By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published October 14, 2010
As the midterm election approaches, many Catholics are trying to figure out how to reconcile their beliefs with the current political climate and candidates in Georgia and nationally.
To do that, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on Catholics to become familiar again with principles of Catholic social teaching as they prepare to cast ballots in less than three weeks.
The archdiocese held a fall Faith and Public Policy Workshop to remind voters of the Church’s social teaching and to encourage them to excite other Catholics to prepare for and to vote in the Nov. 2 election, 19 days away.
“Responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation,” the U.S. bishops said in their 2007 guiding document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
“This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do,” they continue.
The document was given to workshop participants and is available online (www.faithfulcitizenship.org).
The USCCB presents seven themes from Catholic teaching that are a framework and reference point when reviewing political candidates and legislation. These themes include:
- The right to life and the dignity of the human person;
- Call to family, community and participation;
- Rights and responsibilities, such as the right to life, right to food and shelter, and education;
- Option for the poor and vulnerable, which means that those who are weak, vulnerable and most in need deserve preferential concern;
- Dignity of work and the rights of workers;
- Solidarity with others, including eradicating racism and addressing extreme poverty;
- Caring for God’s creation.
These seven key themes “provide a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life based on the sacredness of every human life,” said Pat Chivers, communications director of the archdiocese.
“As Catholic voters, we should keep in mind the blessing that it is to live in a nation with religious freedom and political participation,” she said. “We can enjoy these blessings and exercise our right to vote with a mind and heart educated and formed to know and practice the whole faith.”
The Catholic Church does not embrace a particular political party or endorse candidates but calls upon members of the Church to vote with a properly formed conscience by studying and applying the principles of its social teaching.
The basis for all of the themes is the first one, which recognizes and supports the right to life and the dignity of the human person.
“Human life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society,” the U.S. bishops said.
“Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; and to overcome poverty and suffering,” their document says.
Catholics are also called to recognize the importance of family and their local communities when getting involved with public policy. The way society is organized affects the common good and the capacity of individuals to develop their potential, says the USCCB. They preach that every person has a right and duty to participate in shaping society and promoting the common good, especially concern for the poor and vulnerable.
The themes are springboards for the formation and discernment of Catholic consciences.
“Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy and performance,” the bishops’ document says.
Chivers encouraged Catholics to “get involved in their local political scene by going to town meetings and other opportunities to meet the candidates, by hosting a candidate forum at their parish, supporting candidates who have taken a stand for human life and for the poor both financially and by promoting their campaigns, and most importantly, voting in all elections.”
The speakers at the workshop, including Chivers, Mary Boyert, director of the archdiocesan Respect Life ministry, and Frank Mulcahy, director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, also presented a variety of other ways Catholics can influence public policy.
Offering ideas for bills by calling, writing or meeting with local legislators can have a bigger impact than some may think, Mulcahy said.
“There is so much we can do to influence public policy,” he added, saying that a lot of ideas for legislation come from people who aren’t officially involved with public policy. “Written letters can have a big impact.”
Catholics were also encouraged to make friends and family members aware of positive pieces of legislation, to lobby local legislators for bills that reflect the principles of social justice and human dignity, and to consider running for local offices.
Mulcahy, who represents Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Savannah Bishop J. Kevin Boland on legislative issues, discussed some hot-button issues at the workshop, including immigration reform and health care.
Mulcahy believes the immigration issue fits into several of the themes presented by the USCCB, most closely relating to the principles of human dignity and human solidarity. While immigration policy is largely determined at the federal level, Catholics need to evaluate legislation in light of its impact on human dignity, he said.
“Everyone has the right to live a dignified life in their home country, but can move if their home country does not offer that,” said Mulcahy.
“However, we have the right to pass legislation to control that,” he added.
“These are our brothers and sisters,” he reminded voters.
Regarding health care policy, Mulcahy cited four principles the USCCB said need to be incorporated into any health care measures. These principles include universal access to health care, no change in the ban on abortion-related funding in health care, making health care coverage available to legal immigrants and a fair sharing of health care costs in society.
Prayer For ‘Faithful Citizenship’
WASHINGTON (CNS)—Here is a suggested prayer before an election, from the U.S. bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” website. It was adapted from the 2007 edition of “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers,” published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and is copyrighted by the USCCB.
as the election approaches,
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city, state and country,
and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness
so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters,
one and equal in dignity,
especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned,
men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your kingdom.
We pray for discernment
so that we may choose leaders who hear your word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth
as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his apostles
and guide us to your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The point was made at the workshop that there is usually not a candidate who will support every single view and teaching of the Catholic Church, which is why it is so vital for people to know the social teaching principles and to be engaged in the political process and well informed as citizens and as Catholics.
Mulcahy said the bishops also take the position that they can and should support incremental legislation, legislation that takes a step in the right direction.
“The Church is principled but not ideological,” their document says. “We cannot compromise basic principles or moral teaching. We are committed to clarity about our moral teaching and to civility. In public life, it is important to practice the virtues of justice and charity that are at the core of our Tradition. We should work with others in a variety of ways to advance our moral principles.”