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.