By Christopher White, National Correspondent
NEW YORK — As the 2020 presidential race kicks into high gear – just two days after the Iowa caucuses and one day after the State of the Union – the U.S. bishops released a series of new videos aimed to help inform Catholics on the Church’s teachings ahead of a national election.
The videos, released on Wednesday, are meant as a supplement to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” the voting guide produced by the U.S. bishops.
In total there are four videos chronicling how Catholics participate in public life, protect human life and dignity, promote the common good, and love their neighbors. A fifth video, “Faithful Citizens Work with Christ as He Builds His Kingdom,” serves as a summary of the original four.
“The bishops of the U.S. invite all Catholics to bring their faith into the public square. Political engagement and participation are important ways that together, we can work to protect the unborn, welcome immigrants, bring justice to victims of racism and religious intolerance, support families, accompany those experiencing poverty, and advocate on behalf of all who are vulnerable,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who also chaired the working group which produced the videos.
“As we enter an election year, these ‘Faithful Citizenship’ videos are meant to help the faithful reflect on this call, and we hope they will be widely shared,” he added.
The videos were produced in four languages- English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese – and include appearances from a number of chairmen of various USCCB committees. Each video is approximately two minutes long and concludes with a prayer.
“We are not aligned with any party,” says Archbishop Gomez in the first video. “But we shine the light of our faith to influence parties to which we may belong.”
The video scripts were approved by the full body of U.S. bishops last November after nearly a year and a half of debate over both the substance and style of the new materials.
In June 2018, when the U.S. bishops met in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, some bishops voiced concern that a complete overhaul of “Faithful Citizenship” was needed in order to better reflect the priorities of Pope Francis.
The original version of the document was first adopted by an overwhelming majority of U.S. bishops in 2007. In 2015, the document was updated to incorporate “the wealth of papal teaching since the 2007 version of ‘Faithful Citizenship,’ such as the later magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI and that of Pope Francis to date.”
At the time, various bishops said the document lacked substantive reflections on issues related to immigration, gun control, climate change, and poverty.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, one of the strongest backers for a new document, issued an impassioned plea at the time for a new document to better reflect the “signs of the time,” noting that Catholics in the United States are living in a “radically different moment” than when the document was last updated.
Following a 90-minute discussion, the bishops voted 144 to 41 to produce a new supplemental letter to “Faithful Citizenship,” along with videos meant to engage a wider audience with a new medium. At the time, some bishops argued that videos were needed since few Catholics take the time to fully read or utilize the “Faithful Citizenship” document.
At last November’s meeting, the bishops once again engaged in lively discussion about the new letter, with some bishops raising concern that the document states that abortion remains the “preeminent priority” of the U.S. bishops.
“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 states. “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.”
Bishop McElroy again voiced concerns with such language, saying “It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world. In Catholic Social Teaching, it is not.”
“Let’s at least give the pope a fighting chance with his view,” Bishop McElroy said.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia countered Bishop McElroy at the time, saying “What [Pope Francis] said is true. 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.”
In the final vote, the letter, including the language that abortion is the “preeminent priority,” of the U.S. bishops, was adopted by a vote of 207 to 24.