Shift in Tone among U.S. Bishops

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.


  1. Archbishop Aymond is generally liked here in New Orleans. He has the reputation of being an excellent listener, and it’s appreciated. (If the bishops had listened to the complaints from the abused children, think how different the Church might be now.)

  2. Which group of Bishops, meeting where and when, is Mr Paulson possibly writing about? From the first action of the USCCB meeting last week when they voted to “stay the course”. . i. e.. keep on with the same old same old issues, I saw no evidence they were moved by and adapting to the
    new way, the tone and directions being talked about and explained by Pope Francis.
    I cannot think of one positive statement or direction change which gives me any hope, though I keep looking, listening. The only thing I read are the tepid comments all conditioned and couched by the “perhaps”. . “maybe”.
    Just read the pathetic hewming and hawing contained in Paulson’s article quoted here.
    Sorry. . . .
    “Let’s keep on dancing.” (. . ’tis good for the blood pressure. .) ~~ gerald

  3. I had read the NY Times piece – and it’s nice that there is at least some talk about a shifting tone among our Bishops. However, why would it take someone like Pope Francis to cause this? Don’t our Bishops read the Gospel? Isn’t the message of Jesus clear enough? Do our Bishops examine their consciences in light of the Gospel? Something is really disturbing here.

    1. @Joseph J. Koechler – comment #3:
      However, why would it take someone like Pope Francis to cause this? Don’t our Bishops read the Gospel? Isn’t the message of Jesus clear enough? Do our Bishops examine their consciences in light of the Gospel? Something is really disturbing here.

      Call me cynical, but I think far too many bishops are essentially corporate suits climbing ladders. When the CEO changes tune, you emulate a little until you see if it is going to last. No point burning bridges or doing anything courageous…yet.

      I fully realize no one is altogether corporate or altogether saintly, but I think there are trends. Even bishops are human.

      1. @Charles Day – comment #4:
        I agree that many of the bishops are much like “corporate suits” being rewarded for following social justice issues rather than being teachers and guardians of the entire Gospel, non-negotiables included. There are many really informative bible studies for adults that are gaining in attendence. Priest and laity (especially children/teens/ young adults) formation concentrating on the teachings of the Church and Sacred Scriptures are imperative if we are to “build the Church and bless the nation” Al Kresta- EWTN.

  4. Bishop-bashing is so boring, and, I suspect, occasionally lazy. What say we give them at least as much time and as many second chances as we’d give ourselves in trying to transform our lives? And encourage them when they do something good, rather than tear them down when, inevitably, the stumble in really public and visible ways?

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #5:
      I am sorry if my post came off as bishop bashing. I intended the exact opposite. I was trying to commend them for the small steps they have made in the past year just as you suggest. I truly do welcome their change in tone and want to encourage them to embrace more than the hot-button issues.

  5. Nathan – it wasn’t your post, which I did think was positive. It was some of the comments above mine. And for my part, I apologize for an intemperate comment.

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