The bishops of the U.S. Catholic Church voted Tuesday to approve a new document that addresses what they call the modern epidemic of pornography and to approve changes to an older one that offers guidance to Catholic voters for next year's election cycle.
More than two-thirds of the voters at the Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops cast ballots in support of the measures, two of the more significant before the more than 300 bishops who head Roman Catholic dioceses across the nation.
The prelates also supported a list of priorities they'll address by the year 2020, approved a one-time collection of funds to complete construction of the central dome at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and elected new officers and committee chairmen.
The voting came on the second day of the four-day conference, an event the religious leaders hold every year in Baltimore in recognition of the city's role in church history. The Archdiocese of Baltimore, founded in 1789, is the oldest diocese in the United States.
The bishops offered no resistance to the proposed treatise on pornography, a document whose title — "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography" — refers to King David's plea for forgiveness in Psalm 51.
Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., chair of the group that wrote the document, called the proliferation of pornography a "crisis" that threatens marriages and treats both producers and consumers of the materials as "disposable objects" rather than children of God.
Debate was at times heated as several bishops argued that the proposed new introduction to "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" — a 2007 "teaching document" offering the Catholic perspective on political matters — and proposed changes to the document insufficiently emphasized two issues Pope Francis spotlighted during his September visit to the U.S.
"If I understood [the pope] correctly, the issues of global poverty and degradation of the Earth lie at the very core … of Catholic social teaching, and that is not reflected in this document," said Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego.
The document listed abortion, euthanasia, religious liberty and vocations as matters Catholic voters should consider most important during next year's election cycle. It mentions the Pope's concerns but relegates them to secondary status.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, said the document as amended still quotes Pope Francis 25 times and represented a "painstaking" effort to reconcile the bishops' long standing values with those the Holy Father has emphasized since taking office in 2013.
The bishops have issued a report offering guidance to Catholic voters in years preceding presidential elections for nearly four decades. The reports avoid recommending candidates or positions on specific measures.
Both the new introduction and the new text drew more than 210 votes, easily eclipsing the 181 required for passage.
The bishops were to meet in closed sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.