USCCB and Pope Francis singing from different hymnals

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Watching the USCCB meeting this week was frustrating. The conference seems stuck.

At a time when the country desperately needs a strong moral voice, the united voice of the bishops is sidelined, fretting about things that don’t matter and tepidly addressing the things that do.

And, it was apparent to all that the concerns of Pope Francis are far from the concerns of the USCCB.

In his update to the body on the work of the ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop William Lori said they were making a difference.

Are they?

The centerpiece of their campaign, the “Fortnight for Freedom,” garners little attention.

In the popular press, religious liberty is now usually accompanied by scare quotes.

In the popular mind, the cause of religious liberty is linked to discrimination against gays and lesbians, and not without reason.

If that will be the faultline for religious freedom litigation in the years ahead, I shudder at the prospects for religious freedom.

I heard almost no mention of the environment or Laudato Si’ at the USCCB meeting.

Think about that for a minute.

The pope issues an encyclical, the only one he has issued so far, and it is dedicated to concern for the environment. And the bishops of the country that has caused more damage to the environment than any other are silent.

How is this possible?

If they fancy themselves to be pro-life, why are they so unconcerned with one of two threats, the other being nuclear proliferation, that could kill us all?

Fighting abortion is a moral thing to do, to be sure, but it makes no sense to defend unborn life so the kids can grow up to live in an increasingly unlivable world.

The bishops of other countries are not so reticent.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar gave a recent talk at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in which he said:

“Unless rich countries agree to reduce the global warming, more people will die. This to me is a criminal genocide, when the poor and the weak are exposed violent nature created by unrestricted use of fossil fuels by rich countries.”

Criminal genocide. And the U.S. bishops can’t be bothered.

There is no reason to avoid the political ramifications of the issue, but even if the bishops for some reason were reluctant to engage at that level, why do we need another report on religious liberty activities and no report on what bishops are doing in their dioceses to promote care for creation?

I fear the answer is that they are not doing much. Continue reading

Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.

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