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Some Political Questions From Our Bishops

Every four years our U.S. bishops’ administrative committee publishes a look at current political issues, well before the presidential election. The idea is to help Catholics size up the issues from a moral point of view, informed by our faith.

Last fall they published Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility. Yes, the bishops have plenty of their own problems, but their mission to preach the gospel—including how it affects us in our political interactions—remains.

A look at their key themes will be a refresher course for many Catholics. “A renewed commitment to faithful citizenship,” they write, “can help heal the wounds of our nation, world and Church.”

10 Key Themes

Our bishops begin by asking 10 questions that ought to be on every Catholic voter’s mind as the elections approach. Here they are in somewhat condensed form:

1) How can we build not only a safer, but also a more just world?

2) How will we protect the weakest among us, the unborn, as well as turn from violence as a solution in cases of euthanasia, capital punishment, assisted suicide and war?

3) How do we address hunger, both abroad and at home, from which 30,000 of the world’s children die each day?

4) How can we teach our children to respect life, to have a sense of hope and stewardship? How do we promote good family life, in terms of marriage and of sufficient housing, education and other resources for raising children?

5) How can we get health care to the growing number who don’t have it?

6) How do we combat racism, bigotry and other discrimination?

7) How can we promote values of justice and peace?

8) What are the responsibilities of families, community organizations, markets and government? How can they work together best for everyone’s good?

9) When should our nation either use military force or avoid it?

10) How can we work with other nations to develop a better world?

The bishops conclude their short list with the hope that these questions can lead to “less cynicism and more participation, less partisanship and more civil dialogue on fundamental issues.” Then the document goes into greater detail, that space here does not allow.

Catholics Are Neither Right Nor Left

Here’s the rub in this document: Catholics who are faithful to the teachings of the Church don’t fit neatly into conservative or liberal categories. “At this time some Catholics may feel politically homeless,” write the bishops, “sensing that no political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity.” Catholics tend to be pro-life and anti-death-penalty. We are conservative in moral areas, slow to go to war, quick to find ways to alleviate poverty.

As the bishops say, we are not politically correct. Yet this is no time for retreat, contend the bishops. Rather, they encourage Catholic political activism, whether it be running for office, working for or supporting political parties, community organizations or other activities.

“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.” Faithful citizenship is not a popularity contest!

The bishops do not wish to tell people how to vote; they do want Catholics to have well-informed consciences and to be involved. They want you and me to think carefully about the moral implications of the various proposals, platforms and personalities that are being put before us as the election approaches and vote our consciences.

Faithful Citizenship should be required reading for any Catholic who is part of our political system this year. You may not agree with everything you read, but you will certainly be spurred to think, talk and maybe even to pray about the issues.

If your parish doesn’t have it, you can order a copy of the document from the bishops’ conference by calling 1-800-235-8722. Or you can find it on the Internet at Our own Catholic Update is publishing a condensed version of the document in late February.

Principles for Political Action

The bishops conclude their statement with some principles that should guide all Catholic involvement in the civic arena. We are called to be “political but not partisan,” they say—for the defense of the poor and the dignity of life rather than any candidate or party.

We are called to be “principled but not ideological,” sticking to our basic values but being flexible. We also are called to be “clear but civil.” There is no room for hatefulness or name-calling in the name of Catholicism.

Finally, our bishops tell us to be “engaged but not used.” It’s our job to keep politicians working on policies that reflect our values and the common good.

The key question the bishops ask is: “What does it mean to be a Catholic living in the United States in the year 2004 and beyond?” They point out that we have a “dual calling”: the calling of both faith and citizenship.

Our faith, like our citizenship, draws us one to another. Our faith forms our citizenship; it is not removed from the everyday. As election 2004 approaches, each of us is challenged to put that to work in our political system. J.B.F.

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