US Catholic bishops worry about abortion views in the pews

Nov 16, 2022, 5:54 PM | Updated: 6:11 pm
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers for its fall meeting in Baltimore on Wednesday, Nov...

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers for its fall meeting in Baltimore on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Smith)

(AP Photo/Peter Smith)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Even as they signaled a continued hardline stance on opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, the nation’s Catholic bishops acknowledged Wednesday that they’re struggling to reach a key audience: their own flock.

The members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rounded out their leadership bench during the last day of public sessions of their fall annual meeting in Baltimore, which concludes with private meetings Thursday.

They also set in motion a plan to recirculate their long-standing election document in 2024 — a 15-year-old statement that prioritizes opposition to abortion — while acknowledging it’s outdated and adding a cover statement addressing such things as the teachings of Pope Francis and the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling in June that overturned the nationwide right to abortion.

The bishops elected Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley as secretary in a 130-104 vote over Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, who had been named a cardinal by Pope Francis. It’s the second time in five years that the bishops have passed over a Francis-appointed cardinal for a key leadership post.

Earlier this year, Coakley had applauded the decision by San Francisco’s archbishop to deny Communion to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic Democrat from that city who supports abortion rights. So had the bishops’ new point man on opposition to abortion — Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, elected Wednesday as chairman of its Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The votes came a day after the bishops elected as their new president Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. Broglio is also seen as more of a culture warrior than Pope Francis, though Broglio has dismissed the idea of any “dissonance” between the two.

At the same time, Coakley cited the importance of Francis’ priorities in a news conference Wednesday.

Coakley is leading the bishops’ review of, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a document they have used in election years with only minor revisions since 2007.

While a full revision will take years, bishops approved Coakley’s recommendation to begin drafting a new introduction to issue with the document in time for 2024’s election. It would incorporate recent events such as the Ukraine war and the Dobbs decision.

The plan also includes using parish bulletins and social media to share main ideas from the lengthy document.

Coakley said the new introduction needs to reflect Pope Francis’ priorities, such as promoting civil discourse and protecting the environment.

“It’s a rich pontificate that offers us plenty to lay out for people … to embrace the vision that Pope Francis has articulated,” Coakley said.

Bishops from both the progressive and conservative flanks of the church echoed concern that Catholics aren’t reading the document.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, a Francis appointee, said that bishops need a statement that’s relevant amid the shaken confidence in democracy following the U.S. Capitol riot and in the wake of Dobbs and defeats for abortion opponents in votes on five state ballot measures. “It’s irresponsible to issue an old teaching and suggest the church has nothing new to say when so much of this context has changed,” he said.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, one of the most outspoken conservative bishops, lamented the recent state ballot measures. Polls show Catholics to be mixed on legal abortion.

“I think it’s a solid document,” Strickland said, but “I think we have to acknowledge people aren’t listening.”

The gap between Francis and the U.S. bishops reflects in part the conference’s continued emphasis on culture-war battles over abortion and same-sex marriage.

Francis, while also opposing both in keeping with church teaching, has used his papacy to emphasize a wider agenda of bringing mercy to those at the margins, such as migrants and other poor. The Vatican said in 2021 the church cannot bless gay unions because God “cannot bless sin,” but Francis has made outreach to the church’s LGBTQ members a hallmark of his papacy. As recently as last Friday, Francis met with the Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit priest whom the pontiff has supported in his calls for dialogue with LGBTQ Catholics.

Both Pelosi and President Joe Biden, another Catholic who favors legalized abortion, have received Communion since 2021 in churches in Rome, the pope’s own diocese.

The bishops also heard an impassioned talk Wednesday by Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia on behalf of war-torn Ukraine.

Gudziak thanked U.S. Catholics for providing millions in relief for displaced Ukrainians and urged continued American support for Ukraine’s self-defense, saying Russian assaults have left many vulnerable in the coming winter.

At the same time, he said that on a conference call with staff at a Catholic university in Lviv, he heard only joy and resolve even amid losses of electrical power in Russia’s missile barrage Tuesday. One staff member told him, “Better without electricity and with Kherson,” he said, alluding to the recently liberated city.

Gudziak accused Russia of a “genocide” through such attacks and through its denial of Ukrainians’ identity as a separate people.

Also Wednesday, a small group of survivors of sexual abuse and their supporters held a sidewalk news conference outside Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, where the bishops are meeting. While this year marks the 20th anniversary of the bishops’ landmark policy barring all abusers from ministry, advocates are seeking more transparency.

They called for bishops in every diocese to post detailed lists of credibly accused abusers and to stop lobbying against state legislation that would extend statutes of limitations for abuse lawsuits.

David Lorenz, Maryland director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, cited Archbishop Broglio’s archdiocese as one of the few that still does not publish even a minimal list of abusers. Broglio declined to comment.

“I don’t need another apology because it doesn’t do anything to protect kids,” Lorenz added. “I want action to help kids. I want them (bishops) to be totally, absolutely transparent.”

Also Wednesday, the bishops voted to advance efforts to have three American women declared saints.

They include Michelle Duppong of North Dakota, a campus missionary who died of cancer in 2014 and is credited with showing faithfulness in suffering.

They also include two 20th century women: Cora Evans, a Catholic convert from Utah who reported mystical experiences from an early age; and Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy of Texas, founder of a religious order, who provided education and other ministry to African Americans.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

              FILE - Archbishop Timothy Broglio conducts an Easter Sunday Mass at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Sunday, April 12, 2020. Broglio of the Military Services, who oversees Catholic ministries to the U.S. armed forces, was elected Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, as the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
              The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers for its fall meeting in Baltimore on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Smith)
            Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley speaks at a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops news conference in Baltimore on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Coakley discussed plans to update the bishops' written guide to Catholic voters on issues to consider in political elections. (AP Photo/Peter Smith) Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia speaks about the Catholic response to the war in Ukraine at a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' news conference in Baltimore on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Smith)


FILE - Takeoff arrives at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles on July 10, 2019. Authorities said Wednesd...
Associated Press

Man arrested in fatal shooting of Migos rapper Takeoff

Police have arrested a 33-year-old man in the fatal shooting of rapper Takeoff, who was killed last month outside a bowling alley in Houston. Houston police announced Friday that Patrick Xavier Clark has been charged with murder in connection with Takeoff’s death. Born Kirsnick Khari Ball, Takeoff was the youngest member of Migos, the Grammy-nominated […]
14 hours ago
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Herschel Walker speaks during a campaign rally Tuesday, Nov. 2...
Associated Press

Distaste for Walker provides tailwind for Warnock in Georgia

MORROW, Ga. (AP) — It might go without saying that Democrats generally vote against Republicans. But in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff, it can hardly be overstated how much Democratic voters — and others — are driven by not wanting Republican challenger Herschel Walker to be their U.S. senator. Ask Raphael Warnock’s voters what they think […]
14 hours ago
Associated Press

Remains of WWII POW from Massachusetts accounted for

BOSTON (AP) — An American service member who survived the notorious Bataan Death March during World War II but later died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp has finally been accounted for, military officials announced Friday. The remains of Army Air Forces Pvt. Joseph E. Lescaut, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, were identified in August using […]
14 hours ago
Associated Press

Closing prices for crude oil, gold and other commodities

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for January delivery fell $1.24 to $79.98 a barrel Friday. Brent crude for February delivery fell $1.31 to $85.57 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline for January delivery fell 6 cents to $2.28 a gallon. January heating oil fell 9 cents to $3.17 a gallon. January natural gas fell 46 cents to $6.28 […]
14 hours ago
President Joe Biden speaks before signing H.J.Res.100, a bill that aims to avert a freight rail str...
Associated Press

Biden sees economy avoiding recession, but risks remain

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden assured Americans on Friday that the U.S. economy is chugging along in the holiday season, but the very strength of a new jobs report showed that high inflation remains a recession threat. At the White House, the president signed an emergency bill to avert a rail strike that he […]
14 hours ago
FILE - Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden addresses attendees through v...
Associated Press

Snowden receives Russian passport, takes citizenship oath

MOSCOW (AP) — Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who fled prosecution after revealing highly classified surveillance programs, has received a Russian passport and taken the citizenship oath, Russian news agencies quoted his lawyer as saying Friday. Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena was reported as saying that Snowden got the passport and took the oath on Thursday, […]
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
US Catholic bishops worry about abortion views in the pews