Global warming and climate change are important issues, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but they aren’t urgent — at least not in comparison to abortion, which they have declared the “preeminent issue” of our day.
At a meeting earlier this month, the bishops approved a letter stating the “threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives it destroys,” according to the National Catholic Register.
With that in mind, though, the religious leaders admitted they “cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity, such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”
The assertion received backlash
Not everyone was happy with the acceptance of the letter deeming abortion the “preeminent issue” facing society. One such dissenter was Cardinal Blase Cupish of Chicago, who argued the thrust of the letter is at odds with the agenda outlined last spring by Pope Francis in his encyclical.
“Our defense of innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” the pope said at the time, arguing other issues should be considered just as important as abortion. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego sided with Cupich, claiming the letter on abortion will be used to “undermine the point Pope Francis is making” in his encyclical about the weightiness of other societal and cultural issues.
McElroy went on to say people will use the approved letter to assert abortion does “overcome all the other issues.” He argued that, according to Catholic doctrine, “abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world.”
Both McElroy and Cupich wanted a full paragraph from the pope’s encyclical to be included in the letter. In the paragraph, Francis criticized the “ideological error” of believing “the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”
The letter was ultimately approved
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia pushed back against the claims of Cupich and McElroy, accusing the two Catholic priests of concocting “an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father.”
“We do support the Holy Father completely; what he said is true,” Chaput explained. “But it has been very clearly the articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the preeminent issue. It doesn’t mean that the others are not equal in dignity. It’s just time in this certain circumstances of our church in the United States.”
The majority of the bishops in the conference applauded Chaput’s comments and the pope’s paragraph was excluded from the letter by a vote of 143-69.