The Editors

Last week the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its quadrennial statement on political responsibility, Faithful Citizenship. These statements, published since 1976 one year in advance of the presidential elections (to avoid even the appearance of partisanship), have provided guidelines for conscientious voters and an overview of the public issues on which the bishops offer moral guidance. The statements also recognize that there is room for legitimate disagreement over specific applications of moral principles.

 

This year’s statement is a call to Catholics to commit themselves to a politics of the common good—a refreshing idea in a culture of interest group politics and partisan maneuvering. As they did in last year’s statement on poverty, the bishops capture the Catholic social vision with the biblical image of “the table,” an image of inclusion for those who are denied access to the banquet of life: the unborn, the poor at home and abroad, the victims of terrorism and war and those persecuted for their religious beliefs or conscientious convictions. Tellingly, the bishops acknowledge that the politics of the common good often makes Catholics “feel politically homeless, sensing that no political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity.”

Neither political party adequately meets the public moral challenges of our day. Any position of prominence in the Democratic Party seems to require groveling before the pro-choice banner; and the New Democrats, while providing some needed reforms, have supplied little support for workers and for the poor at home and abroad. The Republican Party, while voting in Congress to eliminate partial birth abortion, united behind a pro-choice celebrity candidate in California in order to win the governorship. The embrace of the death penalty and enthusiasm for war-making on the part of many Republicans hardly qualifies their party as a champion of human life. Some would reject anything but the most minimalist role of government in seeking the common good.

How might Catholics overcome their unease with today’s political alignments? One way would be for more committed Catholics to enter politics to work for justice. Another would be for justice and peace and pro-life groups to become visible and vocal participants in candidates’ meetings, party hearings and legislators’ visits to their home districts. Still another would be to increase participation among Catholics in that problematic but vital element of political life, the funding of candidates. Finally, as ward politics gives way to infotainment, Catholics in the media, who are so prominent among our nation’s talking heads, should look for ways to promote the common good rather than to hype politics as bloodsport. Being champions of the Catholic vision in public life would be a much needed service to both church and state.

One option the bishops seem to reject is single-issue politics. A Catholic moral framework, they observe, “does not easily fit the ideologies of ‘right’ or ‘left,’ nor the platform of any party.” They cite the recent Vatican declaration on public life. “A political commitment to an isolated single aspect of the church’s social doctrine,” it says, “does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.” “The central question” of this election season, the bishops write, should be “How can ‘we’, all of us, especially the weak and the vulnerable, be better off in the years ahead?”

Besides challenging Catholics to participate in the political process this election season, Faithful Citizenship offers a short list of the leading themes of Catholic social teaching, a review of issues on which the bishops believe Catholics ought to be engaged and a bibliography of relevant statements by the bishops’ conference. The text, available from the U.S.C.C.B. publications office in both full and brochure formats, should be made available in church vestibules and parish libraries, and parish religious educators should make it a topic for adult education. The statement also is available on the U.S.C.C.B. Web site. If citizens and candidates debated the bishops’ document, political discourse in our country would reach a much higher level.

Pastors and preachers must make their congregations aware of Faithful Citizenship. They are the first line in educating the Catholic public about church teaching. Parishioners want to know what their church is saying about public issues. Too often people are ignorant of what the bishops are saying simply because no one has called attention to the issues from the pulpit. Pastors should not fear that speaking about Catholics’ electoral responsibilities will provoke unneeded controversy. The reasoned Catholic approach to politics, with its consistent moral vision of the common good rooted in the Gospel, does not threaten anyone’s religious or political freedom. Instead, it aims to uphold justice and dignity for all.

Comments

Robert E. McNulty | 10/29/2003 - 11:12pm
You are, of course,entitled to your opinion, but shouldn't it be based upon facts?

The Republican Party did not unite behind a celebrity candidate who is pro-choice in order to win the California governorship. A conservative Republican state senator drew 15% of the vote the third highest total.

The celebrity won after recall of the Democratic Catholic incumbent, even more strongly pro-abortion. He then in this heavily Democratic state beat the incumbent Democratic lieutenant governor. Apparently the celebrity won by gaining votes across the spectrum, including the Democratic attorney-general.

Kevin Callahan | 10/24/2003 - 10:59am
I am absolutely incredulous over the ability of the Catholic Bishops to write about the political obligations of the Catholic citizen when they cannot honestly confront and deal with the mess in their own house.

Until the UCCB comes to grips with the dysfunction in their organization and until the heirarchy changes the organizational model upon which it is built, educated and intelligent Catholics will not pay much heed to their pronouncements.

Laverne Neuman | 2/7/2007 - 3:52pm
Your editorial “The Bishops’ Platform” (10/27) sure caught my attention, but probably not for the reasons you intended. Early in the editorial you refer to “the biblical image of ‘the table,’ an image of inclusion.” Not so. Not entirely.

The bishops use biblical imagery selectively. Their documents are peppered with such images, and very often they are one-liners taken out of context.

We Catholics do not have an inclusive table. You have to qualify. And hunger and thirst are not sufficient qualifications. A non-Catholic spouse, who faithfully attends Mass, contributes money, supports the social life of the parish but chooses or does not feel called to go through the ritual of Christian initiation and be baptized, cannot join the community and his or her partner at the eucharistic table.

Interfaith couples know this pain all too well, particularly when they see the vacuous eyes, the disinterested shuffle, the casual taking of the Eucharist by what appear to be uncatechized folks, who casually receive Communion, while the nonbaptized spouse cannot.

If the table were truly spread in love and charity, we would let the consumed Spirit do the work rather than worry so much about who comes forward.

Robert E. McNulty | 10/29/2003 - 11:12pm
You are, of course,entitled to your opinion, but shouldn't it be based upon facts?

The Republican Party did not unite behind a celebrity candidate who is pro-choice in order to win the California governorship. A conservative Republican state senator drew 15% of the vote the third highest total.

The celebrity won after recall of the Democratic Catholic incumbent, even more strongly pro-abortion. He then in this heavily Democratic state beat the incumbent Democratic lieutenant governor. Apparently the celebrity won by gaining votes across the spectrum, including the Democratic attorney-general.

Kevin Callahan | 10/24/2003 - 10:59am
I am absolutely incredulous over the ability of the Catholic Bishops to write about the political obligations of the Catholic citizen when they cannot honestly confront and deal with the mess in their own house.

Until the UCCB comes to grips with the dysfunction in their organization and until the heirarchy changes the organizational model upon which it is built, educated and intelligent Catholics will not pay much heed to their pronouncements.

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