The Least, First

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US Catholic bishops recognize complexity of political choices

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Interesting statement from the US Catholic bishops, as cited by Joan Chittister:

US Catholic bishopsThe truth is that the bishops in their latest document, “Faithful Citizenship” — the church’s attempt to teach the importance of civic participation in the political process — eschewed single issue politics entirely. “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support,” the document says quite directly. …

Instead, the document sets out to remind people that voting is, indeed, a moral act but that political morality — social morality — is made up of more things than sexual issues, all of them morally important, all of them to be seen as the voter’s moral obligation to weigh issues and their effects on society at large. “Life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed,” the document reads. But then says, just as clearly, “This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.”

It is a far more sobering and balanced document than the headline would seem to imply. Yes, abortion is defined as a major social and moral issue but so, the bishops insist in this document in a way they have not in the past, “are church teachings on immigration, just war and poverty.” …

It does not insist or suggest that Catholics should vote for any particular candidate or political party. “We do not tell Catholics how to vote,” it says — a signal to those clerics who, at very least, flirted with the temptation in the last election.

It recognizes the primacy of the individual conscience.

It stresses the obligation of individuals to form their consciences carefully.

It presents the breadth of Catholic social teaching rather than insist on only isolated elements of it.

It acknowledges, at least implicitly, the complexity of moral decision making in a pluralistic society and the need for ‘discernment” and “prudence,” in the process.

Roman Catholics have often understood the political implications of spiritual issues more broadly than have those of us who, like me, come from other traditions. These statements seem important to me, for several reasons:

  1. They recognize that caring for people, the Christian mandate, implies action on many issues, not just one or two.
  2. They admit that political decisions are complicated.
  3. They encourage the development of the individual conscience, rather than moral group-think.
  4. They insist that following Christ ought to form us into people who cast our votes with the well-being of defenseless people in mind.

While I’m sure they would come down differently on some issues than I would, the humble tone of the document seems true to the ways of followers of Christ.


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Written by Monte

November 21, 2007 at 12:04 pm

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