McGuire defends the bishops from charges of partisanship, saying: "I don't think the bishops are trying to influence the campaign.... I mean, the bishops are not going to get behind one political candidate or another. They never have and never will."
Tim Byrnes, a political science professor at Colgate University whose books include "Catholic Bishops in American Politics," agreed that U.S. bishops had long been seen as above the partisan fray, in part because their agenda had elements that overlapped both parties.
In recent decades, their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage has lined up with the GOP, while opposition to the death penalty and support of immigration reform and the social safety net put them in good stead with Democrats.
However, Byrnes said: "I think it's without doubt that they are in the process of squandering that special position or role in American politics. The danger is that they'll be seen as social conservatives in league with a political party whose views on economic issues are not ones that the bishops share.... That doesn't strike me as a particularly good way of protecting the long-term viability of the church as a participant in American policy debates."