Letter to the Editor: Correcting a common misconception about the U.S.C.C.B

America recently published an interview with Bishop John E. Stowe, OFM Conv. of the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., in which he raised several critical questions about the US Conference of Catholic Bishops following the election of its new president, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, Archdiocese of the United States Military Services.

I am not qualified to speak to all of Bishop Stowe’s claims, but I am qualified to address his argument that the USCCB is disproportionately focused on issues that are not the Holy Father’s public policy priorities. By this, Bishop Stowe seems to mean that the USCCB spends more time on “cultural” issues, meaning pro-life, marriage and religious liberty, rather than issues traditionally defined as social justice.

Unfortunately, Bishop Stowe is promoting a common misunderstanding of the USCCB, and along the way trivializing the important work of the USCCB staff.

Unfortunately, Bishop Stowe is promoting a common misunderstanding of the USCCB, and along the way trivializing the important work of the USCCB staff.

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For six years (2011-2017), I was the executive director of government relations at the USCCB, the second highest lay position within the conference for public policy. This position gave me insight and experience into the USCCB’s policy work

In this role, I annually audited our letters and policy statements (all public policy statements had to go through my office) to determine how our work was distributed during that year. Contrary to Bishop Stowe’s claim, most of our statements each year came from the social justice wing of the conference, meaning the offices of Domestic Social Development, International Justice and Peace, and Migration and Refugee Services. In fact, those three sections consistently accounted for two-thirds of all our policy statements.

It is worth noting that in 2017 a Jesuit priest and journalist, Thomas Reese, SJ, reached a similar conclusion in the pages of the National Catholic Reporter, where he wrote: “the strong language of the bishops on immigration, refugees and care health because the poor don’t get the attention it deserves.”

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Social justice issues, including climate change, not only consume most of our public relations, but also our staff resources. One policy person was designated for each of those offices for life, marriage and religious freedom respectively, but there were three at home, three at international, and two at immigration, not to mention the additional staff for Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the many good people at Migration and Refugee Services. In addition, USCCB sponsored lobbying days on Capitol Hill, which were a key feature of the Annual Meeting of Catholic Social Ministry, were the only social justice offices. It is difficult to measure precisely the comparison of policy resources distributed among the offices, of course, but it was strongly in favor of social justice. This is just a fact.

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I understand that impressions may differ, but impressions are not reality and are often determined by our own biases. It was always very funny to me how I, as a representative of the bishops, was found on Capitol Hill. Republican offices considered the USCCB to be a tool of the Democrats, and Democratic offices thought the USCCB was in the back pocket of the Republicans. Bishop Stowe seems to make the same mistake. But unlike people working on the Hill, he should know better. After all, he is part of the USCCB Whatever the reasons for the USCCB’s misunderstandings, the US bishops should not add to that problem.

I hope that Bishop Stowe will reconsider how he describes the work of the USCCB. He does injustice to the USCCB, including his lay staff, his brother bishops and the church in the United States by propagating this story.

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