The Dispatch: More from CWR...

An inside look at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

“Until the bishops get serious about taking on the hospitals, universities, and other major Catholic institutions who work against the bishops, their political influence will be neutered.”

The U.S. bishops met in Baltimore for their annual fall general assembly on Nov. 14-17, 2022. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

Jayd Henricks, the President of Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal, served from 2006 to 2017 on the staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), including six years as the Executive Director of Government Relations.

He was recently interviewed by Francis X. Maier about the USCCB: how it works, the influence and role of staff members, the influence of the bishops on Capitol Hill, the Vatican’s relationship with the USCCB, and divisions among the bishops.

Here are two excerpts from the interview:

How much real influence does the Church actually have on Capitol Hill?

Roughly 25% of Congress identifies as Catholic and, of course, we have a nominally Catholic president, so it seems like the Church would have a lot of influence. My experience, however, is that the number of Catholic elected officials who are truly influenced by their faith is very small. On both sides of the aisle, I found that most Members of Congress identify first with their political party and only then with their faith. There are some noteworthy exceptions, but politicians, perhaps not surprisingly, are much more concerned about the politics of an issue than with what the Church teaches. So the moral influence of the bishops is, frankly, quite limited. There was even a certain condescension that came from many Catholic politicians, as if they had a better idea of what the Church teaches than the bishops. Of course, their understanding of the faith coincidentally served their politics.

The voice of the bishops on public issues is still important, although more so as a mode of speaking prophetically to the faithful than in directly shaping public policy.

Why do you think the bishops aren’t more successful in shaping public policy?

There are all sorts of reasons but let me mention two in particular. First, the American Church has lost moral credibility due to the moral failure of some of its leaders. The abuse crisis, while largely perpetrated in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, is playing out in deep ways still today. When men like Rembert Weakland and Theodore McCarrick were the public voice of the bishops on so many issues for so many years, it’s no wonder public officials have a hard time taking the voice of the bishops seriously.

Second, and this is something that flies under the radar but has a huge impact on the influence of the bishops, there are powerful voices within the Church that work against the bishops. I saw this play out very painfully with respect to conscience protections during the debates around the Affordable Care Act. The largest Catholic hospital systems, Catholic Health Association in particular, lobbied against the bishops. And when a politician is looking for a way to justify a vote against his church’s leadership, the hospitals often provide it. I saw this countless times over the years.

Until the bishops get serious about taking on the hospitals, universities, and other major Catholic institutions who work against the bishops, their political influence will be neutered. It is my opinion that if the bishops are serious about influencing public policy, then it would be best if they spent most of their energy dealing with dissent from within the Church.


How involved is the Vatican in the work of the USCCB?

Very involved in the sense that the Vatican appoints bishops, but otherwise Rome generally respects subsidiarity and allows the local Church to govern itself. There might be implicit pressure to prioritize one thing over another, but rarely would the Holy See directly insert itself into the affairs of the USCCB. For me, there was one painful exception to this when I was told to change how I did my job because, as it was explained to me, there were three unnamed Cardinals in Rome who thought I was being too soft on President Trump. They wanted the USCCB to take a position during the congressional budget process regarding an important but very small program. What they failed to understand was that it’s in the appropriations process, not the budget process, that these sorts of details were worked out, which it was. If I’d done what they wanted, it would have made the bishops look incompetent. But for the first time I was being told by Rome how to do my job for what seemed like ideological reasons. That’s a significant reason why I left the Conference.

Read the entire interview on the “What We Need Now” Substack.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Carl E. Olson 1216 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. “I saw this play out very painfully with respect to conscience protections during the debates around the Affordable Care Act. The largest Catholic hospital systems, Catholic Health Association in particular, lobbied against the bishops. And when a politician is looking for a way to justify a vote against his church’s leadership, the hospitals often provide it.”

    And the nun who orchestrated the dissent should have been publicly rebuked and reprimanded. But, of course, she wasn’t.

    With regard to the Vatican’s influence over the USCCB, they might not do it directly but they have their henchmen among the US bishops. These are those who squeal like pigs to the Vatican apparachniks about bishops who are “too” orthodox viz, Cupich, Gregory, McElroy – who looked to McCarrick, Weakland and Bernadin as their mentors.

    As an aside, I saw an article yesterday about the financial soundness of the USCCB. It gave an interesting statistic that some 45% of the USCCB budget comes from revenues derived from funding by the US government. In effect, the USCCB is an AGENT of the government which we all know now is corrupt, secular, materialistic and atheistic- the very antithesis of who Christ is. Cleaning up the USCCB will require a TOTAL separation from the Federal government. But hell will freeze over before that happens.

    • Deacon – ” … the nun who orchestrated the dissent …” was Sister Carol Keehan. And by the way, she served two terms on the board of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) – which is why I haven’t donated to CRS since.

      • I thought she headed up the Catholic Health Association. I may be wrong and correct me if I’m wrong. But whether it’s CRS, USCCB, CCHD, Catholic Charities USA, LSMFT or any other alphabet soup the Wokes dish up, it’s all the same nonsense. But no one need inform me about the how these groups operate as I had my stomach-full of them when I was my diocese’s Director of Catholic Charities.

      • She is one of several reasons I won’t donate to CRS. I’ve learned to limit my donations to my parish and my diocese (Arlington, VA). Bishop Burbidge is a good shepherd.

    • Was unaware that 45% of the USCCB budget comes from the federal government. Thank you for this information, disturbing as it is. Guess, however, I should have expected this, having read previously that the USCCB staff parking lot is typically filled with cars sporting Democrat politician bumper stickers
      In my humble opinion, the USCCB has to eliminate this financial entanglement. Won’t have any credibility as a truly prophetic voice if it is just another NGO dependent on the unsustainable federal spending trough.

    • Many thanks for this, Deacon. The truth seems always to be ignored/avoided–as if our Lord no longer matters and that one day the Bishops as well as those who defy Him will not need to answer to Him for their apostasy. “From those to whom much is given, much will be required.” It’s a tragedy.

  2. A best competent Catholic voice in Washington, D.C. in the near future would be Cardinal Bob McElroy. Gregorian doctorate in theology. Stanford doctorate in political science.

    • It’s quite obvious that “degrees” mean nothing unless faith accompanies them.
      Academics have have endless degrees, honors, etc. The statistics show that while proclaiming “truth, honesty, fairness,” a colleague who has the temerity to be conservative, or worse yet, a Catholic or Evangelical, will be the last for promotion, raises etc. He becomes a pariah and virtually isolated. Just ask anyone who teaches in a university.

  3. I like this Jayd Hendricks – he’s very blunt and doesn’t beat around the bush and offer platitudes containing nothing. IOW he states what is patently obvious to the rest of us.

  4. We read: “…there are powerful VOICES within the Church that work against the bishops.”

    In his 2002 critique at the height of the Great Scandal (in his book: “The Courage to be Catholic”), George Weigel also exposes the damage done by the powerful SILENCES (!) among the bishops themselves. Of the USCCB, he wrote:

    “…The ideal bishop, at least according to club dynamics, is a man who gets along, doesn’t make waves, doesn’t assert himself theologically, and doesn’t force decisions that others may be reluctant to face.” And then there was (is?) the curse of “bureaucratization” (“the iron cage of bureaucracy”) within chanceries, and the corrosive practice of over-delegation to subordinates and “experts”, which Weigel sees as explanatory in the lead-off case of Cardinal Bernard Law.

    Much has been corrected since 2002. Butt, still….How much of the USCCB culture reflects more the secular boardroom than the concurrent personal accountability of the Successors of the Apostles? As one who spent a nearly an entire career staffing various groups of local and regional political officials, yours truly witnessed every possible way of “just moving things along.” Progress!

    And, within the Church, if a bishop or pastor even appears to look reflective or “conservative”, the maxim also applies that “no good deed will go unpunished”….At least, from a distance, apparent silencing seems to be the case, for example, with the visitation of Bishop Strickland…

    How many among the American synodal “facilitator” bishops now feel silenced toward the momentum on certain points of “tension” at the (delegated?) Synod on Synodality (say what?) this fall in Rome?

  5. Not sure about any of this. Mr. Henricks was paid for a decade at the USCCB to do a political job as Executive Director of Government Relations. Now he is running a lay funded foundation buying data from websites like Grindr to trap compulsive clerics. Hum…

    Why are the contributions of the laity paying for Bishop bureaucracy to assist them trying to influence politics? How is any of this Apostolic? Why don’t Bishops stick to preaching and teaching faith/morals and Church governance? If being a Bishop is about secular power versus Apostolic service, why not open it to women? Why are Bishops meeting at hotels like businessmen and constantly meddling with politics? How does this not neglect what they were ordained to do? Why not preach more clearly, loudly? Why not govern your diocese better? Bishops should speak all they want in the public square. But why lobby politicians?

    My experience is that the Government Relations functions in Washington and at State Capitals is worse than a waste, fraught with traps like bumbling clericalism. Secular counterparts are invariably more competent. Such staff (Mr. Henricks notwithstanding?) shill for Democrats on peace/justice/immigration etc., while also trying to butter up Republicans for the occasional inconsequential pro-life win, etc. Secular professionals rarely respect such staff or the Bishops who employ them with lay funding.

    Think about it. How many politicians are competent theologians? Yet we expect a Bishops to navigate Washington

    • “Why don’t Bishops stick to preaching and teaching faith/morals and Church governance?”
      I spent three years trying to promote the Church’s view on contraception and the NFP alternative. I can tell you why the Bishops are not interested in preaching/teaching Faith and Morals…

  6. Then there are those of us who simply no longer trust the Bishops collectively to be Good Shepherds though a few will earn our trust only to be persecuted by the collective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.