By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
In recent times the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published the landmark document “Faithful Citizenship” as a standard in the never ending work of conscience formation as lived out in the political and social spheres of our society. If someone asks why the Church takes such an active stance regarding political and social matters, know that there are many convincing ways to respond. We have the thought of Pope Francis in the joy of the Gospel.
“An authentic faith…always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave the earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,” the Church, “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”
Pope Francis also challenges us to care for our common home, the earth, because all assaults on the planet have a direct impact on the web of life entrusted to us by our loving Creator. “These challenges are at the heart of public life and at the center for the pursuit of the common good. They are intertwined and inseparable.
We are faced with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” Pope Francis is not the first to speak out on behalf of our resilient, yet fragile planet, but he does so, inspired by the passion of St. Francis of Assisi for God’s creation.
The presidential election is prime time for followers of the Lord to cherish discipleship and citizenship as an expression of religious liberty and civic responsibility. “In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with teach individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in particular election.” An historical consciousness opens up for us the vista of nearly two thousand years of living and teaching the faith, in season and out of season. It is the fulfillment of the Lord’s command to go and teach all nations.
From this treasury of wisdom, we can see that “the Catholic community brings important assets to the political dialogue about our nation’s future. We bring a consistent moral framework – drawn from basic human reason that is illuminated by Scripture and the teachings of the church — for assessing issues, political platforms, and campaigns. We also bring broad experience in serving those in need: educating the young, serving families in crisis, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, helping women who face difficult pregnancies, feeding the hungry, welcoming immigrants and refugees, reaching out in global solidarity, and pursuing peace. We celebrate, with all our neighbors, the historically robust commitment to religious freedom in this country that has allowed the church the freedom to serve the common good.”
There is no way to avoid the criticism that the Church is playing partisan politics when speaking out on controversial issues, which is why it is necessary to read Faithful Citizenship in its entirety in order to go beyond a superficial dismissal of its breath and depth. The bishops encourage a heart and mind that is open to conscience formation. “It is true that the particular judgments of the document may fall at various points along the political spectrum, but the foundational principles that guide these teachings should not be ignored in any case, nor used selectively to serve partisan interests. In light of these reflections and those of local bishops, we encourage Catholics throughout the United States to be active in the political process, particularly in these challenging times.”
What are the foundational principles that illuminate the church’s teaching from one generation to the next upon which Catholic social teaching finds a home? The permanent principles of the church’s social doctrine constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching. These are the principles of: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. These principles are the expression of the whole truth about human life known by reason and faith. Two additional quotes from Faithful Citizenship challenge us as voters to prepare wisely in the exercise of our civic responsibility and religious freedom.
“Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral issues. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position.
In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. The following paragraph elaborates upon so many assaults against human life and dignity.
Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the indiscriminate use of drones for violent purposes; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants, to oppose racism, to oppose human trafficking, and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort after all peaceful means have failed, and to end the use of the death penalty as a means of protecting society from violent crime.
We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God. We stand opposed to these and all activities that contribute to what Pope Francis has called “a throwaway culture.”
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in us the fire of your love, and please God, help us in this political season.
(Editor’s note: Part two on Faithful Citizenship will follow in the next issue. Readers can find a link to the entire text of Faithful Citizenship posted to the diocesan website, www.jacksondiocese.org.)
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz