Catholic bishops renew focus on social issues

Conference continues abortion, gay marriage fight

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops meeting Wednesday in New Orleans renewed their focus on abortion and gay marriage under Pope Francis.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to make only limited revisions to a guide they publish every presidential election year on church teaching, voting and public policy. The bishops also reaffirmed their fight for broader religious exemptions to laws recognizing gay marriage and a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that employers provide health insurance covering birth control.

Francis has said the church has been alienating Catholics by focusing more on divisive social issues than on mercy and compassion.

The bishops’ document on political responsibility, titled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” has been published every four years since 1976, and has become a point of contention within the church over which issues voters should consider most important: abortion or social justice. The bishops voted Wednesday to incorporate Francis’ teachings into the document, but rejected a complete rewrite in favor of limited changes instead.

“The question of abortion will remain as very important,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, after the vote at the national assembly in New Orleans. “There are pillars to the house and it is one of the pillars.”

The bishops also voted to renew their committee on religious liberty, which has led their campaign for broader protection for religious charities and for individual business owners with religious objections to birth control, same-sex marriage and other issues.

Archbishop William Lori, of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ religious liberty committee, compared the effort to the anti-abortion movement, which started small in the 1960s and grew to have great influence in later decades.

“It’s a major task on a generational scale,” Lori told the bishops.

In their presentations, the bishops noted the tide of court decisions in recent months in favor of same-sex marriage, but said religious conservatives should not give up. Archbishop Charles Chaput, of Philadelphia, said “being discouraged would be the worst thing that we could do.”