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BALTIMORE (ChurchMilitant.com) - Defending unborn babies from abortion is the "preeminent priority" for voters, the U.S. bishops have declared.
On Tuesday, as part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Fall General Assembly, the bishops deliberated on the wording of a letter to preface a voters' guide for the 2020 election.
Despite pushback from some, they agreed to a phrasing that emphasizes the importance of combating abortion.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, told Church Militant on Wednesday, "Certainly for the priests who belong to Priests for Life and who respond well to our message, [the bishops' vote] will be a good reaffirmation of what they already know, and should increase their clarity and conviction."
The specific subject of Tuesday's deliberation on the voting guide's preface was a paragraph that states:
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. At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.
Cardinal Blase Cupich proposed amending this section, seemingly to downplay the emphasis on abortion. He called for including a paragraph-length quote from Pope Francis' 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate. The paragraph cited by Cdl. Cupich calls for the "defense of the innocent unborn" to be "clear, firm and passionate," but also refers to the lives of the poor, sick and elderly as "equally sacred."
In 2015, when undercover video came out of Planned Parenthood selling aborted babies' body parts, Cupich remarked that what the videos showed was appalling, but went on to say that "we should be no less appalled" by "a broken immigration system," "racism," "joblessness," "violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods" and capital punishment, among other things.
Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida told Cdl. Cupich that the committee had decided for brevity's sake to reference the paragraph instead of reprinting it.
Cupich doubled down, responding, "This is the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis put in a very succint way. And I think we can all benefit from it as we speak to our people about the issues."
The Chicago prelate cited Apostolic Nuncio Abp. Christophe Pierre, who told the nation's bishops the day before to ponder how they have "received the magisterium of Pope Francis."
Archbishop José Gomez, elected USCCB president earlier that day, said adding the paragraph would make the letter too long.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego backed Cdl. Cupich's proposal. He slammed the document's emphasis on defending the unborn, calling it "at least discordant with the Pope's teaching, if not inconsistent."
"The 'preeminent' quote will be used to in fact undermine the point Pope Francis is making in that paragraph," McElroy warned.
He 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."
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas succinctly said, "I absolutely think 'preeminent' needs to stay."
Then, Abp. Charles Chaput of Philadelphia pushed back strongly against Cupich and McElroy's accusation of going against the Pope.
"I'm certainly not against quoting the Holy Father's full statement," Chaput noted. "I think it's a beautiful statement and I believe it."
"But I am against anyone saying that our stating that it is preeminent is contrary to the teaching of the Pope, because that isn't true," he opined. "That sets up an artificial battle between the bishops' conference of the United States and the Holy Father, which isn't true."
"So I don't like the argument Bp. McElroy used." Abp. Chaput added. "It isn't true."
"We do support the Holy Father completely; what he said is true," Chaput continued. "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."
Archbishop Chaput received a round of applause for his remarks on the floor — a rarity during USCCB proceedings.
In the vote that followed, 143 bishops voted to keep the text as it was, 69 favored Cupich's proposed change, and four abstained.
Many Catholic pro-lifers are celebrating the vote, while also expressing disappoinment that dozens of bishops voted to weaken the pro-life stance.
Bishop Strickland stated Tuesday on Twitter, "Thank God the USCCB voted to uphold the preeminence of the sanctity of the life of the unborn. It is sad that 69 voted no."
Thank God the USCCB voted to uphold the preeminence of the Sanctity of the life of the unborn. It is sad that 69 voted no. https://t.co/ubsyjPZjNJ— Bishop J. Strickland (@Bishopoftyler) November 12, 2019
Many faithful Catholics replied to Bp. Strickland with messages of gratitude for him and Abp. Chaput.
For instance, one Twitter user said, "Let's get the list of those who voted no."
Let’s get the list of those who voted no.— Anthony J. Pelliccio (@A_Pelliccio) November 12, 2019
Regarding the 69 bishops who voted against the pro-life language, Fr. Pavone said, "Unfortunately, of course, one of the motives some of these bishops have is their loyalty to the Democratic Party, and their fear that the Church's teaching on abortion makes their political friends look bad and their political opponents look good."