Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Faithful Citizenship: A quadrennial instruction and exhortation

As many of you know the annual meeting of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is taking place this week. Last year's meeting spawned two posts worth reconsidering: Another delicate matter and Marriage and the Gift of Life: Some Diaconal Observations. Re-reading my post on marriage, I dislike my tone. I suppose this issue hit too closely to home, both my personal life and my ministry. So, as you read or re- read this post, please ignore my lack of humility.

This year being the last meeting before our quadrennial presidential election, as has been their tradition for several election cycles, they have issued a statement on political participation and responsibility. Actually, there were two documents, the main document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, as well as a summary document.

"Our nation faces political challenges that demand urgent moral choices. We are a nation at war, with all of its human costs; a country often divided by race and ethnicity; a nation of immigrants struggling with immigration. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty; part of a global community confronting terrorism and facing urgent threats to our environment; a culture built on families, where some now question the value of marriage and family life. We pride ourselves on supporting human rights, but we fail even to protect the fundamental right to life, especially for unborn children.

"We bishops seek to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with the truth, so they can make sound moral choices in addressing these challenges. We do not tell Catholics how to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each person and his or her properly formed conscience."
These are the first two paragraphs from the summary document.

Additionally, John Allen has a summary of a press conference given right after the public release of the documents in which Bishop Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, answers questions put to him about the document. I think Bishop Lori’s candid answers also serve as an excellent summary to the very vexing issue that voting has become for many faithful Catholics in the United States. The first thing in Bishop Lori’s response I am interested in addressing is when he says that "One possibility is the extraordinary step of not voting." Indeed, to not vote is an extraordinary step. Of course, we are free to vote or not to vote, but we cannot abstain from voting today in our country in good conscience. As the document goes on to point out, "In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation." So, it would need to be a set of extraordinary circumstances that would allow one to morally justify not voting.

Bishop Lori also speaks eloquently to the complexity of moral thinking involved in being a committed Christian and a responsible citizen when he says that "The main point of the statement," is that in many cases it is not easy to choose a candidate for whom to vote. Choosing is made more difficult because, if we apply a well-formed conscience to our personal deliberations, our decision cannot be made solely by preferring "one party over another, you can’t reach it because in addition to everything else the candidate is going to make you feel better. It can't be because of economic advantage." Cutting to the chase, Bishop Lori said, "You really have to go through some hoops to come to that conclusion," but he adds, "I think that the more who go through those hoops, the better off we’re going to be." I certainly agree.

In addition, here are some thoughts worth reading from two very intelligent U.S. Catholics, one of whom, based on the content of his blog, may well be a genius:

From Deep Furrows American politics 2007, then the response from Clarity Daily A Criterion for Politics: My Opinion.

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