As we all know, the bishops are meeting next week.
Tom at Disputations takes a look at their action items.
But moving on from the general – we might surmise that Faithful Citizenship will come up for discussion.
Especially considering at least one bishop’s assertion that the document has no authority in his diocese.
Remember - any reconsideration is nothing startling or reactive – the thing is routinely rewritten.
So if you were speaking to the bishops about this document and their efforts to assist Catholics in shaping their consciences in regard to voting and participation in civic life, what would you say?
I find myself wondering about the effort. Considering that out of a 42-page document, the only passages anyone was interested in were those related to possible rationales for voting for an abortion-rights advocating candidate, the existence of the rest seems to be open for discussion.
In a way, the Faithful Citizenship endeavor, as a whole, seems to me to be in part an expression of historical anxiety – an anxiety that the patriotism and civic loyalty of Catholics might still be in question.
I just think the bishops need to think about slimming down and focusing this particular effort.
And you? You’re speaking at a hearing. You’re an expert witness. What do you have to say?
Good comments so far – here’s what Clayton (who blogs here) has to say:
Especially since hearing Bishop Martino’s recent remarks in Scranton, I’ve begun to ask myself questions. Honestly, I don’t know the answers, but maybe someone here can clarify a few things for me.
It seems that every time the bishops want to address an issue, what ends up being created is a document. I guess that is the typical pattern of what committees do. But I wonder how effective this is. Especially today. In this age of swirling seas of data, are we swimming, or drowning, in information? Is another document really what the doctor ordered?
Another question: is the information in Faithful Citizenship unique? Does it contain information that we couldn’t find in primary sources, such as the Catechism, Compendium of Social Doctrine, encyclicals, etc?
Also, these documents seem to do the work of synthesis for us, but is that really the best approach? How seriously do we have to grapple with material when it’s been prepared and packaged for us? How invested are we in messages in which the application of principles is already, to a large extent, done for us?
A related question: do documents — disembodied from individuals who deliver them — really effect change? Conversion? Metanoia? To the average reader in the pew, I would suppose that the author is pretty much anonymous to the reader — the USCCB committee producing the document is faceless to the recipient. What kind of impact does that have? It’s certainly a different experience from receiving a letter from someone you know. It seems to me that part of the genius and dynamism of the the letters of St. Paul, for instance, is that they are a personal communication. He knows his audience, intimately. He speaks directly to them… the communication is tailored to the recipient. A father speaking to his children. A brother speaking with his brothers and sisters. A shepherd speaking with his flock. With all this in mind, it seems to me that a letter from one’s own bishop probably stirs more attention and interest than a letter constructed by committee.
Then there is the question of the teaching authority of what is produced. Does it carry the weight of a magisterial document? How is the average Catholic supposed to understand the authority of a USCCB document in comparison to say, Scripture, the Catechism, an encylical letter, or something written by their bishop?
All by way of saying: I wonder if the primary need with Faithful Citizenship is really to rearrange paragraphs, tighten prose, shorten passages, distill a series of bullet points/talking points, etc. I wonder if we shouldn’t be asking more radical, overarching questions, such as: is this sort of thing the most effective way for bishops to communicate with the faithful? The recent behavior of Catholics in this election cycle would seem to indicate that there might be better ways…