Baltimore conference: Catholics cannot agree on position on U.S. economy

News Tuesday out of Baltimore, where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are holding their annual meeting.

And it continued what has been a very poor November for the church. So far this month, the church saw Catholics vote for President Barack Obama, despite a massive church campaign against the administration, and suffered ignominious defeats on gay marriage in four states.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at the conference’s annual fall meeting in Baltimore.(Photo: By Patrick Semansky, AP)

Now comes word that a divided Catholic hierarchy cannot agree on a statement about the economy. As the Religion News Service reports, the debate Tuesday “revealed sharp differences over the kind of social justice issues that were once a hallmark of the bishops’ public profile.”

Titled “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times,” the proposed statement generated intense debate among the 230 bishops. The RNS reports that the defeat left many of them openly frustrated that the prelates have not made a joint statement about the nation’s economic woes four years after the recession hit.

Coming on the heels of the election disaster, the failure to pass what should have been a routine statement is extraordinary. The process leading up to Tuesday’s vote can only be described as a bungled mess and another embarrassing episode for the church.

In June, the bishops authorized a special committee to write a brief reflection for consideration at this meeting, and the conference rarely rejects something produced by one of its committees, as the RNS notes.

However, the bishops did not see the draft resolution until they arrived for the meeting and found it checked in at 14 pages. Worse yet, the RNS reports that “many said it was dominated by spiritual terminology that ignored the roots of the economic crisis and did not suggest solutions provided by Catholic social teaching.”

In other words, it was largely a political document. The document was full of language repeating the church’s opposition to gay marriage and abortion and its support for school vouchers. Odd passages for an economic document.

The result turned off a majority of the bishops.

As Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash. said: “I don’t see that I would share this (document) with anyone or that it would make any difference.”

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he does not expect the document to be revived, or the church to pass any statement about the economy anytime soon.

So it’s another black eye for a church that is slow to adapt to societal shifts. Perhaps not surprising given recent history.

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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