A condensed version of
A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility
The U.S. bishops offer Catholic principles to voters
Elections are a time for debate and and decisions about the leaders, policies
and values that will guide our nation. Since the last presidential election and our last
reflection on faithful citizenship, our nation has been attacked by terrorists and has
gone to war twice. We have moved from how to share budget surpluses to how to allocate
the burdens of deficits. As we approach the elections of 2004, we face difficult challenges
for our nation and world.
Our nation has been wounded. September 11 and what followed have 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 also ethical, moral and spiritual. We
face fundamental questions of life and death, war and peace, who moves ahead and who is
Our Church is also working to heal wounds. Our community of faith and especially
we, as bishops, are working to face our responsibility and take all necessary steps to
overcome the hurt, damage and loss of trust resulting from the evil of clerical sexual
abuse. While working to protect children and rebuild trust, we must not abandon the Church's
important role in public life and the duty to encourage Catholics to act on our faith in
These times and this election will test us as American Catholics. A renewed
commitment to faithful citizenship can help heal the wounds of our nation, world and Church.
What we have endured has changed many things, but it has not changed the fundamental mission
and message of Catholics in public life. Politics cannot be merely about ideological conflict,
the search for partisan advantage or political contributions. It should be about fundamental
moral choices. How do we protect human life and dignity? How do we fairly share the blessings
and burdens of the challenges we face? What kind of nation do we want to be? What kind
of world do we want to shape?
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?"
Tasks and questions for believers
As we approach the elections of 2004, we renew our call 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.
People of good will and sound faith can disagree about specific applications
of Catholic principles. However, Catholics in public life have a particular responsibility
to bring together consistently their faith, moral principles and public responsibilities.
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, 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.
Our Church does not offer contributions or endorsements. Instead, we raise
a series of questions, seeking to help lift up the moral and human dimensions of the choices
facing voters and candidates.
Themes of Catholic social teaching
Life and dignity of the human person. Every human person is created
in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, each person's life and dignity must be respected,
whether that person is an innocent unborn child in a mother's womb, whether that person
worked in the World Trade Center or a market in Baghdad, or even whether that person is
a convicted criminal on death row.
Call to family, community and participation. The human person is not
only sacred, but also social. The God-given institutions of marriage—a lifelong commitment
between a man and a woman—and family are central and serve as the foundations for social
life. Marriage and family should be supported and strengthened, not undermined.
Rights and responsibilities. Every person has a fundamental right
to life—the right that makes all other rights possible. Each person also has a right to
the conditions for living a decent life—faith and family life, food and shelter, education
and employment, health care and housing.
Option for the poor and vulnerable. The Church calls on all of us
to embrace this preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, to embody it in our lives
and to work to have it shape public policies and priorities. A fundamental measure of our
society is how we care for and stand with the poor and vulnerable.
Dignity of work and the rights of workers. Work is more than a way
to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God's act of creation. If
the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers, owners and others
must be respected—the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and
choose to join a union, to economic initiative and to ownership and private property.
Solidarity. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking
world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.
Caring for God's creation. The world that God created has been entrusted
to us. Our use of it must be directed by God's plan for creation, not simply for our own
These themes help us to resist excessive self-interest, blind partisanship
and ideological agendas. They also help us avoid extreme distortions of pluralism and tolerance
that deny any fundamental values and dismiss the contributions and convictions of believers.
As the Vatican's statement on public life explains, we cannot accept an understanding of
pluralism and tolerance that suggests "every possible outlook on life [is] of equal value."
Key issues for the future
We wish to call special attention to issues that we believe are important
in the national debate in this campaign and in the years to come.
Protecting human life
Human life is a gift from God, sacred and inviolable. Because every human person is created
in the image and likeness of God, we have a duty to defend human life from conception
until natural death and in every condition.
We urge Catholics and others to promote laws and social policies that protect
human life and promote human dignity to the maximum degree possible. Laws that legitimize
abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are profoundly unjust and immoral. We support
constitutional protection for unborn human life, as well as legislative efforts to end
abortion and euthanasia. We encourage the passage of laws and programs that promote childbirth
and adoption over abortion and assist pregnant women and children.
We support aid to those who are sick and dying by encouraging health-care
coverage for all as well as effective palliative care. We call on government and medical
researchers to base their decisions regarding biotechnology and human experimentation on
respect for the inherent dignity and inviolability of human life from its very beginning,
regardless of the circumstances of its origin.
Catholic teaching calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect
the right to life by preventing conflicts from arising, to resolve them by peaceful means,
and to promote post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. All nations have a right
and duty to defend human life and the common good against terrorism, aggression and similar
In the aftermath of September 11, we called for continuing outreach to those
who had been harmed, clear resolve in responding to terror, moral restraint in the means
used, respect for ethical limits on the use of force, greater focus on the roots of terror
and a serious effort to share fairly the burdens of this response.
While military force as a last resort can sometimes be justified to defend
against aggression and similar threats to the common good, we have raised serious moral
concerns and questions about preemptive or preventive use of force. Even when military
force is justified, it must be discriminate and proportionate.
Society has a right and duty to defend itself against violent crime and a
duty to reach out to victims of crime. Yet our nation's increasing reliance on the death
penalty cannot be justified. We do not teach that killing is wrong by killing those who
kill others. Pope John Paul II has said the penalty of death is "both cruel and unnecessary."
Promoting family life
God established the family as the basic cell of human society. Therefore, we must strive
to make the needs and concerns of families a central national priority. Marriage must
be protected as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman and our laws should reflect
Children must be protected and nurtured. We affirm our commitment to the
protection of children in all settings and at all times, and we support policies that ensure
that the well-being of all children is safeguarded.
The education of children is a fundamental parental responsibility. Parents—the
first and most important educators—have a fundamental right to choose the education best
suited to the needs of their children, including private and religious schools. Families
of modest means especially should not be denied this choice because of their economic status.
We support regulation that limits the concentration of control over the media;
disallows sales of media outlets that attract irresponsible owners primarily seeking a
profit; and opens these outlets to a greater variety of program sources, including religious
programming. We support a TV rating system and technology that assist parents in supervising
what their children view. The Internet must be accessible for students of all income levels,
yet we vigorously support efforts to limit its dangers.
Pursuing social justice
Our faith reflects God's special concern for the poor and vulnerable and calls us to make
their needs our first priority in public life.
We support policies that create jobs for all who can work with decent working
conditions and adequate pay that reflects a living wage. We also support efforts to overcome
barriers to equal pay and employment for women and those facing unjust discrimination.
We reaffirm the Church's traditional support of the right of workers to choose to organize,
join a union, bargain collectively and exercise these rights without reprisal. We also
affirm the Church's teaching on the importance of economic freedom, initiative and the
right to private property, through which we have the tools and resources to pursue the
The measure of welfare reform should be reducing poverty and dependency,
not cutting resources and programs. Welfare reform has focused on providing work and training,
mostly in low-wage jobs. Other forms of support are necessary, including tax credits, health
care, child-care and safe, affordable housing. Because we believe that families need help
with the costs of raising children, we support increasing child tax credits and making
them fully refundable.
We welcome efforts to recognize and support the work of faith-based groups
not as a substitute for, but as a partner with, government efforts. We are also concerned
about the income security of low- and average-wage workers and their families when they
retire, become disabled or die. In many cases, women are particularly disadvantaged. Any
proposal to change Social Security must provide a decent and reliable income for these
workers and their dependents.
Affordable and accessible health care is an essential safeguard of human
life, a fundamental human right and an urgent national priority. We need to reform the
nation's health-care system, and this reform must be rooted in values that respect human
dignity, protect human life and meet the needs of the poor and uninsured.
The lack of safe, affordable housing is a national crisis. We continue to
oppose unjust discrimination or unjust exclusion in housing and support measures to help
ensure that financial institutions meet the credit needs of local communities.
The first priority for agriculture policy should be food security for all.
Our support for Food Stamps, the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
(WIC) and other programs that directly benefit poor and low-income people is based on our
belief that no one should face hunger in a land of plenty. Those who grow our food should
be able to make a decent living and maintain their way of life. Rural communities deserve
help so that they can continue to be sources of strength and support for a way of life
that enriches our nation. Our priority concern for the poor calls us to advocate especially
for the needs of farm workers.
The gospel mandate to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger leads the
Church to care for and stand with immigrants, both documented and undocumented. While respecting
national security concerns, we seek basic protections for immigrants, including due process
rights, access to basic public benefits and fair naturalization and legalization opportunities.
All persons, by virtue of their dignity as human persons, have an inalienable
right to receive a quality education. We must ensure that our nation's young people, especially
the poor, those with disabilities and the most vulnerable, are properly prepared to be
good citizens, to lead productive lives and to be socially and morally responsible in the
complicated and technologically challenging world of the 21st century.
We also support providing salaries and benefits to all teachers and administrators
that reflect the principles of economic justice, as well as providing the resources necessary
for teachers to be academically and personally prepared for the critical tasks they face.
Our society must also continue to combat discrimination based on sex, race,
ethnicity, disabling condition or age. In the words of Pope John Paul II, care for the
earth and for the environment is a "moral issue." The United States should lead the developed
nations in contributing to the sustainable development of poorer nations and greater justice
in sharing the burden of environmental neglect and recovery.
Practicing global solidarity
September 11 has given us a new sense of vulnerability. However, we must be careful not
to define our security primarily in military terms. Our nation must join with others
in addressing policies and problems that provide fertile ground in which terrorism can
thrive. No injustice legitimizes the horror we have experienced. But a more just world
will be a more peaceful world.
As the world's sole superpower, the United States also has an unprecedented
opportunity to work in partnership with others to build a system of cooperative security
that will lead to a more united and more just world.
Faith and citizenship
We urge all Catholics to register, vote and become more involved in public
life, to protect human life and dignity and to advance the common good.
As an institution, the Church is called to be political but not partisan.
Our cause is the protection of the weak and vulnerable and defense of human life and dignity,
not a particular party or candidate.
The Church is called to be engaged but not used. We welcome dialogue with
political leaders and candidates, seeking to engage and persuade public officials. But
we must be sure that events and "photo-ops" are not substitutes for work on policies that
reflect our values.
The call to faithful citizenship raises a fundamental question for all of
us. What does it mean to be a Catholic living in the United States in the year 2004 and
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.
Catholic Update's condensed version of the bishops' statement seeks
only to highlight the key themes of Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political
Responsibility. The statement is available in full text from the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops, 800-235-8722, or on the Internet at www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship.
This document is adapted from Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call
to Political Responsibility, copyright 2003, United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops. Provided by Catholic News Service. Used with permission.
NEXT: What Is 'Just War' Today? (by Thomas A.Shannon)