WASHINGTON (November 16, 1999) -- The U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference is mounting a major campaign to encourage Catholic participation in the 2000 elections. In their statement, Faithful Citizenship, the Administrative Board of the bishops insist "in the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is an obligation." They urge Catholics to help shape a political process "more respectful of human life and dignity, and more committed to justice and peace."
The bishops conference is organizing is an ambitious program of education and involvement focused on "Faithful Citizenship." At their annual meeting in Washington this week, the bishops approved as part of their 2000 budget an unusual "special exception" of more than $100,000 to develop tools for diocesan and parish political participation. The Bishops' conference will mail "Faithful Citizen" kits to almost 20,000 parishes encouraging nonpartisan programs of voter registration, education and involvement. These efforts will include a pamphlet on faithful citizenship for individual Catholics, a video on civic responsibility, and a set of resources and election "do's and don'ts' for parishes.
Sixteen national Catholic offices --ranging from education to pro-life, Hispanic Catholics to family life-- will be mobilizing their communities to share and act on the message of Faithful Citizenship in their own gatherings, communications and other activities. Many dioceses will be conducting nonpartisan voter registration and education activities, including hosting nonpartisan candidates nights and developing and distributing issue questionnaires.
In their statement on political responsibility, the bishops' Board said they seek "not a religious voting bloc", but "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."
Faithful Citizenship, which was adopted unanimously by the bishops' 50-member Administrative Board in September, outlines 10 questions for candidates and citizens in the coming debates and decisions. These questions begin with the treatment of unborn children and extend to the challenges of poverty, health care, education, family life, capital punishment and America's role in the world.
In their statement, the bishops remind Catholics of the responsibilities and limits of religious organizations in public life. The statement also outlines key themes of Catholic social teaching and summarizes Catholic teaching on key policy priorities including protecting human life, preserving family life, promoting social justice, and practicing global solidarity. The statement calls Catholics to be a community of conscience, testing every party, platform and candidate by how they defend human life and dignity, how they serve the poor and vulnerable, and how they advance the common good.
"We hope the campaigns and elections of the year 2000 become turning points in our democracy, leading to more participation and less cynicism, more civil dialogue on fundamental issues and less partisan posturing and attack ads," the statement explains. "Let us turn to a new century with renewed commitment to active citizenship."