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Catholic Bishops in American Politics

Catholic Bishops in American Politics

Timothy A. Byrnes
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 188
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  • Book Info
    Catholic Bishops in American Politics
    Book Description:

    Over the past twenty years the American Catholic bishops have played a leading role in the antiabortion movement, published lengthy and highly detailed pastoral letters on nuclear weapons and on the American economy, and involved themselves, collectively and individually, in several national election campaigns. What is the source of the sometimes controversial political role of these religious leaders? Timothy Byrnes proposes a new answer in this lucid description of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and its activities. He demonstrates that the key to the political role of the bishops and other modern American religious leaders has been political change, rather than religious revival.

    Originally published in 1993.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6237-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    Religious leaders have played a very prominent role in American politics over the last fifteen years. They have articulated positions on various public policies, formed coalitions with other leaders and groups, and lent support, both implicitly and explicitly, to particular candidates and parties. As a result of their political activities, these religious leaders have encountered considerable criticism. They have been accused of breaching the wall of separation between church and state, and of imposing their own sectarian values and convictions on American politics. These accusations, however, have been based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the way that religion and politics...

  5. CHAPTER TWO A Political History
    (pp. 11-34)

    It would be a mistake to view the Catholic hierarchy’s participation in the American political process as a recent development. In fact, the relationship between the bishops and American politics began in 1790 when, within a few months of each other, George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States and John Carroll was installed in Baltimore as America’s first bishop. American Catholic bishops have always played a political role; it is the character of that role which has changed in recent years and which is in need of explication.

    The first step in this explication is...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Into the Modern Era
    (pp. 35-53)

    Both the assimilation of Catholics into the American socioeconomic mainstream and the expansion of the federal government’s role in the lives of American citizens brought the traditional era of the bishops’ political activities to a close in the 1960s. This chapter will analyze these developments in greater detail and document the bishops’ responses to them, responses that allowed the bishops to retain a significant role in modern American politics. In particular, I will argue that reforms adopted at the Second Vatican Council for theological and ecclesiastical reasons led the American bishops to adopt a more national, collective approach to politics...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Bishops, Abortion, and a “New Majority”
    (pp. 54-67)

    This chapter will focus on the bishops’ activities involving abortion between 1968 and 1975 and establish that these activities conformed to the model of the hierarchy’s modern political activities that I outlined in the previous chapter. That is to say, on abortion the bishops acted collectively through their strengthened national forum to address a central issue of the American public policy agenda in an unapologetic and nonparochial manner.

    This chapter will also establish that the bishops’ decision to actively oppose abortion coincided with an attempt by conservative political operatives to realign the American party system. In search of voters and...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Bishops and Electoral Politics: 1976
    (pp. 68-81)

    The presidential election of 1976 was the key episode in the development of a relationship between the bishops’ own publicly articulated policy agenda and the platforms and electoral strategies of the two major political parties. Other events such as the pastoral letters on nuclear war and the American economy and John O’Connor’s criticism of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 have received more attention, and they will be dealt with in detail in later chapters. None of these events, however, can rival the seminal and lasting influence that 1976 has had on the bishops’ involvement in American politics. In fact, all of...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Bishops and Electoral Politics: 1980
    (pp. 82-91)

    As in 1976, the bishops’ role in the presidential election of 1980 was shaped by the relationship between, on the one hand, their own positions on the issues and, on the other, the electoral strategies of secular political forces. In 1980, the conservative movement tried to effect a lasting realignment of the national electorate by drawing together a new, mass-based coalition of social conservatives. In this chapter, I will argue that the Catholic bishops, through their emphasis on abortion as a political issue and their role in the creation of the right-to-life movement, helped to erect the political foundation on...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Bishops and Nuclear Weapons
    (pp. 92-107)

    The agenda for the bishops’ annual meeting in 1980 included a proposal by Auxiliary Bishop Francis P. Murphy of Baltimore that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops produce a summary of the Catholic Church’s teaching on war and peace. The bishops had made several statements over the years on nuclear weapons, as had the popes, but Murphy and a handful of other bishops wanted the American hierarchy to be more pointed and more aggressive in its approach to U.S. defense policy. Over the next two and one-half years, the bishops, through an ad hoc committee on war and peace under...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Bishops and Electoral Politics: 1984
    (pp. 108-126)

    Heading into the 1984 election, it looked as though the bishops had carved out a new position for themselves on the American political spectrum. Their policy agenda, which included support for a “halt” in the deployment of new nuclear weapons systems and opposition to abortion, was highly unusual and cut rather dramatically across the partisan cleavage of the American electorate. As always, however, the bishops’ actual participation in the 1984 election was determined by far more than their own policy views. In this case, the bishops’ actions were shaped by the unusually religious tone of the presidential campaign, and by...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Economics, 1988, and the Future
    (pp. 127-146)

    Throughout the previous chapters I have argued that the relationship between religion and politics in the United States is a complex and doubleedged one. Yes, religion has an effect on American politics. But the Catholic bishops’ activities over the last two decades illustrate that the role of American churches and religious leaders is also a function of the structures and processes of the American political system. A substantial shift in governmental authority and policy initiative to Washington, D.C., for example, led the bishops to adopt a more collective, national approach to public policy matters. And the bishops’ participation in several...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 147-164)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-172)
  15. Index
    (pp. 173-177)