WASHINGTON (October 13, 2003) — In an appeal to Catholics to practice "faithful citizenship" in the coming election year, the Aministrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have called for "a new kind of politics—focused on moral principles not on the latest polls, on the needs of the poor and vulnerable not the contributions of the rich and powerful, and on the pursuit of the common good not the demands of special interests."
Declaring "our nation has been wounded," the bishops suggest the reality of the terror of war and economic stress has "taught us that no amount of military strength, economic power, or technological advances can truly guarantee security, prosperity, or progress. The most important challenges we face are not simply political, economic, or technological, but ethical, moral, and spiritual. We face fundamental questions of life and death, war and peace, who moves ahead and who is left behind."
Referring to the clerical sexual abuse scandal, the bishops acknowledge that "our Church is also working to heal wounds." While they strive to "protect children and rebuild trust," the bishops say they cannot abandon "the duty to encourage Catholics to act on our faith in political life."
The bishops insist that "politics in this election year and beyond should be about an old idea with new power—the common good. The central question should not be, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' It should be, "How can 'we'—all of
us, especially the weak and vulnerable—be better off in the years ahead?" Noting the church does not offer political endorsements or contributions, the bishops outline ten questions (see page 3 of text) for the campaign and a set of principles drawn from Catholic social teaching (see page 7 of text) to guide the participation and choices of Catholics.
"In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. All believers are called to faithful citizenship, to become informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process," they said.
"A Catholic moral framework does not easily fit the ideologies of 'right' or, 'left,' nor the platforms of any party," the bishops stated. "Our values are often not 'politically correct.' Believers are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the values of Scripture and the principles of Catholic social teaching. "Our responsibility is to measure all candidates, policies, parties, and platforms by how they protect or undermine the life, dignity, and rights of the human person-whether they protect the poor and vulnerable and advance the common good."
"As Catholics, 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 create and then destroy human lives in a quest for medical advances or profit; to turn away from poor women and children because they lack economic or political power; or to ignore sick people because they have no insurance. Nor can we neglect international responsibilities in the aftermath of war because resources are scarce. Catholic teaching requires us to speak up for the voiceless and to act in accord with universal moral values."
The bishops suggest, "at this time some Catholics may feel politically homeless, sensing that no political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity." "However," they continued, "this is not a time for retreat or discouragement. We need more, not less engagement in political life. We urge Catholics to become more involved—by running for office, by working within political parties; by contributing money or time to campaigns; and by joining diocesan legislative networks, community organizations, and other efforts to apply Catholic principles in the public square."
"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 party affiliation or mere self-interest…As bishops, we do not wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates. We are convinced that a consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework from which to address issues in the political arena," they said.
"For Catholics, the defense of human life and dignity is not a narrow cause, but a way of life and a framework for action," the bishops continue. "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 it protects the life and dignity of the human person." The statement outlines how this teaching has been applied by the Bishops' Conference to specific issues under the themes of "Protecting Human Life, Providing Family Life, Pursuing Social Justice, and Practicing Global Solidarity."
The bishops noted the Catholic community brings to public life broad experience in serving those in need. "Every day the Catholic community educates the young, cares for the sick, shelters the homeless, feeds the hungry, assists needy families, welcomes refugees," they said. On many issues, we speak for those who have no voice. We have practical expertise and daily experience to contribute to the public debate," they said.
"The Catholic community has a presence in virtually every part of the nation, including almost 20,000 parishes, 8,600 schools, 237 colleges and universities, 1,062 hospitals and health care facilities, and 3,044 social service agencies. The Catholic community is the largest non-governmental provider of education, health care, and human services in the United States."
The bishops' statement uses the image of a table to describe the challenges facing our nation and world. "Who has a place at the table of life?" they ask "Where is the place at the table for a million of our nation's children who are destroyed every year before they are born? How can we secure a place at the table for the hungry and those who lack health care in our own land and around the world?" How can the poor in our own land and around the world "have a real place at the table where policies and priorities are set?"
They also remind Catholics that a table—an altar—is "where we gather for worship and where we find the direction and strength to take what we believe into the public square, using our voices and votes to defend life, advance justice, pursue peace, and find a place at the table for all God's children."
"The 2004 elections and the policy choices we will face in the future pose significant challenges for our Church," the Bishops stated. "As an institution, we are called to be political but not partisan. The Church cannot be a chaplain for any one party or cheerleader for any candidate. Our cause is the protection of the weak and vulnerable and defense of human life and dignity, not a particular party or candidate."
With the release of this statement, the bishops are launching a major campaign to share Catholic teaching on faithful citizenship and political responsibility. To help dioceses and parishes share this message, the bishops' Conference will produce a brief brochure summarizing the statement as well as a video message. They will also develop an extensive web site and will provide a wide range of resources, including liturgical and homily ideas, education materials and lesson plans for various age groups, and information on conducting non-partisan voter registration and education programs. Web-based materials will be available in 2004 at www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship. For information on ordering this statement and other materials in 2004, call USCCB Publishing at 800-235-8722.
"We hope parishes, dioceses, schools, colleges and other Catholic institutions will encourage active participation through non-partisan voter registration and education efforts, as well as through ongoing legislative networks and advocacy programs," they said. "As Catholics we need to share our values, raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society that protects human life, pursues social justice, and practices solidarity. These efforts can strengthen our nation and renew our Church."
The bishops declare this "dual calling of faith and citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic in the United States. Faithful citizenship calls us to seek 'a place at the table' of life for all God's children in the elections of 2004 and beyond."
The USCCB's Administrative Committee, comprised of 47 bishops under the leadership of the Conference's president, acts as the organization's board of trustees. It is primarily charged with carrying on the work of the organization between the plenary sessions of the full body of bishops.
Faithful Citizenship is available on the web www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship/index.htm.