the Rio Grande Catholic Article
Seeking the common good
‘Faithful Citizenship’ document offers guide for conscientious role in political life
Catholic News Service /
7/5/2012 11:25:52 AM
By Dennis Sadowski and Nancy Frazier
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — Despite all the headlines lately, concern over the contraceptive mandate and the related issue of religious freedom is not the only thing on the minds of the U.S. bishops.
This being an election year, the bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development has undertaken an intensive effort to bring the quadrennial document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” to as many Catholics as possible.
The bishops want people in the pews to better understand their political responsibility not just at the polls come November but also as they consider any number of social issues locally or nationally on any given day. The department’s staff has established a website — www.faithfulcitizenship.org — with numerous resources, prayer guides, teaching tools and school activities in English and Spanish. The document was discussed during the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in the nation’s capital in February as much if not more than the religious liberty implications of the controversial rules governing the implementation of health care reform. The gathering’s theme - “Faithful Citizenship: Protecting Human Life and Dignity, Promoting the Common Good” — reflected the focus of daily programs.
“Faithful Citizenship” traditionally has been released a year before a presidential election as a teaching document on the role of faith and conscience in political life. This time around the bishops reissued their 2007 document but added a new introductory note explaining that the document reflects their teaching and their guidance for Catholics as they exercise their rights and duties under American democracy.
Four years after the bishops’ overwhelming approval of their teaching document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” key leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not feel that they needed to reinvent the wheel. The document highlighting issues that should be considered by Catholics as they make election-year decisions “was well worked out in 2007,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in an October telephone interview with Catholic News Service.
“It was quite a challenge to come to a consensus and then bring it to the whole body of bishops, which had never been done before,” Bishop Blaire added. “It was hard fought and well thought out. Since it was a teaching document, we felt it was important to keep it intact.”
That decision was reached during “several meetings” involving nine committees — pro-life, migration, education, communications, doctrine, domestic justice, international justice and peace, cultural diversity, and laity, marriage, family life and youth, he said. “It was definitely a general consensus that to reopen it would not have been helpful,” Bishop Blaire said.
But the committee chairmen decided to write a new introductory note pointing out that “‘Faithful Citizenship’ reflects the teaching of the bishops and that it is still a very important statement for use in the formation of consciences,” he said. “The issues contained in it were still very relevant and still quite appropriate and pertinent.”
Bishop Blaire said, “We decided in the note to lift up the issues that had been in our thinking and on our agenda in these last years, so we did that,” he added. “And we wanted it to be clear that this document was not a voters’ guide, but a teaching document for the formation of consciences.
” The introduction focused on six “current and fundamental problems, some involving opposition to intrinsic evils and others raising serious moral questions”:
— Abortion “and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick or unwanted.” — Conscience threats to Catholic ministries in health care, education and social services.
— “Intensifying efforts to redefine marriage” or to undermine it as “the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman.”
— An economic crisis that has increased national and global unemployment, poverty and hunger, requiring efforts to “protect those who are poor and vulnerable as well as future generations.”
— “The failure to repair a broken immigration system.”
— “Serious moral questions” raised by wars, terror and violence, “particularly the absence of justice, security and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.”
The introduction says that “Faithful Citizenship,” one in a series of documents that have been issued before every presidential election for nearly 35 years, “has at times been misused to present an incomplete or distorted view of the demands of faith in politics” but “remains a faithful and challenging call to discipleship in the world of politics.”
“It does not offer a voters guide, scorecard of issues or direction on how to vote,” the introduction adds. “It applies Catholic moral principles to a range of important issues and warns against misguided appeals to ‘conscience’ to ignore fundamental moral claims, to reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters, or to justify choices simply to advance partisan, ideological or personal interests.”
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