Matt Malone, S.J.
The draft document emphasizes formation of conscience.
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Aided by the moral teaching of the church, U.S. Catholics should carefully form their consciences in order to participate in public life, according to a draft document on faith and citizenship prepared by the Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and made available to America. If approved, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility will be the latest in a series of documents published during presidential election cycles that provide a summary of relevant church teachings on social justice and political activity.

The document argues that all Catholics have a moral obligation to participate in political life. In forming their consciences for faithful citizenship, the statement reads, Catholics should cultivate the desire to embrace goodness and live in truth, study Scripture and church teaching, examine the facts and contexts of various public policy choices and then prayerfully reflect in order to discern the will of God. The draft also stresses the importance of exercising prudence in making judgments, so that citizens will be able to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act decisively.

The authors write that while voters are free to choose among various means of responding to compelling social problems, they are always bound by a moral obligation to work for the common goodto build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means. Citizens are also bound to oppose intrinsically evil actions, actions that are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. Among these, says the draft, are abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and the destruction of human embryos for research.

According to the bishops, those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil. The draft admits, however, that it may be possible for a Catholic voter, in good conscience, to vote for a candidate who supports a policy involving an intrinsic evil, such as abortion. According to the bishops, in some cases, if a Catholic who fully accepts fundamental principles such as the right to life were to vote for a candidate despite the candidates opposing position but because of other proportionate reasons, this vote would be considered remote material cooperation and can be permitted only if there are indeed proportionate reasons.

In making a prudential judgment about public policy choices or proportionate reasons, two temptations in public life must be avoided, according to the document. Catholics should reject any view that lacks ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity and should also avoid any misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. In other words, while the prohibition on the direct and intentional taking of an innocent human life, as in abortion, may occupy a privileged position in moral decision-making and the churchs social teaching, this privilege may not be invoked as a justification for ignoring the churchs teachings on other matters, like war, torture, the death penalty and economic justice.

The document also summarizes the various positions of the U.S.C.C.B. on specific policy questions, including its opposition to same-sex marriage, stressing that the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the first and fundamental unit of society. The draft calls on Catholics to oppose unjust war and torture and recognizes the moral right of military personnel to conscientious objection. Regarding the countrys current wars, the bishops call on our country to work with the international community to seek a responsible transition in Iraq and to address the human consequences of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S.C.C.B. Administrative Committee customarily prepares and publishes the bishops quadrennial document on faith and citizenship. This year, however, the proposed document will be reviewed and voted on by all the bishops of the United States at their meetings this month. According to Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S.C.C.B., the bishops believe that because there is growing interest in what the church says about the relationship between faith and politics, it is important to give as many bishops as possible a chance to participate in drafting the revised and updated statement.

Matt Malone, S.J., is an associate editor of America.

Comments

Keyran Moran | 10/29/2007 - 4:00am
One of the masters of the English language, John Cardinal Newman, wrote: The Church holds it better for the sun and the moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in the most extreme agony... than that one soul... should commit one single venial sin…. He wrote this fanaticism in 1852 well before the discovery of the doctrine of social justice and then pluralism in the growing democracy of the United States. But now we know that George W. Bush’s visit to the Vatican in 2004 moved the pope to move the bishops to move the electorate to vote for perhaps the worst president in the history of our country. We have been told that the Ohio issue of gay marriage was the topic that sealed the Rove-Cheney- Libby- Bush neoconservative coalition. It seems to me high time for the bishops to get some new advisers, men and women who know something of the world and who can use the English language and the media effectively. Perhaps they need to take some group psychoanalysis also and get over their horror and fascination for sexual urges. I would suggest that the bishops should turn to more perilous themes, where their best valor and the grace of God may and may not carry them through torments of hell. Let them challenge the War Party, centered in Israel and promoted ardently in the USA by the Lobby. John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt’s book has the facts and figures in cool prose since the first week of September 2007. When I was boy 100 years ago, Sister Mary told us very nice kids that there were four kinds of iniquities: imperfections, venial sins, mortal sins, and Sins against the Holy Ghost. Bob Tomasulo (a Regis graduate who became literally one of the best computer designers in the world) asked for clarification of the last crime. I can not remember what Sister Mary answered, but I think I now know: Let’s put it this way: The bishops love their delusions as they love themselves and this promotes the Sin against the Holy Ghost: Fearful Silence before the War Party!
Robert Waldrop | 10/27/2007 - 12:44pm
These bishops come to us with their hands dripping with the blood of the innocent and they expect us to pay attention to what they have to say about the US election? What have they been mumbling throughout the entire Iraq war? Religious gobblegook that amounts to moral relativism and laxism. Those who follow these wicked bishops do so at the peril of their own souls.
MARIAN GRAY | 10/26/2007 - 8:50pm
All Catholic voters should heed what Archbishop Henry Mansell wrote June 2004 in the Catholic Transcript, the diocesan paper of Hartford, Connecticut. "How many politicians continue to recite the mantra on abortion, “I am personally opposed to abortion, but I will not impose my views on others.” I would like to raise a question, which seems rarely to be addressed: “Why are they personally opposed to abortion?” If they are opposed because abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, then the stakes are raised considerably. If they really believe that, they have the responsibility to take steps to protect, support, and promote that human life. With all of the rancor that has been vented recently, I have heard little of the remorse or regret that should attend the tension between personal opposition to and public support for abortion. The advances in technology and specifically in sonar imaging should make that tension all the more unsettling and uncomfortable. The teaching of the Catholic Church on abortion has been constant, going back to the first century Didache, “You should not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.” Church teaching, therefore, is clear, but we are involved here with more than Church teaching. The taking of an innocent human life is a violation of the natural law. The right to life does not represent a concession made by society and the state. It belongs to human nature and is inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his or her origin. We speak about natural law, but another issue of concern arises when people say that religious convictions should not influence political positions. Yet our foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, states that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among those are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is a religious conviction. We can not and should not water down our beliefs for to do so would eliminate our convictions and our faith would cease to be meaningful. It is called rationalization and that never equals justification.
Mary Therese LEMANEK | 10/26/2007 - 7:03pm
What about the other moral issues that face voters today? Once again, matters of conscience are reduced to bio-ethical issues. There is no denying that abortion, euthanasia, stem cell and cloning are significant....but so are the other life and justice issues such a war, the economy, poverty and housing. We verbalize the importance of not falling into the single issue rut when voting but the leadership certainly does little to really challenge and support people in doing it.
Thomas BERNA | 10/26/2007 - 6:41pm
Unfortunately, "Faithful Citizenship" fails to reach many Catholics in the pews. I first learned about it during formation for the permanent diaconate. As pastors and preachers we need to publicize the document. I applaud our bishops for highlighting issues related to social justice, human dignity and the value of life. The bishops are careful not to recommend one candidate over another -- I have yet to find one candidate who supports all of my positions! Let us get the word out to parishioners. May we all vote reflectively and prayerfully, seeking to build the Kingdom here and now.
Rafael Pozos | 10/26/2007 - 1:40pm
Quite frankly, the trend of religion influencing politics in this country is incredibly disturbing. Our nation has prided itself in not having an official state religion and has further enforced by custom and court decision a separation between church and state. The danger I see with this trend is that it looks a lot like the beginnings of theocracy, much like what we see in Iran. If every Catholic voter voted in line with magisterial teaching, that is what we would see. Therefore, the bishops must take care to make sure that the current interest in political theology never goes as far as an Iranian or Saudi Arabian-style theocracy, or rule by bishops, acting as mullahs do in Iran and Saudi Arabia.