The US bishops stick with a losing political strategy

My college tennis coach never tired of repeating his simple strategic guide: “Never change a winning game; always change a losing game.” If what you’re doing is not working, he said—and his logic was impeccable—you should be doing something else.

That advice came to my mind when I learned today that the US bishops are re-releasing their voter guide from 2007: the oft-criticized Faithful Citizenship.

My eyes glazed over when I first tried to read the entire 44-page text of Faithful Citizenship, when it first appeared on the scene in the fall of 2007. In their instructions to voters, the bishops dutifully call for opposition to abortion. But they mix that admonition with so many other considerations that the overall effect is weak. Faithful Citizenship does not draw the necessary, clear distinction between the issues on which good Catholics might disagree (such as economic policy) and those that are non-negotiable (such as abortion)—not to mention the distinction between issues on which prudent compromise is wise (economics again) and those on which compromise is odious (abortion again).

Faithful Citizenship was itself clearly a compromise of sorts, cobbled together to maintain the peace within the bishops’ conference. The final document was not entirely satisfactory to anyone on either end of the political spectrum, nor did it prevent public disagreements about American bishops during the ensuring election year.

And the net effect? Archbishop Raymond Burke believes that Faithful Citizenship helped ensure the election of President Obama, since the crucial Catholic vote swung toward the Democratic candidate. But that may be an exaggeration; survey results show that most Catholic voters were blissfully unaware of the bishops’ advice, and probably would have ignored that advice even if they had heard it.

By any reasonable standard, Faithful Citizenship cannot be classified as a resounding success. So why would the bishops want to issue the same questionable advice again this year? Consider what has happened in the four years since the guide was first published. The new presidential administration (which may have been installed in part because of Faithful Citizenship) has been relentless in promoting abortion and trampling on Christian consciences. Catholic voters today are even more likely to ignore their bishops’ advice; Catholic politicians are even more likely to ignore the moral teachings of their Church.

Does this sound to you like a winning game? As my old coach reasoned, time and again: “If you’re losing, and you keep doing the same thing, you’re likely to keep losing.” (Source)

When, O Lord, are we going to get faithful stewards of your Holy Gospel?

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