WASHINGTON (June 23, 2006)—In a report to the Catholic Bishops of the United States, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians which he headed for the past three years had helped provide a useful framework for the future but much work still remains to be done.
The Task Force was formed, at Cardinal McCarrick's suggestion, to help the Bishops address the reality of Catholics in political life who consistently seem to reject fundamental Catholic principles in their public actions. "It is important to remember that this is not about one election or one campaign," he said. "It is about how we as bishops faithfully fulfill our responsibilities as moral teachers, as caring pastors and as leaders of the Catholic community within a democratic and pluralistic nation."
Cardinal McCarrick's report on the work of the Task Force was made at the Bishops' Spring meeting in Los Angeles, June 15-17.
He said the primary role of the Task Force was expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est in which the Holy Father said "The Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice."
"We all recognize we have much work to do," Cardinal McCarrick said. "Too many Catholics—in and out of political life—do not know or do not understand what the Church teaches and why. Some may know our policy positions, but not the moral principles or teaching that lead to these public commitments. Sadly, some Catholic legislators may know our teaching, but choose party over faith and political advantage over Catholic teaching, thereby pursuing public policies divorced from fundamental moral principles."
"In the face of these real challenges, we believe our earlier Task Force report and our common statement on Catholics in Political Life, overwhelmingly adopted in Denver, taken together with the Doctrinal Note and the statements, Living the Gospel of Life and Faithful Citizenship offer the best framework for the future," the Cardinal said. "Bishops around the country are using and building on these statements."
Cardinal McCarrick emphasized that the Task Force has always insisted that there is no substitute for the local bishop's pastoral judgment and his vital relationships with Catholic public officials in his own diocese. He said "bishops can come to different prudential and pastoral judgments in this area. Our modest task has been to offer assistance and tools to help bishops carry out our duties, reflecting our unity in our teaching and respecting diversity in pastoral practice in a spirit of genuine collegiality."
In his report, Cardinal McCarrick summarized some of the actions undertaken by the Task Force to help the bishops teach about Catholics and political life and to promote dialogue and maintain communication:
--The Task Force developed the first comprehensive book of "Readings on Catholics and Political Life," which has been distributed to every Catholic Representative and Senator on Capitol Hill. The book is being used by many bishops for dialogue at the local level.
--It has met separately with several Democratic and Republican Catholic members of the House and a number of Catholic Republican and Democratic Senators at their request.
--It recommended that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) host periodic education/formation sessions on Catholic teaching. (An initial session was held June 20 for members of Congress on the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, with nearly 30 Catholic members of the House and Senate in attendance).
Cardinal McCarrick recalled that another commitment of the Task Force was to help bishops carry out the policy of not giving awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for actions which fundamentally contradict Catholic teaching. In order to advance this effort, the Task Force and the USCCB Domestic Policy Committee has met with leaders of Catholic health care, Catholic charities, and with a number of presidents of Catholic colleges and universities. The Task Force has asked the Subcommittee on Bishops and Catholic College and University Presidents to continue this discussion within Catholic higher education.
"No Task Force or Washington activity can take the place of vital, principled, candid and respectful relationships between a bishop and Catholic public officials who serve and live in his diocese," the Cardinal said.
In concluding remarks after his report, Cardinal McCarrick shared "a concern and a hope."
"My concern is the fear that the intense polarization and bitter battles of partisan politics may be seeping into the broader ecclesial life of our Catholic people and maybe even of our Conference. We are called to teach the truth, to correct errors and to call one another to greater faithfulness. However, there should be no place in the Body of Christ for the brutality of partisan politics, the impugning of motives, or turning differences in pastoral judgment into fundamental disagreements on principle. Civility and mutual respect which we must witness are not signs of weakness or lack of commitment, but solid virtues which reflect confidence and faith."
"And finally, a hope," the Cardinal continued. "We need more, not fewer Catholics in political life, more 'faithful citizens' fundamentally committed to the defense of human life and working to apply the Church's option for the poor, our teaching on family, our principles on war and peace and our call to welcome the stranger."
NOTE: The full text of the report, "Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians" by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick can be found on the Web at www.usccb.org/bishops/mccarrickrpt6-06.shtml