Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Open Letter to U.S. Catholics regarding Faithful Citizenship

As we are two days away from the special election for the people of Massachusetts’ Senator to the U.S. Senate, and an incredibly sensational race between Martha Coakley and Scott Brown (and let’s not forget Mr. Kennedy), I have spent some time thinking not only about my ability to vote and politically support either candidate. By political support, I don’t just mean my vote, but also my time, talents and treasures going to support a candidate that I believe in as a Catholic. I consider myself to be a faithful Catholic, and I want to remain faithful to the Catholic churches teaching. In recent days I have asked myself the questions:

1. Does one political issue (e.g. legalized abortion) carry more weight than others?
2. Can I support a candidate (vote, time, talent and treasure) who supports things that are intrinsically evil?
3. What level of support can I give?

In my search for answers I have spoken with close friends, as well as sought pastoral advice from church teachers. I have found that the Faithful Citizenship website, and particularly, the U.S. bishops' statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship [PDF] which is a very useful guide. I would ask that all Catholics take the time to read it and let this document be a guide to political conscience and voting.

This document provides answers to the questions:
- Why does the Church teach about issues affecting public policy?
- Who in the Church should participate in political life?
- How does the Church help the Catholic faithful to speak about political and social questions?
- What does the Church say about Catholic social teaching in the public square?

I found this 42 page document to be a very easy but compelling read (as opposed to the 2000 page documents that our Senators are passing without reading). I will also take the time to share with you some quotes which I found to be useful in my search for answers (see quotes below).

I will not tell you my decisions with regards to whom to support, but I will share with you my personal conclusions with regard to the questions I posed above.

Does one political issue (e.g. legalized abortion) carry more weight than others? Yes, however, that does not mean that I believe in single issue voting. Just that some issues based on whether or not they are supportive of something intrinsically evil, can carry more weight. You cannot focus on only one issue with regards to the sanctity of life and then simply ignore all other issues that dealing with the value of all humans and social justice.

Yes, this was the hardest thing for me to come to grips with, especially with regards to money or holding a sign. But I had to ask myself:
Does my support directly participate in something intrinsically evil? No
Does my support indirectly support something intrinsically evil? Yes and no.
I call your attention to this quote: Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually. In this case, I am going for the art of the possible, and not supporting the candidate who is going to take us further down the path to what is evil.

Will my support bring scandal on the church? If the answer is yes, then I cannot support. In the case of one candidate, I believe the answer is yes, in the case of the other, I believe the answer is no. But if the answer is No, then I believe that support in addition to my vote is allowed.

I believe that supporting the phone banks, calling people, and raising their awareness of the truth on issues, is entirely acceptable. I believe that a sign or call, or money for a candidate who I can support might be worth an investment of my time. However, I also have to consider my family and if that time away from family is what God is calling me to. What about my money, or is it better to give that money to the people in Haiti. In the end, prayer and a well formed conscience should be your guide.

Your brother in Christ,

Additional thoughts from the statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship follow:

Some question whether it is appropriate for the Church to play a role in political life. However, the obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church by Jesus Christ. Moreover, the United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination. Civil law should fully recognize and protect the Church’s right, obligation, and opportunities to participate in society without being forced to abandon or ignore its central moral convictions. Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions and concerns into public life. Indeed, our Church’s teaching is in accord with the foundational values that have shaped our nation’s history: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.

As the Holy Father also taught in Deus Caritas Est, “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful” (no. 29). This duty is more critical than ever in today’s political environment, where Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church’s comprehensive commitment to the life and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death. Yet this is not a time for retreat or discouragement; rather, it is a time for renewed engagement.

Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually. For example, Pope John Paul II taught that when a government official who fully opposes abortion cannot succeed in completely overturning a pro-abortion law, he or she may work to improve protection for unborn human life, “limiting the harm done by such a law” and lessening its negative impact as much as possible (Evangelium Vitae, no. 73). Such incremental improvements in the law are acceptable as steps toward the full restoration of justice. However, Catholics must never abandon the moral requirement to seek full protection for all human life from the moment of conception until natural death.

When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.
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