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Catholic voters should approach elections and politics with an emphasis on the spiritual and moral as well as the economic and political. We must protect human life, promote family life, pursue social justice and practice global solidarity.

Catholic Update

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A condensed version of
Faithful Citizenship:
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 left behind.

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 political life.

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?"

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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 benefit.

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 threats.

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 this principle.

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 common good.

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 beyond?

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)

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