by Gail Quinn
June 2, 2006
I live a stone's throw from Washington, D.C. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that conversations everywhere, public and private, seem to focus on politics and elections. The election de jour may be the one just held (we dissect it), one that is imminent, or, increasingly, the presidential election two-plus years from now. Lately the focus has been on potential candidates' electability.
Clearly, this trend is out of control.
Instead of elections, we could discuss issues. There are a host of important issues to be informed about and discuss. Of course, many are complex and often controversial. So instead we smile a lot and remain quiet.
In fairness, the news media do address the issues of the day. They talk about border security, whether those in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to apply for citizenship, embryonic stem cell research, the war in Iraq, lack of health insurance for so many. While such coverage undoubtedly includes some factual information, it almost inevitably adopts the bias of the storyteller. Take the issue of embryonic stem cell research. News stories tend to focus on hoped for, only hypothetical cures from embryonic research for some of the most difficult diseases and conditions. There is no evidence on which to base such hope at this time, but researchers hope there will be someday. The stories rarely explain that living human embryos here and now must be killed to get their cells. They don't acknowledge that all the treatments and cures from stem cell research have come from adult stem cell therapies, not from embryonic research. The bias creeps into adjectives: Embryonic research is promising. Abortion is a choice. Neither is about killing.
As citizens, we have a responsibility to reflect seriously on the critical challenges and threats of our day. As Catholics we need to do a bit more. We must take the time to study what the Church teaches on these issues, and why it teaches what it does. Whether the issue is one of immigration policy, same-sex marriage, abortion or assisted suicide, the Church's teachings will guide us to develop a well-formed conscience. It will help us distinguish self-centered interests from service to the common good.
Before the next presidential election, we have two years to learn more about the serious issues facing our nation. Sources that might help include the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops' website, www.usccb.org, from which one can explore a department or the Conference's publications. For example, www.usccb.org/prolife takes you to the Church's teachings on abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, embryonic stem cell research. There you can also find the text of Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, a statement of the U.S. Catholic bishops that addresses concerns of Catholic voters. Also visit www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship to find a document updated and released every four years by the USCCB Administrative Committee to assist Catholic voters.
Become informed. Stop just smiling. Instead, smile and speak out.
Gail Quinn is Executive Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.