Michael Paulson at the New York Times wrote an interesting article last week on the shift in tone among the U.S. bishops. Paulson writes:
[Bishops] are rethinking what kinds of houses they live in, and what kinds of cars they drive. They are wondering whether, in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election, they need to rewrite their advice to parishioners to make sure that poverty, and not just abortion, is discussed as a high-priority issue. And they are trying to get better about returning phone calls, reaching out to the disenchanted and the disenfranchised, and showing up at events.
Many bishops are adopting Pope Francis’ simplified lifestyle and are trying to emulate his tone. But they also appear to be realizing that they need more than a change in tone, they also need a change in their message. Hot-button issues like abortion and marriage will become less important talking points as issues close to Pope Francis’ heart, such as poverty, are given more airtime.
In his article, Paulson quoted Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans who acknowledged the need to talk about more than just the hot-button issues:
We need to keep talking about the hot-button issues that we’ve been talking about for a long time, but not just those issues…We don’t, perhaps, at times talk enough about the poor, about the economy, and we don’t perhaps talk enough about reaching out to those with disabilities, those whose voices are not heard.
I, for one, welcome a shift in the bishops’ tone and message. The US bishops were once visionaries who were known for standing up for the poor, fighting for the disabled, raising ecological awareness, and championing the downtrodden. With a change in their tone and message, the US bishops could once again become prophetic leaders in the world today.