Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"50 Bishops"... and Then Some

If I could stop time, gang, this would be getting a more intensive intro... but such is the crazed nature of these days that time without havoc is fairly tough to come by.

Over the last week -- and, clearly, without any mention here -- a piece your narrator penned for last Saturday's edition of The Tablet made the rounds to a surprising degree, its lede running as follows:
A quarter of America's bishops have said that the most important issue for voters in the forthcoming presidential election is abortion....
For the record, besides being the standard (much-)longer-than-needed, the first graf I submitted was a bit more nuanced. In their wisdom, however, my editors decided to play up a figure not included in the draft, but an offhand estimate subsequently provided at their request. As some of you know by now, the number in question was 50 -- in other words, over a quarter of the heads of the nation's 197 dioceses.

All told, the number of active US bishops hovers somewhere around 250, auxiliaries and coadjutors included. In essence, though, the head-count that counts is that of the ordinaries -- each diocesan bishop being the chief teacher, lead pastor and vicar of Christ among his fold (and, for practical purposes, the church voice most looked to in each market to set the tone).

The piece barely appeared before requests started coming in for a list with citations, so in light of those, a fairly comprehensive attempt appears below. Before heading into it, however, for clarity's sake, a couple things need to be noted.

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.

In other words, they all -- well, all but three -- voted for it... but going deep into the bench, you'll find that the implications of the text find broad, divergent swaths of interpretation and emphasis. This is, after all, a "Flock of Shepherds," and even for all the words swirling around -- historic as it is -- a majority has still decided to keep its counsel through these days, choosing instead to let what it already approved as a body to speak for itself.

Third, and lastly, it should come as no surprise that elements of the discourse have used the moment to reair the standard disputes over the nature and authority of episcopal conferences and, so it seems, every other slab of time-honored ecclesiastical red-meat under the sun (because, well, if it doesn't come out at election time, when does it ever?). Yet even so, beyond the dioceses the church's authoritative position remains the one reaffirmed by two of its top leaders (speaking for all the rest) last week -- namely, "that Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is the teaching that has been approved by the body of bishops of the United States."


Except in Scranton.

With that, here's the slate -- cardinals and archbishops in order of seniority and (because this isn't Canada) all others alphabetically by name of diocese.

As more emerge, the following will be continually updated:
For those not adept at tallying... without double-counting that makes a grand total of 70 diocesans, plus 19 auxiliaries.

PHOTO: AP/Steve Ruark