WASHINGTON (October 20, 1999) -- The U.S. bishops are pressing the nation's more than 60 million Catholics to get politically involved in the 2000 elections and have urged them to make moral principles and care for the weak their guide.
The bishops urged people to take their duties as citizens seriously in Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium, a guide for Catholics which is being distributed nationwide. They said the year 2000 is a time to reshape political priorities.
"The next millennium requires a new kind of politics, focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls, more on the needs of the poor and vulnerable than the contributions of the rich and powerful, more on the pursuit of the common good than the demands of special interests," they said.
The bishops listed ten questions against which voters and candidates can measure their positions and decisions.
"Every candidate, policy, and political platform should be measured by how they touch the human person; whether they enhance or diminish human life and dignity, and human rights; and how they advance the common good," the bishops said.
The churchmen urge Catholics to be active participants in public life, calling responsible citizenship a virtue and participation in the political process a moral obligation.
"Every believer is called to faithful citizenship, to become an informed, active, and responsible participant in the political process," they said.
"As Catholics," they added, "we are not free to abandon unborn children because they are seen as unwanted or inconvenient; to turn our backs on immigrants because they lack the proper documents; to turn away from poor women and children because the lack economic or political power. Nor can we neglect international responsibilities because the Cold War is over...No polls or focus groups can release us from the responsibility to speak up for the voiceless, to act in accord with our moral convictions."
The bishops highlight themes of Catholic social teaching that shape Catholic thinking about public policy issues.
"We believe that every human life is sacred from conception to natural death; that people are more important than things; and that the measure of every institution is whether or not it enhances the life and dignity of the human person," they said.
The bishops explore how this teaching has been applied to specific issues under the headings of Protecting Human Life, Promoting Family Life, Pursuing Social Justice, and Practicing Global Solidarity.
The bishops also stressed that Catholic participation did not mean all vote alike.
"We do not seek the formation of a religious voting block. Nor do we wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates," they said. "We hope that voters will examine the position of candidates on the full range of issues, as well as on their personal integrity, philosophy and performance. We are convinced that a consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework from which to address all issues in the political arena. We urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not simply party affiliation or mere self-interest."
Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that the Church can make its voice heard without endorsing a particular candidate.
"The challenge for our church is to be principled without being ideological, to be political without being partisan," Bishop Fiorenza said.
The bishops said that the year 2000 can be a turning point for public life in the United States.
"We must challenge all parties and every candidate to defend human life and dignity, to pursue greater justice and peace, to uphold family life, and to advance the common good," they said.
They urged specific steps for political involvement.
"We hope parishes, dioceses, schools, and other Catholic institutions will encourage active participation through non-partisan voter registration and education efforts," they said, "As Catholics we need to share our values, raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society which protects human life, promotes family life, pursues social justice and practices solidarity. These efforts will strengthen our nation and renew our Church."
Faithful Citizenship is available on the World Wide Web at www.nccbuscc.org/faithfulcitizenship.
Those who wish to order Faithful Citizenship in its official published format, can contact the USCC Publishing Services, 800-235-8722 (in the Washington metropolitan area or from outside the United States, 202-722-8716). English: No. 5-355; Spanish: No. 5-831. 28-page book. $1.25 per copy; quantity discounts are available. Payment should include an additional 10 percent shipping and handling per order ($3.00 minimum). Coming soon: English brochure, 5-360; Spanish brochure, 5-834; kit, 5-361; and video, 5-367.