Counting Bishops

Last week I linked to a Deal Hudson article on Inside Catholic where he threw out the claim that 61 bishops had thus far issued “clarifications” of Faithful Citizenship in which they emphasized the preeminance of the abortion issue in this upcoming election. 

Michael Iafrate of Vox Nova responded with a post entitled “Misleading numbers, misleading claims” in which he remarked with characteristic restraint:

In a recent article Deal Hudson implies that 61 bishops have come forward to “clarify” what Faithful Citizenship means, implying or saying outright that a vote for Barack Obama is unacceptable. This statistic, and accompanying list of bishops, has been parroted around the Catholic barfosphere for days now. A simple click-though of Hudson’s list, though, shows that his numbers are simply, factually, wrong. 

Hudson’s list is largely comprised of bishops who spoke out — rightly! — against the views expressed by Nanci Pelosi and Joe Biden in which they misrepresented Church teaching on abortion. If you actually click through to the statements cited by Hudson, it looks like less than 10 of them are statements which actually attempt to “clarify” or “interpret” Faithful Citizenship by binding Catholic consciences in favor of automatically disqualifying Obama as a potential choice. 

Hudson’s list, and those who quote it, combines episcopal statements of various types, statements which serve different purposes and which have different messages. He, and his messengers, lump all of these statements together as if they are saying the same thing and to give the impression that a growing number of bishops are essentially forbidding a vote for Barack Obama when this could not be further from the truth. The number of bishops making this move remains, fortunately, very very low. 

As a Catholic who definitely believes that, between the two of them, Barack Obama is the better choice, my pro-life commitments lead me to applaud the bishops on Hudson’s list who spoke out against the views of Pelosi and Biden which deliberately misrepresented the views of the Church. But I also applaud the fact that the number of bishops telling Catholics that they may not vote for Obama remains very small, contrary to Deal Hudson’s misleading presentation of the numbers. Indeed, I can count these bishops on one, maybe one and a half hands.

In his zeal to make sure that he got the numbers right, Michael had experienced a little difficulty in reading Mr. Hudson’s article, as Hudson never claimed that the bishops were “telling Catholics that they may not vote for Obama”. However, he was right that Hudson had included in his list links to a number of statements which were just corrections of Biden and Pelosi’s erronius descriptions of Catholic teaching — so I corrected the post.

Yesterday, however, I ran across a piece of Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia in which he discusses the question of how many bishops have issued statements emphasizing the importance of abortion in the upcoming election. (Rocco is certainly not a political hack, and his site is generally a reliable source of ecclesiastical news.)

First — as one would expect given the heated, divisive nature of the campaign’s home stretch and the focus on the “Catholic vote” — attempts have been made to either minimize or maximize the degree of motu proprio episcopal pronouncements on the election. In that light, the standard applied here was a fairly straight-forward one: individual or joint statements issued in the period of the general election campaign (Labor Day onward) that unmistakably highlight the life issues as paramount in the context of Faithful Citizenship and the coming vote. (The spates of corrections following Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Biden’s Meet the Press appearances tackled a separate matter — i.e. clarifying church teaching after specific, egregious, nationally-televised misinterpretations, as opposed to electoral guidance — and, ergo, do not appear.) As you’ll see, the approaches taken are extraordinarily diverse, but each has that one clear thread in common.

Second — not every statement out making the rounds has made the cut. No doubt, one-in-four is an impressive number, but even beyond it, this election season has seen a new high-watermark of the US bench taking the Faithful Citizenship text into its own hands, even though its latest edition (first introduced for the 1976 presidential elections and revisited every four years since) was, in a first, debated and approved by all the bishops at last year’s November meeting instead of its prior publication by the conference’s Administrative Committee alone.

Bottom line: despite the 97.8% approval from the body of bishops last November in Baltimore, for every Chaput there’s a Steib, a Zavala for every Vasa, a Dolan for every Duca, a Kinney for every Egan, a Sheridan for every Sartain, and so on… and so on… and on even moreso.

Based on these criteria, Rocco comes up with a list of “63 diocesans, plus 19 auxiliaries” issuing statemens about voting emphasizing the importance of the abortion issue. He provides links to all the relevant addresses at the linked article. (I’ve clicked through to a selection of them and it looks to me like Rocco has been accurate in applying his criteria.)

Now frankly, there’s limited value to counting heads. The bishops have stated in Faithful Citizenship what criteria are that Catholics should use in deciding whom to vote for. A number of them have also provided us with some degree of insight as to what judgements they reach based on those criteria. And as Rocco points out, a few bishops have clearly reached “it’s not the main issue in this election” conclusions, as in the five counter-examples he links to.

But since the “Catholic barfosphere” and I had been called out as being wrong, I thought it worthwhile (or at least gratifying) to set the record straight.

3 Responses to Counting Bishops

  • What is this “Catholic barfosphere”? Would it be safe to say that the “Catholic barfosphere” would be comprised of Mogs rather than people? I have yet to find this loose association of which you speak.

  • Michael’s meaning in using the phrase (unless it’s simply meant to be slightly derisive towards all other Catholic bloggers) is obscure to me.

    Of course, there is always the little known Gnostic sect of Barfarians who held tenaciously to an alternate reading of Genesis in which “God breathed upon the waters” was rendered “God hurled upon the waters”. Their other favorite line was of course about the lukewarm being “spewed forth” by God — leading to their statement of faith, “By out lukewarmess we shall be known, and God shall spew us into a new creation.”

    I shudder to think that Michael would have become mixed up with such people, but I suppose it is always possible.
    ;-)

  • Let us pray that Michael has not become mixed up with such people.

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