Have a question that I’ve been dealing with the last few days.

When the Bishops put out one of their “letters” as they seem to do quite frequently on various topics… Are we allowed to disagree with the letter on a public forum? Say Climate change…there is a lot of discussion about it…man made vs natural cycle etc. Can we say we disagree with them or do we have to be silent and obedient?

Nope! You can disagree with them all you like on climate change. I know I do. I’m not giving them any money because of it, either.

Climate change is not a matter of religious doctrine. You can disagree all you want. I personally try to be a good steward for the planet by recycling, picking up litter, doing my part to reduce waste, etc. but it’s obvious that climate change has become a political football and I’m tired of it and mostly ignoring it lately.


Ok…let’s take it a step further…

What about healthcare or immigration? Can we disagree publicly? Can we agree with the premiss but not the implementation?

I ask only because on these topics I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to disagree and have to lock step and shut up. These people cite canon law 753 as their reason. I counter with that only pertains to doctrine…not public letters put out by the USCCB.

Canon Law 753 refers to bishops in their role as “authentic teachers and instructors of the faith”. Healthcare and immigration policies for a specific country are not matters of “the faith”. The bishops’ thoughts and opinions should be thoughtfully considered by Catholics, but if you’ve done that and you still feel that you have a good faith disagreement, you’re not bound to follow blindly what they say about these non-faith matters.

I really wish the bishops would just refrain from issuing statements on climate change, immigration, economic policy or anything else that doesn’t strongly relate to an issue of faith and morals (for example, statements on abortion, death penalty, or euthanasia would make sense to me as those issues are directly concerned with a person being killed and hence relate strongly to respect for life and morals). It causes too much confusion among Catholics as to what has to be followed and what can be disagreed with.

Exactly. I have no problem with them talking about Marriage…contraception…abortion etc… These are all teachings of the church. They absolutely should be talking and writing about that. It’s when they get into more political issues that I take away that it’s more “opinion” rather than a matter of faith.

Thanks for the input.

I think the USCCB messages normally reflect what is in the Catechism.

The catechism touches on immigration, as well as of stewardship of God’s earth and resources.

The USCCB isn’t teaching against what is in the Catechism. They have a duty to teach on Social issues as well.

We as Catholics, should base our lives on the teachings of Jesus and the Church. The Catechism is a good start, followed by the encyclicals.

The catechism may “touch on” those subjects, but it doesn’t contain a detailed plan for how to implement climate change in a specific country, nor does it talk about how to deal with situations where you may agree generally with the idea that we should be good stewards of the planet and we should treat people fairly and with respect for their humanity, but disagree on what that entails.

Furthermore the catechism sets up many areas as issues for consideration and we need to make some tough decisions when those areas clash. Example: Joe Candidate is anti-abortion but also doesn’t think the USA should be spending money on climate change. Bob Candidate is strongly pro-abortion, lukewarm about climate change, but he supports us helping lots of refugees to settle in our country.
Do we vote for Joe or Bob? Or do we vote for neither one because both of them disagree with the bishops on some important points? They also both agree with the bishops on some important points, but we can’t vote for both of them.

How about when the bishops make some vague statement about climate change, but you, the Catholic reading this, are a climate change scientist with expert knowledge and you have good reason to think they have things very wrong and followed the wrong science?

I personally am not going to just go out and vote for something in my country because a bishop said “do this”. That would not be the action of a good citizen, and the Church is supposed to avoid getting involved in politics, in part to preserve its tax benefits.

We have both a brain and a conscience that we should be developing and using when we confront these difficult issues.

Define the difference between “social issues” (which you believe the Church should speak out on) and “political issues” (which you believe it should not). Don’t use examples: that’s not helpful. Help me understand the difference by “definition”. In doing so, please keep in mind the following:

The seven principles of Catholic social teaching are:

•Dignity of the Human Person.
•Call to Family, Community and Participation.
•Rights and Responsibilities.
•Preferential Option for and with People who are Poor.
•Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers.
•Care for God’s Creation.

As I said above: you have a brain and a conscience. Draw that line for yourself. I’m not here to argue with you; I expressed my preference for what I wish the bishops would do. But, it’s my preference, and whatever preference I have, I’m pretty sure the bishops will continue putting out statements on whatever they feel like opining about, with no regard for what I think.

I don’t think it’s my place to try to “help you understand” this instance; I think you already have formed your own understanding and just want to debate it with me, which is not an activity I find productive.

Peace out, have a nice day.

Actually, your attribution of false motives to me is quite offensive. I struggle with this issue and you seem to have thought about it a bit. However, I seek a consistent approach to these matters and am somewhat confused about what constitutes a “political issue” and what is proper grounds for discussion by clergy. For example: I recently was accosted by a group of parishioners about preaching on “political issues” when I mentioned in a homily that abortion is evil. Apparently, based on your posting, you would not consider, like them, “abortion” to be a political issue (nor do I). On the other hand, I wouldn’t consider “welcoming the immigrant” to be a political issue either, but apparently you do. You see my dilemma?

What about this statement do you find problematic?

OK, I apologize if I misjudged. I don’t mind having a discussion, even if we disagree, but I am not out to convince/ persuade/ debate/ argue, so if I suspect somebody might be teeing that up, I would rather bow out.

Let’s talk then about your specific example. To me, topics that involve the morality of killing someone are definitely moral and only a little political. Let’s say on a percent scale they are 90 percent moral and 10 percent political. So I would put in that bin the topics I mentioned above - abortion, death penalty, and euthanasia. If we had a war going on, perhaps I would add “the war” as a lot of people would be killing and getting killed.

Following closely behind topics focused on killing would be topics involving doing violence to another human being. For example, I’d expect any Catholic bishop or clergy to speak out and condemn any sort of rioting or violent activity, whether it was coming from the right or the left. I would expect the clergy to be the ones having a nonviolent protest, holding hands with their fellow priests and ministers and singing Kumbaya or We Shall Overcome etc. (and they generally do this).

When it comes to a topic like refugees or illegal immigrants, I would expect the Church to advocate humane treatment for them; in other words, if they’ve showed up suddenly in some country they should be given the necessities of life and treated with kindness and human dignity. However, this does not necessarily mean to me that they should all be immediately made citizens of the country where they land and given long term benefits, any more than it necessarily means that we should give them a bag lunch and immediately put them on the next train somewhere else. There’s obviously a big range of options in here and people will have different ideas on what should be done. Some people would think it Christian to take these families right into their homes and support them till they get on their feet, others would think that we should focus on a plan to make their homelands safe and get them back there, and everything in between.

These are not clear issues. I know many people who struggle with them daily. I know many people who struggled with who to vote for in the last election. I think for some people, “just do what the Bishops say” is an easy answer especially if they can interpret the Bishops’ statement as agreeing with their own views. But the minute the Bishops say something that person doesn’t like, the Church is suddenly under attack and it’s all the fault of Pope Francis, etc.

I don’t think you are going to please all of the people all of the time when it comes to introducing any vaguely political topic into your homilies. And maybe you (and the Bishops) shouldn’t strive to do so. Maybe the fact that people were annoyed and mentioned it to you meant they were thinking. Maybe the Bishops are doing the same thing, triggering thought and discussion, and perhaps I missed that when I grumped about how they should limit their public statements. So thank you for the additional perspective. It made me think. Now I need to go have coffee to refuel my brain.



Pretty much everyone here is going to tell you it is super fine to ignore the bishops and disagree with them loudly and often.

But, alas, it is not so simple.

They are our shepherds and when they put out a letter it IS in fact on faith and morals. In this case, it is on the care of creation, which like it or not falls under the seventh commandment. The ethical framework in which we address the environment and our responsibility as stewards of the environment absolutely are moral and social issues with which the Church speaks with authority. It falls squarely under Catholic social teaching, which IS under the teaching authority of the bishops.

We do have a duty to reflect on what they say and use their teaching to form our conscience in the matter. Why would you want to “disagree” in a “public forum”? What purpose does that serve?

I suggest instead you pray about it and try to understand their reasoning and what it is they are trying to teach.

Whether one “believes” in climate change or not is actually relevant (which I think the bishops point out well)-- governments are already moving ahead with all sorts of initiatives, and the USCCB is pleading that the poor not be trampled in the rush. The scientific data points that way but, as the USCCB takes care to point out, they aren’t conclusive. Yet, as always we are still called to be stewards of creation. They talk much about how we can do that while respecting the dignity of people and protecting the poor.

Can you tell us what you find objectionable?

The Bishops are TEACHERS. Becoming a Bishop is not some sort of honorarium where they get to drone on about their pet projects.
It’s easy to be all for “thou shall not kill”.
Other topics are more problematic because of the times we live in. The Bishops are shining a light on social problems. That’s what they do. That’s what Christ Himself did. If a person reading them has an issue with something, then that’s a good sign. Your conscience is making your uncomfortable. It should. We can’t, as a nation, afford to look away from environmental issues until they are in our personal back yards. If the water is polluted beyond use for families in your city, then it’s already too late to effect or enforce good public policy.
Imagine if all politicians and policy makers lived by good social justice, Gospel values, and for the betterment of everyone.
We’re not called to simply sit back and enjoy. We have to be part of the solution, and the answer to most social ills is right there in the teachings of the Catholic Church and pulled straight from Scripture.
Disagree? Fine. But find out WHY. Discern if you can begin to see it through the lens of Christianity. The people who show us how to do this, are the Bishops.

I think a lot of people take the wrong approach when it comes to statements from the USCCB.

Sure, there are varying levels of authority. Sometimes, the bishops will release a document that gets voted on by all of them (and even, ultimately, recognized by the Vatican). Other times, a document or statement will come out of but one of the various USCCB committees. Still other times, a statement comes from one bishop who is in charge of a certain committee.

All that said, I find a lot of people misinterpret what the USCCB says because they simply don’t bother to actually read what is said but only look for the “highlight reel” in some second-hand news source. This quite frequently leads to people getting it wrong as many of those news sources put a partisan, political slant on it. This is what leads (more than the statements themselves) to people thinking the bishops are getting “political”. All these news sources simply are unable to view anything other than through a political lens. You have to take off those glasses to read anything coming from the bishops. It’s the only way to properly understand them.

Take health care, for example. The bishops aren’t getting political. They are focusing on the dignity of the human person. They (as we should) want people to have access to health care. That shouldn’t really be controversial. But they do not follow lock step with either political party on the issue (nor should we). They objected to “Obamacare” and opposed it’s being passed because of the deficiencies of the bill. But now that it is here, they oppose a repeal with no plan in place to replace it. They also oppose certain amendments to it that are still problematic. This is because they always have at the forefront of their mind those principles that Deacon Jeff succinctly stated. They’re not trying to advance a political agenda. They are trying to encourage us to keep our eyes on these core principles so people don’t needlessly suffer and die.

Can you disagree with them? In certain aspects, yes, but in certain aspects, no. We cannot disagree with the core principles. And (in my experience) much of the time what people point to as “disagreements” are not with anything the bishops are actually advancing. Take climate change for example. When a bishop mentions those words, too often we allow ourselves to “fill in the blanks” and we begin to automatically assume the bishop is 100% aligned with the Democrats and the liberals and are endorsing every problematic and/or wrong-headed thing they are advocating. Again, this misses the larger point that we are called to be good stewards of creation.

But even if we are talking about something that we can disagree with a bishop (or bishops) about, we still owe them respect and reverence. Far too often, this is sorely lacking in such public and/or online discussions. We cannot seem to respectfully disagree, but we have to accuse them of being shills for a political party while we’re at it. Or of overstepping their bounds. (“Just stick to theology, Your Excellency, m’kay?”) There are good, productive ways of disagreeing, and there are bad, disrespectful ways of disagreeing. We need to go with the former and reject the latter.

One last point, even if we think (and especially when we know) we disagree with this or that statement from a bishop or bishops, we should give them the courtesy of hearing them out. Rather than responding with a knee jerk (for example) “I don’t have to listen to what you’re saying because I already know man-made global warming is a sham”, we should stop and listen to what they are saying, why they are saying it, and what they are getting at (again, by reading the actual statements rather than getting them filtered to us through some second-hand source). Even if we walk away still in disagreement, we might find that we actually have learned something.

Sorry for rambling on and on. :o One of the few things that gets me worked up is seeing Catholics be unfairly critical of the bishops. The majority of the time, it is unnecessary and unhelpful.

Actually, it’s not easy at all. I know Catholics who struggle with the abortion issue, though I personally do not.
As for death penalty, many Catholics have no problem with putting “clearly guilty” criminals to death.
And as for euthanasia, there are Catholics who have seen a friend or family member struggle with a terminal illness who think it might be more humane to end suffering than force a person to continue living, and force their family in many cases to keep having to watch it and pay for it.

Bishops need to pick their battles to a certain extent. The average Catholic is only going to be able to take in so much, and as another poster said, a lot of what the Bishops say is going to be reduced to a sound bite. The worst outcome would be if somebody decides to cut ties with the Catholic Church because they don’t like “being told what to think” on climate change or some other political issue. Or the Church looking bad in hindsight because it got overly wrapped up in some non-faith-based issue, as happened with Galileo. It’s a fine line the Bishops have to tread and they have a hard job, so I don’t mean to bash, but I also don’t think the Church hierarchy is above all criticism.

Lumen Gentium 25:

“Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth.** In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.** This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”

CCC 87:

“Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me”, the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.”

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