How should Catholics — and all people of faith — approach the upcoming election? USCCB president Archbishop Stanley Kurtz offers his advice, which is to keep religious liberty paramount in their discernment. The prelate issued this as a written statement last week, but late yesterday published it as a video appeal. It indirectly references the revelations from the e-mail files of John Podesta and the stated goals of his efforts to undermine the leadership of the Catholic Church:

The USCCB news release on this statement properly notes that “the Gospel serves the common good, not political agendas,” but Archbishop Kurtz doesn’t leave much mystery as to his point. He’s not discussing the first exchange, which denigrated Catholic Church teachings as “severely backwards gender relations,” but referencing the second exchange in which Podesta himself discussed how he intended to bring about a “Catholic Spring” through the use of progressive Catholic groups, emphasis mine:

At this important time in our nation’s history, I encourage all of us to take a moment to reflect on one of the founding principles of our republic – the freedom of religion. It ensures the right of faith communities to preserve the integrity of their beliefs and proper self-governance. There have been recent reports that some may have sought to interfere in the internal life of the Church for short-term political gain. If true, this is troubling both for the well-being of faith communities and the good of our country.

The “Catholic Spring” intends to democratize the church in order to change its doctrine. Kurtz explains here why the Church exists, and it’s not to change doctrine to win popularity contests:

In our faith and our Church, Christ has given us a precious gift. As Catholics, we hold onto our beliefs because they come to us from Jesus, not a consensus forged by contemporary norms. The Gospel is offered for all people for all times. It invites us to love our neighbor and live in peace with one another. For this reason, the truth of Christ is never outdated or inaccessible. The Gospel serves the common good, not political agendas.

In response, Kurtz urges American Catholics and others of faith to recognize the danger of state interference in church doctrine:

I encourage my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters, and all people of good will, to be good stewards of the precious rights we have inherited as citizens of this country. We also expect public officials to respect the rights of people to live their faith without interference from the state. When faith communities lose this right, the very idea of what it means to be an American is lost.

Politicians, their staffs and volunteers should reflect our best aspirations as citizens. Too much of our current political discourse has demeaned women and marginalized people of faith. This must change. True to the best hopes of our founding fathers, we are confident that we can and will do better as a nation.

There’s not much room for broader interpretation in this statement. This election cycle has featured demeaning of people from both sides, but it’s the attacks on people of faith that have the USCCB president most concerned. And he should be.

Archbishop Kurtz doesn’t stand alone in this, either. Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann takes a more direct approach in rebuking Tim Kaine’s attempts to eat his Catholic cake and have it too on abortion. Not only does Naumann explicitly call Kaine “a cafeteria Catholic,” he also accuses him of hypocrisy on religious freedom (via Christine Rousselle):

It is interesting that Senator Kaine expressed his personal anguish when as governor he enforced capital punishment sentences. He gave the impression that he attempted unsuccessfully to convince Virginians to abolish the death penalty. Yet, with regard to legalized abortion, I am not aware of Senator Kaine making a similar effort to convince his constituents to work for public policies that protect the lives of the unborn. Instead, he appears eager to champion not only maintaining the status quo, but actually expanding abortion rights.

It is ironic that Senator Kaine expressed such profound concern about imposing his religious beliefs on others, while supporting efforts: 1) to coerce the Little Sisters of the Poor and other faith-based ministries to violate their conscience by including abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilizations in their employee health plans; 2) to put small business owners (e.g., florists, bakers, photographers, etc.) out of business with crippling fines if they decline to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies; and 3) to force every American taxpayer to help fund abortion.

This presidential election presents all Americans with a difficult choice. Both major political parties have nominated very flawed candidates. In making your decision as a voter, I encourage you to think not only of the candidate, but who they will appoint to key Cabinet and other powerful government positions if he or she becomes president. We are choosing not just a president, but an entire administration.

Finally, be wary of candidates who assume to take upon themselves the role of defining what Catholics believe or should believe. Unfortunately, the vice-presidential debate revealed that the Catholic running for the second highest office in our land is an orthodox member of his party, fulling embracing his party’s platform, but a cafeteria Catholic, picking and choosing the teachings of the Catholic Church that are politically convenient.

That’s about as tough a statement as a Catholic bishop would deliver in the middle of an election cycle. Will these statements have an impact on Catholic voters? It might be an uphill battle, according to McClatchy:

At the beginning of October, Trump led Clinton among white Catholics by 56-31 percent, according to a PRRI/Atlantic survey.

But after Trump was caught on tape boasting about sexually assaulting women, his support among white Catholics plummeted in the same survey. Clinton took a 46-42 lead among white Catholics in a poll released Oct. 9, a 15-point swing in one week.

The volatility threatens gains made by Republicans for years.

The Podesta e-mails might have those same voters thinking twice. Clearly, the USCCB hopes they will.