Council, attempts to enforce authoritarian controls in a pluralistic society
could backfire.87 When stressing church social teaching on economic and
foreign policy issues, bishops have had a receptive audience among lay
Catholics.88 But on issues of sexual morality and abortion, American
Catholics are much less likely to agree with church teaching.89
Bishops are not likely to shy away from politics. They forcefully
demand the right to engage in the political debate. But the nature of that
involvement is changing as the current pope seeks new bishops strictly
obedient to Rome and American prelates commit themselves to the dogmatic teaching on abortion.
While the bishops' involvement in politics will continue to be cyclical
as issues change, less certain is whether the bishops will be able to
command the attention they did in the 1980s or will simply embark upon
an era in which they dialogue only among themselves.
National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response" ( Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic
Conference, 1983), and "Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching
and the U.S. Economy" ( Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1986).
For collections of critical essays on the bishops' letters see Judith A. Dwyer
, ed., The Catholic Bishops and Nuclear War: A Critique and Analysis of
the Pastoral "The Challenge of Peace" ( Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1984), and Robert Royal, ed., Challenge and Response: Critiques
of the Catholic Bishops' Draft Letter on the U.S. Economy, vol. 57, February 1985 ( Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1985).
Francis X. Winters, "Bishops and Scholars: The Peace Pastoral under
Siege," Review of Politics 48, no. 1 (Winter 1986), p. 31.
Dinesh D'Souza, "The Bishops as Pawns: Behind the Scenes at the U.S.
Catholic Conference," Policy Review (Fall 1985), p. 51.
See, for example, George A. Kelly, The Crisis of Authority ( Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1982); Philip Lawler, How Bishops Decide ( Washington,
D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1986); Avery Dulles, "The Teaching
Authority of the Bishops' Conference," America, June 11, 1983, pp. 453-455.
"U.S. Bishops Reject Bid by Vatican to Curb Role," New York Times, November 17, 1988; "American Bishops to Explain Range of Positions to
Pope," San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 1989. See also Penny Lemoux, People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism ( New York: Viking, 1989),
Peter Steinfels, "Bishop Lends Ear to Ideas on Abortion," New
York Times, March 27, 1990, p. A9.