Preeminent: Adj. surpassing all others; very distinguished in some way.
This adjective was the focus of two debates at the heart of last week’s bishops’ conference plenary. It was added to the text of a new letter that will supplement the bishops’ quadrennial, and apparently irrevocable, statement about elections, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” The first had to do with U.S. politics and the second with Pope Francis….
The 143-69 vote not to include a longer quote from Francis that would have better balanced the preeminence of abortion indicates that abortion really is the top priority for the bishops — which is precisely why the change was wrong-headed….
The aim of the underlying document is to form consciences. Telling us what their priority is this election cycle does not help me form my conscience….
In explaining why he wanted the change to “preeminent,” Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, unwittingly gave the game away: “We are at a unique moment with the upcoming election cycle to make a real challenge to Roe v. Wade, given the possible changes to the Supreme Court,” he wrote. “We should not dilute our efforts to protect the unborn.”…
There are deeper problems with the document, problems that demand the bishops start from scratch next time, and not just the fact that the text does not reflect the papal magisterium on political issues of Francis or Pope Benedict XVI. The exclusive focus on issues, originally seen as a way of avoiding partisanship, has instead brought the ideological divisions of the politicians into the life of the church. Instead of recognizing the underlying thrust of Catholic social teaching — for example, its concern that a hyperindividualism, or erroneous autonomy, inevitably degrades important social bonds — the current listing of issues, and seeking to prioritize them, inevitably involves political calculations the bishops have no competence in making. It allows for the perception, and perhaps the reality, that the majority of bishops see the church as an extension of the Republican Party….
Voters do not get to vote on a particular issue. We select from a list of candidates. We need to consider not only where they stand on issues, but their character and their competence as well….
Apologists for Trump will be citing the word “preeminent” from now through election day. The bishops knew that and voted for it anyway. Francis famously wrote in Amoris Laetitia: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” The majority of the U.S. bishops seem more interested in getting Trump reelected than in forming consciences….
Which leads to the second focus of debate: The majority of bishops are perfectly willing to ignore Francis. They not only included this word, “preeminent,” that runs counter to the holistic approach to issues he advocates, they have barely done anything to implement “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” and have done even less on Amoris Laetitia….
My advice to Catholics next year? Reread Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens, Benedict’sCaritas in Veritateand Francis’ Laudato Si’. If you are ambitious, include Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno. Although this last was issued in 1931, it strikes me as timelier than “Faithful Citizenship.”