Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Bringing Moral Vision
to Public Life
One of our greatest blessings in the United
States is our right and responsibility to participate in civic life.
The Constitution protects the right of individuals and of religious
bodies to speak out without governmental interference, endorsement
or sanction. It is increasingly apparent that major public issues
have clear moral dimensions and that religious values have significant
public consequences. Our nation is enriched and our tradition of
pluralism enhanced when religious groups contribute to the debate
over the policies that guide the nation.
As bishops, it is not only our right as
citizens but our responsibility as religious teachers to speak out
on the moral dimensions of public life.
Catholics are called to be a community
of conscience within the larger society and to test public life
by the moral wisdom anchored in Scripture and consistent with the
best of our nation's founding ideals. Our moral framework does not
easily fit the categories of right or left, Democrat or Republican.
Our responsibility is to measure every party and platform by how
its agenda touches human life and dignity.
In the Catholic tradition, responsible
citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process
is a moral obligation. Every believer is called to faithful citizenship,
to become an informed, active and responsible participant in the
Challenges to believers
Our nation has been blessed with great
freedom, vibrant democratic traditions, unprecedented economic strengths,
abundant natural resources and a generous and religious people.
Yet not all is right with our nation. Our prosperity does not reach
far enough. Our culture does not lift us up; instead it may bring
us down in moral terms. Signs of the challenges surround us: abortion,
poverty (especially among youth), violence, scandal, intense partisanship.
All of these things destroy the lives and dignity of countless thousands.
This new millennium requires a new kind
of politics, focused more on moral principles than on the latest
polls, more on the needs of the poor and vulnerable than the contributions
of the rich and powerful, more on the pursuit of the common good
than the demands of special interests. As Catholics and as voters,
this is not an easy time for faithful citizenship. Faithful citizens
not only consistently participate in public life; they are disciples
who view these responsibilities through the eyes of faith and bring
their moral convictions to their civic life.
Sometimes it seems few candidates and
no party fully reflect our values. But now is not a time for retreat.
The new millennium should be an opportunity for renewed participation.
We must challenge all parties and every candidate to defend human
life and dignity, to pursue greater justice and peace, to uphold
family life and to advance the common good.
What Catholics offer
Catholic teaching offers a consistent
set of moral principles for assessing issues, platforms and campaigns.
Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we start with the dignity
of the human person. Our teaching calls us to protect human life
from conception to natural death, to defend the poor and vulnerable,
and to work toward a more just society and a more peaceful world.
No polls or focus groups can release us from the responsibility
to speak up for the voiceless, to act in accord with our moral convictions.
The Catholic community also offers its
own firsthand experience. Through our many Catholic institutions
we have broad experience serving those in need. We know the needs
of the poor.
Finally, the Catholic community is large
and diverse. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We
are members of every race, come from every ethnic background and
live in urban, rural and suburban communities. We are CEO's and
migrant farm workers, senators and persons on public assistance,
business owners and union members. But we are all called to a common
commitment to protect human life and stand with those who are poor
Thus, we bishops wish to suggest some
issues which we believe are important in the national debate.
Protecting human life
Human life is a gift from God, sacred
and inviolable. This is the teaching that calls us to protect and
respect every human life from conception until natural death. 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 wrong.
We support constitutional protection
for unborn human life, as well as legislative efforts to oppose
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 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.
The Church has always sought to have
conflicts resolved by peaceful means between and among nations.
Church teaching calls on us to avoid and to limit the effects of
war in many different ways. Thus, direct and intentional attacks
on civilians in war are never morally acceptable, nor is the use
of weapons of mass destruction or other weapons that cannot distinguish
between civilians and soldiers.
War, genocide and starvation threaten
the lives of millions throughout the world. We support programs
and policies that promote peace and sustainable development for
the world's poor. We urge our nation to join the treaty to ban anti-personnel
land mines and to promptly ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
as a step toward much deeper cuts in and the eventual elimination
of nuclear weapons. We further urge our nation to take more serious
steps to reduce its own disproportionate role in the scandalous
global trade in arms.
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
is extremely troubling. It has become clear, as Pope John Paul II
has taught, that inflicting the penalty of death is cruel and unnecessary.
Promoting family life
We must strive to make the needs and
concerns of families a central national priority. Marriage as God
intended it provides the basic foundation for family life and needs
to be protected in the face of the many pressures working to undermine
it. Tax, workplace, divorce and welfare policies must be designed
to help families stay together and to reward responsibility and
sacrifice for children. Just wages should be paid to those who support
their families. Special efforts should be taken to aid poor families.
The education of children is a fundamental
parental responsibility. All parentsthe first, most important
educatorsshould have the opportunity to exercise their fundamental
right to choose the education best suited to the needs of their
children, including private and religious schools.
Communications, whether print media,
radio, television or Internet, play a growing role in society and
family life, shaping the values of our culture. We support regulation
that limits the concentration of control over these media; disallows
quick sales of media outlets that attract irresponsible owners seeking
a quick profit; and opens these outlets to a greater variety of
program sources, including religious programming. We support the
development of the TV rating system and of the technology that assists
parents' TV supervision.
The Internet, since it offers vastly
expanded capabilities for learning and communicating, should be
available to all students regardless of income. Because it poses
a serious danger by giving easy access to pornographic and violent
material, we support vigorous enforcement of existing obscenity
and child pornography laws with regard to material on the Internet,
as well as efforts by the industry to develop technology that assists
parents, schools and libraries in blocking out unwanted material.
Pursuing social justice
In accordance with God's plan for human
society, we are called to commit ourselves to protect and promote
the life and dignity of the human person and the common good of
society as a whole. We must always remember God's special concern
for the poor and vulnerable and make their needs our first priority
in public life. We are concerned about a wide range of social issues:
Economic issues. Church teaching
on economic justice insists that economic decisions and institutions
be judged on whether they protect or undermine the dignity of the
human person. We support policies that create jobs with adequate
pay and decent working conditions, increase the minimum wage so
it becomes a living wage and overcome barriers to equal pay and
employment for women and minorities.
Labor. We reaffirm the Church's
traditional teaching in support of the right of all workers to choose
to organize and bargain collectively and to exercise these rights
without reprisal. We also affirm Church teaching on the importance
of economic freedom, initiative and the right to private property,
which provide resources to pursue the common good.
Poverty. Efforts to provide for
the basic financial needs of poor families and children must enhance
their lives and dignity. The goal should be reducing poverty and
dependency, not simply cutting resources and programs. We seek approaches
that promote greater responsibility and offer concrete steps to
help families leave poverty behind.
Social Security. 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 those who depend on them.
Health care. Affordable and accessible
health care is an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental
human right. We support health care that is affordable and accessible
Housing. The lack of safe, affordable
housing is a national crisis. We support a recommitment to the national
pledge of "safe and affordable housing" for all and effective policies
that will increase the supply of quality housing and preserve, maintain
and improve existing housing.
Farm policy. The first priority
for agriculture policy should be food security for all. Food is
not like any other commodity: It is necessary for life itself. Our
support for food stamps, the Women, Infant and Children program
(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. Farmers deserve a decent return for their labor.
Our priority concern for the poor calls us to advocate especially
for the needs of farm workers whose pay is often inadequate and
whose housing and working conditions are often deplorable. We also
urge that public policies support the practice of sustainable agriculture
and careful stewardship of the earth and its natural resources.
Environment. Care for the earth
and for the environment is a "moral challenge" in the words of Pope
John Paul II (1990 World Day of Peace Message). We support policies
that protect the land, water and air we share, and encourage environmental
protection, sustainable development and greater justice in sharing
the burdens of environmental neglect and recovery.
Immigration. The gospel mandate
to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger leads the Church to
care for immigrants, both documented and undocumented.
Violence. This concern leads us
to promote a greater sense of moral responsibility, to advocate
a reduction in violence in the media, to support gun safety measures
and reasonable restrictions on access to assault weapons and handguns
and to oppose the death penalty.
Discrimination. Our society must
also combat discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity or age.
Such discrimination constitutes a grave injustice and an affront
to human dignity. We support judiciously administered affirmative-action
programs as tools to overcome discrimination and its continuing
Practicing global solidarity
Since the human family extends across
the globe, our responsibility to promote the common good requires
that we do whatever we can to address human problems wherever they
arise around the world. As a very wealthy and powerful nation, the
United States has a responsibility to help the poor and vulnerable,
promote global economic prosperity and environmental responsibility,
foster stable and peaceful relations among nations and uphold human
rights in the world community.
We urge the United States to provide
debt relief to overcome poverty in the poorest countries, which
are shackled by a debt burden that forces them to divert scarce
resources from health, education and other essential services.
We should play a leading role in helping
to alleviate global poverty through foreign aid programs that support
sustainable development and provide new economic opportunities for
the poor without promoting population control and through trade
policies that are tied to worker protection, human rights and environmental
More concerted efforts to ensure the
promotion of religious liberty and other basic human rights need
to be an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. We also need more
consistent support for the United Nations, other international bodies
and international law.
Persons fleeing persecution should be
provided safe haven in other countries, including the United States.
We urge a more generous immigration and refugee policy based on
providing temporary or permanent safe haven for those in need.
The U.S. should take an affirmative role,
in collaboration with the international community, in addressing
regional conflicts. Assistance in resolving these conflicts must
include a willingness to support international peacekeeping, as
well as long-term post-conflict reconstruction efforts.
Building peace, combating poverty and
despair and protecting freedom and human rights are not only moral
imperatives; they are wise national priorities. Given its enormous
power and influence in world affairs, the United States has a special
responsibility to ensure that it is a force for justice and peace
beyond its borders. "Liberty and justice for all" is not
only a profound national pledge; it is a worthy goal for any world
We hope these reflections will contribute
to a renewed political vitality in our land. We urge all citizens
to register, vote and stay involved in public life, seeking the
common good and renewing our democracy.
As Catholics, we can celebrate the new
millennium by recommitting ourselves to carry the values of the
gospel and Church teaching into the public square. As citizens,
we can and must participate in the debates and choices over the
values, vision and leaders that are taking our nation into the new
century. This dual calling of faith and citizenship is at the heart
of what it means to be a Catholic in the United States.
Next: Understanding Easter (by William
1. Life and dignity of the human person.
Every human person is created in the image and likeness of
God. Human life is sacred and each person has inherent dignity.
Calls to advance human rights are illusions if the right to
life itself is subject to attack.
2. Call to family, community and participation.
The human person is not only sacred but inherently social.
The God-given institutions of marriage and the family are
central and serve as the foundations for social life. They
must be supported, not undermined. Beyond the family, every
person has a right to participate in the wider society and
a corresponding duty to work for the advancement of the common
good and the well-being of all, especially the poor and weak.
3. Rights and responsibilities. As social
beings, our relationships are governed by a web of rights
and corresponding duties. Every person has a fundamental right
to life and a right to those things that allow one to live
a decent lifefaith and family, food and shelter, health
care and housing, education and employment.
4. Option for the poor and vulnerable.
The Bible and the Church call on all of us to embrace a preferential
love of the poor and vulnerable.
5. Dignity of work and the rights of workers.
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. 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 managers must be respected.
6. Solidarity. Because of the interdependence
among all the members of the human family around the globe,
we have a moral responsibility to commit ourselves to the
common good everywhere.
7. Care for God's creation. Our use of
the world must be directed by God's plan for creation, not
simply by our own benefit. Our stewardship of the earth is
a kind of participation in God's act of creating and sustaining