Pittsburgh: Bp. Zubik’s Letter on Catholics and Voting

His Excellency Most Rev. David A. Zubik, Bishop of Pittsburgh, has issued a letter to his flock on VOTING.

Here it is with my emphases and comments.

Letter from Bishop David A. Zubik
on Catholics and Voting

My dear family of the Church of Pittsburgh,
There is an important matter that falls under my responsibilities as bishop which has taken front and center stage – the upcoming elections. One of the things I treasure most about you, the faithful of the Church of Pittsburgh, is the open way in which you offer suggestions to me and make requests of me. Sometimes those requests conflict. The election issue is one such example. Some of you have asked me to speak out publicly about the presidential candidates. That I can not do. [The bishop does not want directly to endorse a specific candidate.]  The important document written by the Bishops of our country entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States (available at www.faithfulcitizenship.org) [But this is NOT a teaching document in the sense that the Church has a Magisterium.  Bishops conferences do not have a munus docendi in the same way that the Holy Father or individual bishops have.] underscores the important point that the Church cannot, I repeat, cannot tell people for whom they must vote. However, the document is very clear about highlighting two things about our voting privilege: (1) the right that we have to vote as American citizens is precious. (2) the obligation that we have to bring our faith to our voting is sacred.
As we approach the coming elections, I implore you to consider both: your right to vote; and your obligation to bring your faith to the voting booth[YES]

To assist you in both might I suggest four important steps. [This is good] (1) Familiarize yourself with the issues of the campaign; (2) Learn what the teachings of the Catholic Church are regarding those issues; (3) reflect on both in a spirit of prayer, and (4) Vote[Don’t opt out.]
To assist you in understanding what the teachings of the Church are regarding the various campaign issues, I would recommend that you consult with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults or the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Moreover, you might also want to secure a copy of Faithful Citizenship[The USCCB does not have a teaching office, a munus docendi by which they can issue teaching documents that can be placed together with, e.g., the CCC.  Faithful Citizenship is not a document of the Magisterium.  It cannot be treated as such.  Evangelium vitae, however, is a document of the Magisterium.  It is as if Apostolos suos wasn’t issued.] Since the presidential election of 1976 and every four years, we the Bishops have offered updated versions of this important document to assist voters as they exercise their voting rights coupled with the responsibility of an understanding of the issues from the perspective of faith. [I would have preferred also that H.E. spell out the main points to review.]
Now there is a second issue which I need to address with you as well. Over the course of the last several weeks, several people who are recognized as Catholic leaders in our diocese have espoused a public rationale for why they personally are choosing to vote for a particular candidate for the presidency. [Apparently, some prominent Catholics are saying that you can vote for a pro-abortion candidate.  Perhaps readers in Pittsburgh can fill us in on the background.] These reflections have appeared in either local newspapers or in national periodicals. A number of you have raised questions with me about their statements.

Over the course of the past week especially, I have reflected long and hard about how I might be able to respond to the many questions that you have placed on my desk about such statements.

I wish to clarify the confusion that has been caused by these public statements with the hope that any division that has been caused by such remarks and worse any scandal [We are back to this ugly reality: scandal.] that may have resulted from such comments is addressed. It is important to say once again that no one has a right to tell anyone how to vote. Moreover those who have offered their personal interpretation of the Church’s teaching do not speak for the Church and in some part do not reflect the teaching of the Church[It would be good to have local background here.]

While Faithful Citizenship speaks about the moral choice which we each must make when we enter the voting booth, the manner in which we vote must weigh all the issues with a clear reflection on the teachings of the Church. The primary theme of Faithful Citizenship is the right to life and the dignity of every human person. [EMPHASES IN THE ORIGINAL] As the United States Bishops made clear, this is the foundation of a moral vision for society. We cannot dismiss this foundational principle as secondary in our thinking. As the bishops insist, we cannot consider abortion or euthanasia as merely two issues among many to be weighed or dismissed with a shrug. Nor can we exclude other issues that also are pro-life: concerns about the poor and immigrants, concerns about peace and war, concerns about bigotry and prejudice, concerns about capital punishment, and other social justice issues. [He is saying that the issue of right to life cannot be set aside in favor of these other important issues.]

Having offered these few thoughts on the upcoming electoral process, it is my sincere hope that I have clarified some of the questions which you have raised, [I think he did, when you read this closely.] especially in light of some well-known Catholics who advocate for your vote for a particular candidate from their own personal perspective.

As we are prepare for this year’s elections, remember to know the issues, know the Church’s teachings, pray about both and vote. To do so as a woman or a man of faith highlights the right we have as American citizens and the responsibility we have as members of the Church.

Grateful for our belief that "Nothing is Impossible with God," I am
Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend David A. Zubik
Bishop of Pittsburgh

This is NOT a bad letter.  It comes down on the right side of things. 

However, there is a methodological flaw, in my humble opinion.  We must not fall into the trap of treating some document of the USCCB as if it were a magisterial document.

It is perfectly okay for a priest or bishop to embrace the concepts elucidated in a conference document (provided that they are correct, of course).  But we mustn’t raise these documents to a level of authority that they simply don’t have.

Again, Bp. Zubik is exercising his role as teacher of his flock in an important time and issue.  If you read this closely, you know what he is saying.  That is warmly to be applauded.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. ArlingtonDio says:

    His Excellency is probably referring to this (as reported by The Cardinal Newman Society):

    (10/7/08) Franciscan: Life issues “do not lend themselves to the prudential judgment of the voter.”

    Last week, Dr. Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Catholic Duquesne University, announced his support for Barack Obama’s presidential bid, yet maintained that he is “staunchly anti-abortion.” Cafardi, who was a trustee at Franciscan University of Steubenville, declared that “we have lost the abortion battle – permanently.” Dr. Cafardi offered his resignation from the Board of Trustees on Monday, October 6. Fr. Terrence Henry, TOR accepted his resignation of behalf of the board, thanking him for the ways in which he assisted Franciscan University in past years.

    Franciscan released a public statement reasserting its position on abortion. “Franciscan University stands with the Catholic Church in its opposition to abortion as an intrinsic evil and violation of the sanctity of human life,” said the statement. “The university does not believe the abortion battle is lost, as Dr. Cafardi states, but that the tide is decidedly turning in favor of life.” The University “strongly encourage its students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other constituents to view the life issues—such as abortion, euthanasia, and the protection of marriage and the family—as foundational, and as issues that do not lend themselves to the prudential judgment of the voter.”

    Source: http://www.CardinalNewmanSociety.org

  2. CK says:

    1) the right that we have to vote as American citizens is precious. (yet the one on the ticket was an attorney defending the very organization, ACORN, dedicated to voter fraud…even now happening in his behalf…and we dare not mention his name)

    Weighing such a “teaching” effort against what Catholics/Christians need to know at this momentous time, I find it fundamentally weak, as are so many “instructions” coming out from dioceses in general. Now here is what happens when you really wish to get the word/truth out before it’s too late:


    We were arrested for handing out a pro-life brochure on the church parking lot entitled, “Faithful Catholic Citizenship”. “Faithful Catholic Citizenship” is based upon quotes from John Paul II from Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life.) Read it at http://www.humbleplea.com.

    Behold the horrifying fruit of the silence of American bishops! Millions of the faithful are so poorly formed in conscience that they believe it is no sin against God or innocent babies to vote for a man committed to slay millions of children. The bishops keep their tax exempt status, while the faithful lose their way, and the innocent lose their very lives.

    and evidence here:


    It is no secret to anyone that “Faithful Citizenship” – released in the fall of 2007 by the USCCB – has been used and abused by the enemies of Life within & outside the Church.

    examples given

    “Faithful Citizenship” does not rouse the anger of our enemies nor inspire our friends. The advocates of voting for Obama are using “Faithful Citizenship” to vindicate their treachery against innocent children.

    IOW, more Thomas Mores and John Fishers are now called for.

  3. Papabile says:

    Apostolos suos does seem to allow some teaching authority to the Conferences….

    “Taking into account that the authentic magisterium of the Bishops, namely what they teach insofar as they are invested with the authority of Christ, must always be in communion with the Head of the College and its members,(83) when the doctrinal declarations of Episcopal Conferences are approved unanimously, they may certainly be issued in the name of the Conferences themselves, and the faithful are obliged to adhere with a sense of religious respect to that authentic magisterium of their own Bishops. However, if this unanimity is lacking, a majority alone of the Bishops of a Conference cannot issue a declaration as authentic teaching of the Conference to which all the faithful of the territory would have to adhere, unless it obtains the recognitio of the Apostolic See, which will not give it if the majority requesting it is not substantial.”

  4. August says:

    Sadly, I think we are at a point where not voting has more potential to end abortion than voting does. At this point, the Republicans take us for granted. We need a real option and we won’t get that until it becomes clear they can no longer depend on getting our vote in return for mere lipservice.

    Not voting (or voting for an independent, pro-life candidate if you feel you just have go to the polls) is the only way for the message to show through clearly to the political class.

  5. mpm says:


    Might that not be a “reflected” authority, i.e., the authority of each bishop, if
    in communion with the Pope, can be expressed as if with one voice in a document of
    the Conference, but the authority derives from the sacramental office, not from
    the Conference? That’s how I read it, anyway.

  6. Paul says:

    The statement that Faithful Citizenship is “not a teaching document” is extremely hard to understand, and I think it should be defended much more clearly. The problem is that we might conclude that the poster is saying that if a individual bishop had written Faithful Citizenship by himself, then it would be a teaching document; but if several bishops get together and issue the same thing, then it is not a teaching document. That doesn’t seem correct.

    From the fact that the USCCB has no munus docendi, it doesn’t follow logically that documents issued by it are not teaching documents. The bishops who agreed with the document being issued are presumably each individually agreeing with its teaching — and that makes it a teaching document. Not a teaching document from the USCCB, but a teaching document from each concurring bishop.

  7. Ohio Annie says:

    But a null vote is a vote for the (presumed) winner, in this case a grave sin of omission.

  8. Nathan says:

    Alas, I think that this discussion on whether a document from a national Bishops’ Conference–the USCCB–has teaching authority hits right one of the major disagreements within the post-Councilar Church. Many have read “Lumen Gentium” to give much greater authority to national bishops conferences, yet it sets up its framework on the authority of the magesterium only on bishops (ordinaries in their dioceses) and the Holy Father, not to their conferences.

    This matters in the context of the “hermeneutic of rupture vs. hermenutic of continuity” debate. For example, while many “progressive” (I’m sorry, not intending to use scare quotes, but to highlight that progressive is a somewhat fuzzy term) prelates disagreed with Pope Paul VI on “Humanae Vitae’s” teaching, the most bitter reactions were those who saw the real problem as Pope Paul not granting the authority to rule on this matter of faith and morals to national bishops’ conferences–this was how they defined “collegiality.”

    I guess the key question (which, IMO, was answered in “Lumen Gentium” in the negative) is whether the USCCB, as the USCCB, can claim inspiration by the Holy Spirit. That is, I think, an authoritative test on teaching authority.

    In Christ,

  9. mrteachersir says:

    If you compare the text of H. E. Joseph Martino’s letter to the Diocese of Scranton (also in PA) you see that Bishop Martino does not use Faithful Citizenship at all in his letter. He refers to his predecessor, and is very clear about what he is saying. I get the sense that to dispel the idea that Faithful Citizenship is anything more than a guide, he simply didn’t use it, and relied on his own authority as bishop.

    I was reading an article in This Rock Magazine for the month of October in which it was stated that the Conference wrote two pieces for music in the liturgy…each with their own equivocations and vagueries. Using this, and the way that Faithful Citizenship is used by both pro-lifers and pro-lifers supporting a pro-death candidate, it appears to me that such “unanimous” documents are only unanimous in that they reflect vague language to satisfy everyone’s opinions.

  10. Gerard E. says:

    A solid B for a grade. Bishop Martino gets A plus. We don’t grade on the curve. Step it up, boys.

  11. I agree Fr. Z, the documents that come from the USCCB office should not be treated as if it’s the Magisterium…(that’s the way a lot of documents are treated here unfortunately)

    I as well give a B, solid…

    …something must have gotten into the water they were serving…more and more Bishops teaching.

  12. Lucia says:

    Not that I disagree, Fr. Z & Joe of St Therese–I am just confused. Could either or both of you explain to me why the USCCB documents should not be treated like those from the Magisterium? I suppose I thought the USCCB was kind of a part of the Magisterium…? Anyway I would really appreciate one of you elaborating on this. Thanks!

    be fearless & be God’s. verso l’alto…Lucia

  13. David Andrew says:

    Fr. Z,

    Thank you for making clear that Faithful Citizenship does not hold the same authority as Magisterial teaching. I pointed out in an earlier thread that I had serious misgivings about the “fuller spectrum” issue, as it seemed to be presented, in an albeit veiled fashion, as the Mind of the Church.

  14. The reason why the Bishops’ Conference documents should not be treated as a Magisterium is simply put, they have no authority to teach.

    The Bishops’ Conference is a relatively modern invention designed to create collegiality amongst the Bishops. While in theory good, its practice has basically been a bureaucratic nightmare which at times has gone against the teachings of the Church.

    Translated, I basically mean, the authority lies within the Office of the individual Bishop. The charism of infallibility for the Bishops’ is when the Bishops’ are teaching in Union with the Pope (i.e. Ecumenical councils with defined dogma)…in otherwords, most of the time these are just the opinions of the Bishops, which we don’t mistake for infallibility.

    (Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Fr. Z or anyone who finds flaw)

  15. Papabile says:

    Apostolos suos is clear that the Conference when speaking with a unitary voice has some authority to teach, and those teachings require adherance.

    Lacking complete unanimity, for the Conference to bind, it requires the recognitio of the Holy See.

    Faithful citizenship does NOT have a recognitio, and (while approved by the full Conference), it was not unanimous. Therefore, Faithful Citizenship does NOT bind.

    I have taken this extract from Faithful Citizenship, which describes how this monster was put together:
    The document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political
    Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States was developed
    by the chairmen, in consultation with the membership, of the Committees on
    Domestic Policy, International Policy, Pro-Life Activities, Communications,
    Doctrine, Education, and Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic
    Bishops (USCCB). It was approved by the full body of bishops at its November
    2007 General Meeting and has been authorized for publication by the undersigned.
    Msgr. David J. Malloy, STD
    General Secretary, USCCB

  16. Lucia says:

    ah, thanks! Good to know!

  17. David Andrew says:

    The lack of understanding regarding legislative, binding documents versus advisory documents as issued by the USCCB is a problem those of us in liturgical music circles have been wrestling with for many years, but never moreso than after the release of Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.

    That doc, along with Built of Living Stones and Coworkers in the Vineyard, have absolutely fueled the firey debate between those seeking to preserve orthodoxy and those hell-bent (I hazard to say literally, or to ask for pardon for the pun) on permitting heterodoxy or hegemony to reign.

    ISTM that Satan and his army are in full battle gear, and as much as I’m frightened, I understand Fr. Z’s repeated calls for prayer, especially for the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel.

  18. dcs says:

    But a null vote is a vote for the (presumed) winner, in this case a grave sin of omission.

    Not voting is generally not a grave sin.

  19. Joe from Pittsburgh says:

    As a native of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, remember that it was our former Bishop Wuerl who refused to deny John FARC Kerry Holy Communion. Kerry is married to the late John Heinz’ widow, and she inherited an estate north of the city of Pittsburgh. In the past, former US Representative Democrat Bill Coyne consistently sided with the abortionists in Congress, while the late Monsignor Rice – a radical priest if there ever was one – often used his weekly Pittsburgh Catholic column to demean those Catholics who weren’t Democrats.

    Despite losing most of its corporate headquarters and almost all of the steel industry, Pittsburgh is still a large diocese with approximately 800,000 Catholics in six southwestern Pennsylvania counties. As such, it usually votes Democrat – the Democrats have controlled Pittsburgh longer than the Communists have ruled China. No Democrat candidate for president ever admits to support for abortion on any TV ad here. No Democrat candidate for anything here admits to support for abortion in political advertising.

    Bishop Zubik’s comments are much stronger than anything Bishop Wuerl produced and far more than I expected.

  20. avecrux says:

    Actually, in addition to the above reference, I think the Bishop may be thinking of this story which I quote from the American Papist last week:

    Sistters of Mercy host Catholics for Obama event
    Deal Hudson has a report from the event, passed along by Fransiscan U. of Stuebenville students:
    Last evening at Carlow University in Pittsburg, the Sisters of Mercy hosted a Catholics for Obama event. I received a call from someone who attended the event who told me the “high point was when a Catholic priest urged everyone in the crowd to report any priest to the IRS and to the diocese of Pittsburgh who preaches from the pulpit that you must vote based on one issue”.
    There were about 15 sisters present and three priests. Here is the description of the event sent to me by those who attended. (See the AP site)

  21. WCR in Pittsburgh says:

    Here’s another item that appeared in a Pgh. newspaper last week, by an alleged nun:


    It prompted me to email the diocese, urging them to issue a response. I was therefore pleased to see Bp. Zubik’s letter, despite my wish for something with the clarity and forcefulness of Martino or Burke.

  22. pdt says:

    Speaking as a relatively average Joe Catholic, just what IS the Magisterium then? It seems to be some amorphous entity “over in Rome” that takes a few decades to decide on anything. The US Bishops, right or wrong, take stands a bit more quickly. But even they are uneven.

    Where, for example, is a response from the Magisterium to the Connecticut Bishops\’ stance on Plan B in their hospitals? (Or the USCCB, for that matter.)

    I think that most Catholics, if they hear about this at all, will figure that \”A Church spokesman said…\” has as much authority as the Pope.

    Pity, then, and pray for the dioceses whose leaders remain silent.

  23. JPY 15026 says:

    This was in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette back in August

    SISTER PATRICIA MCCANN explains why she supports America’s first black major-party nominee for president

    Sunday, August 31, 2008


    What’s wrong with hope?

    * I voted for Barack Obama in the primary elections last May, and I will vote for him in November. My choice is guided by Mr. Obama’s competence, vision, values and political promise. I see in his candidacy hope for America’s future. He has the potential to become the kind of transformative leader who can tap into the best of American culture and enable us to return to the animating values of the founders of this nation. He cares about those who are poor and marginalized.

    * Some of the political pundits want to identify the theme of hope in Mr. Obama’s campaign as simply nice words. Not so; not so. Aside from the senator’s accomplishments and personal qualities, the fact that a black person can not only vote in 2008, but is in fact a major-party nominee for the presidency, is evidence to the contrary.

    * Barack Obama did not just suddenly drop out of the sky into American politics. His candidacy and America’s readiness for it grew out of the hopes of those hundreds of students in Montgomery in 1965; it grew from the ministerial leadership in black churches in the decades after Dr. King; it grew from the efforts of legislators and political leaders committed to civil rights for all; it grew from hundreds of thousands of decent people, black and white, who know that hope is a tangible reality that can animate us to work together for the common good.
    Complete article:

  24. Iggy says:

    Arlington Diocese, which–other than Washington–has the most influence on politics in our nation’s capital, is STUNNINGLY SILENT on this issue.


  25. Croatian Catholic says:

    I share Fr. Z’s opinion that too much importance, as in \”authoritative\” importance is often given by some bishops to their own USCCB documents.

    I am a Pittsburgh Catholic. And old one from a long line of old Pittsburgh Catholics. I was not impressed by the letter. I thought it was weak, not particularly Life focused and rather cowardly. Not to mention years late.

  26. JPY: In that case Sister McCann is profoundly blind if she is really can described his qualifications in those particular terms.

  27. Ohio Annie says:

    The Catholics for Obama are saying they will vote for a man who voted for a bill allowing infanticide. I wish the bishops would be a little more forceful about this issue. Surely it is a sin to try to put into office such a man. It might not be grave but the result surely will be, especially for those of us who will be targets due to disabilities, etc.

    Is there a way for bishops to be more forceful without seeming partisan (though by definition they would have to be)?

    I have yet to see anything on this issue from my bishop though the priests at my parish are doing great. No Obama stickers in our parking lot.

  28. Croatian Catholic says:

    In contrast, here is what the bishop of Patterson NJ had to say. http://www.patersondiocese.org/page.cfm?Web_ID=2752

    Thank you, faithful servant Bishop Serratelli.

  29. Andy says:

    The first commenter has it right when referring to recent events in Pittsburgh. Professor Cafardi’s support of Obama has generated much heat in the area. I live in Greensburg Diocese( the next one over), and even we have priests using diocesan email to promote Cafardi’s positions. Scandalous indeed.

    Just as scandalous was the occurrence at his lecture (which, it should be noted, he did not attend; a letter of his was read by nuns) where Catholics present were asked to report the IRS any priest who spoke from the pulpit about one non-negotiable issue without mentioning them all. Of course, this is ridiculous as priests can talk about issues all they want without jeopardizing tax-exempt status; it’s candidate support (like you see from priests, nuns, and purportedly Catholic professors) that is a no-no.

  30. Charivari Rob says:

    PDT, the Magisterium is not a particular entity or office. To give a very rough explanation, it is the authority of the Church to teach, handed down to the successors of Peter and the apostles.

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