As a writer, I understand that the choice of words, and their nuance, can make all the difference in the way my readers see a character, an idea, a story. This year, the Catholic Bishops of the United States learned that lesson. They provoked a firestorm by using the words “preeminent priority” to describe the issue of abortion in their voting guide, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Though denounced by his local bishop for saying that any Catholic Democrat would be facing the fires of hell for supporting a party platform which upholds the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion— nonetheless, that was the logical take-away from the “preeminent priority” language preached from many pulpits around the country.
It should be noted that a third of United States bishops voted against the language giving “preeminence” to one issue. They contended that the better option would be to insert Pope Francis’ teaching that it is an “ideological error” to believe that “the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause…” Their preferred language was:
“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate… Equally sacred however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
~from Pope Francis’ encyclical Gaudete et Exultate.