BALTIMORE -- Soon after U.S. bishops inside a Baltimore hotel approved materials on how Catholics should vote in 2024 elections, their recently ousted colleague and dozens of his supporters rallied outside the annual fall business meeting.
Bishop Joseph Strickland, a conservative cleric recently removed by Pope Francis as head of the diocese of Tyler, Texas, following his increasingly severe criticisms of the pontiff, prayed the rosary with dozens of supporters along the waterfront.
Inside their conference room, the bishops approved a document that didn't say who Catholics should vote for, but rather how they should rely on the church's teachings, like its anti-abortion and pro-immigrant stances, when making their ballot choices.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the top Catholic clergy body in America, approved supplements on Wednesday to its voter guide, which is known as "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."
The materials, which include bulletin inserts and a video script, restate many longstanding positions of "Faithful Citizenship" but put a particular emphasis on some current issues. The bishops restate that opposition to abortion is "our pre-eminent priority," call for school choice and parents' right to protect their children from "gender ideology" and make a plea for the de-escalation of anger-driven politics.
U.S. Catholics are called to stand in "radical solidarity" with pregnant women. The document's approval comes even as efforts to restrict abortion are expected to galvanize abortion rights supporters.
The guide also spells out examples on what it means to uphold human dignity, including rejecting gender transitions, racism, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and an economy of exclusion that harms people. It says to support common-sense gun violence prevention, immigrants, refugees and criminal justice reform.
"The church is not simply a policy-making operation," said Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, the USCCB vice president, in a press conference about the voter guide. "We are a full-service church. We are at the border. We are serving migrants in our dioceses."
Outside the meeting's last day of public sessions, Strickland, the ousted bishop, continued to make his presence known.
Strickland said he was asked not to attend the meeting by Cardinal Christophe Pierre, who as papal nuncio is Pope Francis' diplomatic representative to the United States. Strickland said he wasn't in Baltimore to start a movement, and he respected the Vatican's decision: "The holy father has the authority to do what he's done."
Several supporters held signs voicing support for Strickland, including Mary Rappaport from Alexandria, Virginia, and Suzanne Allen from Westport, Connecticut. They traveled to Baltimore to stand with Strickland after his ouster.
"We're in a spiritual battle. When the pope asked Bishop Strickland to resign, it was a wound to the whole church," Allen said.
Rappaport thinks Strickland's removal was a sign of greater issues, including that "this pope is trying to change the church in dangerous ways."
Strickland supporters mentioned disagreeing with the pope's focus on climate change and his moves to welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics.
Also on Wednesday, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to write a letter to Pope Francis in in support of naming the late 19th century Cardinal John Henry Newman a "doctor of the church" -- an honorific for saints whose writings and theological contributions are deemed of great value.
Many U.S. Catholic student centers are named in honor of Newman, which Bishop William Byrne, a former college chaplain, pointed out. An affirmative vote sends the message that these young adult ministries are "an important part of our evangelization."
Newman is revered by both Catholic liberals and conservatives, said Bishop Robert Barron of the Winona-Rochester diocese in Minnesota, who offered that a study of his writings "might heal some divisions in the church."
Smith reported from Pittsburgh.
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