Politics and Religious Authority: American Catholics since the Second Vatican Council

By Richard J. Gelm | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Politics and the U.S. Catholic Bishops

With encouragement from the Second Vatican Council, and bolstered by the election of John F. Kennedy as America's first Catholic president, American Catholic bishops have become increasingly active politically. Through the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), American prelates have taken positions on a variety of public policy issues as they have sought to influence political debate. With their highly publicized pastoral letters, "The Challenge of Peace" and "Economic Justice for All," Catholic bishops reached center stage as political-religious leaders. 1 But critics of the bishops' conference, pressure from the Vatican, and division within the hierarchy itself cast a cloud of uncertainty over the future direction of the bishops' political involvement.

Activities at the NCCB are under attack from many fronts. The bishops' policy recommendations are questioned and their political expertise is challenged. 2 Francis Winters discounts the bishops' contribution to the nuclear weapons debate, asserting that "all the critics regard the teaching of the pastoral letter, which condemns all militarily meaningful use of the nuclear arsenal, as an anachronistic exercise in the nuclear age." 3 Dinesh D'Souza claims that "interviews with . . . bishops suggest that they know little or nothing about the ideas and proposals to which they are putting their signature and lending their religious authority." 4 Though endorsed by the Second Vatican Council, theologians debate the degree to which national conferences of bishops carry teaching authority. 5 And critics in Rome have expressed concern over the Americans' actions. 6

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Politics and Religious Authority: American Catholics since the Second Vatican Council
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of Religion ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xi
  • Chapter 1 Introduction 1
  • Notes 8
  • Chapter 2 Religion, Political Development, and Change 11
  • Conclusion 27
  • Notes 28
  • Chapter 3 Religious Contributions to Political Culture 33
  • Conclusion 43
  • Notes 44
  • Chapter 4 Catholic Social Teaching and the Second Vatican Council 47
  • Conclusion 60
  • Notes 60
  • Chapter 5 Politics and the U.S. Catholic Bishops 65
  • Conclusion 90
  • Notes 92
  • Chapter 6 Religion, Politics, and the Catholic Laity 99
  • Conclusion 116
  • Notes 116
  • Chapter 7 Conclusion: The Enduring Connection Between Religion and Politics 123
  • Notes 129
  • References 131
  • Index 145
  • About the Author 153
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