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

By Richard J. Gelm | Go to book overview

sluggishness of the church bureaucracy. It may take an incoming pontiff several months or years to put his men into place in the recruitment bureaucracy.

Greater differences among the most recent appointees may also be indicative of intensified efforts in Rome to appoint more conservative clerics after American bishops tilted left in their pastoral letters on nuclear weapons and the economy. Rome is concerned with the direction of the American Church, which it sees as overly permissive. New bishops, committed to greater discipline, are sought to stem the tide.


CONCLUSION

Through the unprecedented activism of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops during the 1980s, American Catholic bishops assumed a position as chief religious commentators on American politics. Offering extensively researched statements on nuclear weapons and the economy, the bishops became major players in the national political debate.

In the 1990s, NCCB priorities are shifting as the bishops commit increased time and resources toward efforts to ban legalized abortion. Emphasizing church authority and strict obedience, their tactics are in stark contrast to the consultative processes reminiscent of the eighties.

Some bishops are concerned that an authoritarian approach is out of date in a post-Vatican II, pluralistic America. But bishops comfortable with the old style are assuming new leadership positions.

Differences of opinion within the American hierarchy offer insight into the current policy shifts at the NCCB. Though America's bishops are often referred to as if they are a unified bloc, significant disagreement exists among them. Consistent with conventional wisdom, most American bishops are liberal on economic and foreign policy issues. Their support for the Democratic party is congruent with their self-described liberal views. But conventional wisdom errs in assuming bishops are conservative on social issues. Better than 40 percent favor the Equal Rights Amendment, 56 percent believe that homosexuals should be allowed to teach in the schools, and 64 percent support busing to integrate the schools. Differences in attitudes toward the implementation of Vatican II also divide the bishops. One-third of the bishops believe that the Church has not gone far enough in carrying out the political and social teachings of Vatican II.

As the national policy agenda shifts, however, so too does the bishops' agenda.86 The bishops' pastoral letter on nuclear weapons is less immediately relevant as communism falls in Eastern Europe and more cordial relations between the United States and Russia are fostered. As the Reagan

-90-

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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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