What do bishops want?
By Phil Lawler | August 07, 2012
One day the US bishops’ conference is urging Congress to take action to undo the contraceptive mandate. The very next day the conference is urging Catholics to lobby their Congressmen for more funding for food stamps. Can anyone fail to notice that the second message dilutes the impact of the first?
Actually if you’re trying to influence Congress, having constituents call their representatives is more effective than issuing your own public statement. You might say, then, that this week the USCCB acted more decisively in favor of food stamps than against the contraceptive mandate. But that’s a side issue.)
Have you ever had an acquaintance who hounded you to support a particular cause? Eventually, when you see him, you say to yourself: “Here comes Harry; I’m about to hear another pitch for the alumni fund.” It’s not necessarily attractive to play Johnny One-Note, but it is effective. You know what he wants. If Harry wants a donation to the alumni fund, you know exactly how to make him happy, and you know that nothing else will do the trick.
If you hear that the US bishops’ conference is going to issue another statement tomorrow, however, you can’t predict what they will want. It might be a statement about religious freedom, but it might also be about food stamps or climate change of immigration or tax cuts or day care or bank regulations or foreign aid or disaster relief or …who knows?
Which is precisely my point. Who knows what the bishops want? Every member of Congress has heard dozens of different pleas from the USCCB. Sometimes the liberal legislators are sympathetic; sometimes it’s the conservatives. Nobody in Congress is with the bishops’ conference on every issue, yet virtually every politician can point to some issue on which he has agreed with the USCCB. The net result is that when campaign season arrives, every politician in America can claim to represent the political preferences of the US bishops—on the issues that really matter, you know.
Do you doubt me? Just take a look at the 2012 presidential campaign. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have “Catholic outreach” committees, busily trying to persuade voters that their candidate is more in tune with fundamental Catholic values. They can’t both be right, obviously. But they can both cite statements from the USCCB.
As an organization that seeks to influence public policy, the US bishops’ conference could accomplish much more if it attempted much less.