WASHINGTON (November 14, 2007)– The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) today overwhelmingly approved a statement called Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States. The statement urges Catholics to be involved in public life and to use the values of their faith to shape their political choice. It was approved at the bishops' general meeting in Baltimore, November 12-15.
"In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote," the bishops explain. "Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God's truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election."
The church's role in helping Catholics to form their consciences is a central theme of the document. "With this foundation," the bishops explain, "Catholics are better able to evaluate policy positions, party platforms, and candidates' promises and action in light of the Gospel and the moral and social teaching of the Church in order to help build a better world."
The bishops affirm their legitimate role in public life. "The obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to [our] mission," they state. "Our nation's tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions and concerns into public life."
Respect for the dignity of every human being is a foundation for Catholic teaching about "faithful citizenship." The statement explains the necessity of opposing actions that are intrinsically wrong, such as abortion and euthanasia, because these actions involve directly and
intentionally ending an innocent human life. It also affirms the obligation to promote the common good by combating such threats to human life and dignity as hunger, poverty, racism, unjust immigration policies, and unjust war. "Both opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations."
The bishops warn of two temptations for Catholics in public life. "The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life…is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed." A second temptation involves "dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, torture, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or lack health care, or unjust immigration policies are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act."
The bishops call Catholics to a different kind of political engagement shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable." They add, "Participation in political life in light of fundamental moral principles is an essential duty for every Catholic and all people of good will."
The bishops also acknowledge the challenges faced by Catholic voters. "Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church's comprehensive commitment to the dignity of the human person." They add, "As Catholics we are not single issues voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support. Yet a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support."
Despite these challenges, the statement urges Catholics "to become more involved: running for office, working within political parties, and communicating concerns to elected officials." It suggests that Catholics should be "guided more by our moral convictions than by our
attachment to a political party or interest group." As they prepare for the elections, the statement says "Catholic voters should use Catholic teaching to examine candidates' positions on issues and should consider candidates' integrity, philosophy, and performance."
According to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the bishop of Brooklyn who led an broad consultation process to develop the new statement, an extensive effort will be undertaken to distribute the statement as well as a bulletin insert summarizing the statement that was also approved by the bishops. Also planned are a DVD on Faithful Citizenship" and a Web site offering resources for parishes, schools, religious education programs, youth groups, young adult groups, and many others. "But the most important next step will be what we bishops do to teach and lead our people in our dioceses," DiMarzio stated.
The Faithful Citizenship statement concludes with a "call for a renewed kind of politics:
o Focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls;
o Focused more on the needs of the weak than on benefits for the strong;
o Focused more on the pursuit of the common good than on the demands of narrow interests.
"This kind of political participation," the bishops claim, "reflects the social teaching of our Church and the best traditions of our nation."