach your people discernment by you stepping back from the sheer politics of it" and centering on what's at stake, recalled DiNardo. "If you try to step back and say, 'but here are the major moral issues that we face,' that's what is most important."
At their meeting in November, U.S. bishops did make it clear to U.S. voters that abortion was currently the major moral issue facing the country. During its General Assembly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) updated its voter's guide called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
The bishops prefaced the guide with an introductory letter that listed abortion as the preeminent priority for voters.
"The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed," the letter reads.
Other moral issues such as "racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty" were secondary issues, which the bishops' letter labeled as "other serious threats to human life and dignity."
The decision to include such a statement in their voters' guide was not an easy one for politically-minded bishops, who often side with Democrats on social justice issues such as climate change, immigration and capital punishment. This was shown by the vote approving the letter. While 143 bishops were in favor of listing abortion as the preeminent priority, 69 were not.
San Diego's Bp. Robert McElroy at the meeting was in favor of downgrading abortion to a lesser status.
During the November meeting McElroy claimed, "It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not."
In response, Bp. Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas — one of the bishops to meet with the Pope on Monday —replied: "I absolutely think 'preeminent' needs to stay."
Some bishops like McElroy and Chicago's Cdl. Blase Cupich said that standing up for abortion was going against Pope Francis. To that, Abp. Charles Chaput of Philadelphia pushed back saying they were only creating "an artificial battle" between U.S. bishops and the Holy Father.
"We do support the Holy Father completely; what he said is true," continued Chaput. "But I think it has been very clearly the articulated opinion of the bishops conference for many years that pro-life is still [the] preeminent issue. It doesn't mean the others aren't equal in dignity. It's just the time, and the certain circumstances of our Church in the United States."
In his account of Monday's ad limina, Bp. Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas also said the Pope and U.S. bishops aren't that far apart.
"The narrative" that Francis and many of the U.S. bishops "are on different pages," he affirmed, is "overblown."