By Michelle Bauman
With the campaign for the 2012 presidential race gaining speed, the U.S. Catholic bishops are saying that their 2007 statement on the political responsibilities of Catholics must not be misused or distorted to justify supporting candidates that do not adhere to Church teaching.
The bishops warned 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.”
An Oct. 4 statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that conference president Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, along with the chairs of nine different committees, are reaffirming their 2007 document “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship,” and issuing it with a new introductory note.
The note was discussed at the bishop’s June meeting and authorized at the Administrative Committee meeting in September. It does not modify “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” but clarifies its use and intent.
In the note, the bishops observed that the statement on the political responsibilities of Catholics “has at times been misused to present an incomplete or distorted view of the demands of faith in politics.”
They explained that the topics outlined in the document are not “issues for equal consideration.” Rather, they said, it “makes important distinctions among moral issues.”
The introductory note acknowledged that some issues “involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified,” while others raise “serious moral questions” and should lead the faithful to “pursue justice and promote the common good.”
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Catholic voting became a heated issue in the 2008 election when several prominent Catholic intellectuals voiced support for then-candidate Barack Obama.
In one of the most notable instances, Doug Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University and a former official in the Reagan administration, endorsed Obama and encouraged other Catholic and conservative voters to do the same.
Kmiec called Obama a “bridge-builder” and said that despite Obama’s opposition to Catholic teachings on moral issues, including abortion and same-sex “marriage,” there were proportionate reasons to support him.
Kmiec said he believed that Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and focus on “the social justice of economic arrangement” made him “closer to the Church’s teaching” than his opponent, John McCain.
In the new introduction to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops called on Catholics “to form their consciences in the light of their Catholic faith and to bring our moral principles to the debate and decisions about candidates and issues.”
They explained that the document on faithful citizenship “does not offer a voters guide, scorecard of issues, or direction on how to vote,” but rather, “applies Catholic moral principles to a range of important issues.”
The introductory note lists six “current and fundamental problems” that remain “pressing national issues.” These issues include: abortion and other threats to those who are vulnerable, sick or unwanted; efforts to force Catholic ministries to choose between violating their consciences or ceasing their services to those in need; intensified efforts to redefine and undermine the nature of marriage; an economic crisis that has increased levels of unemployment, poverty, hunger and debt; a “broken” immigration system; and wars, terror, and violence, especially in the Middle East.
The bishops’ note also emphasized the importance of religious liberty. They defended the “right to bring our principles and moral convictions into the public arena” and said that these rights need to be “both exercised and protected.”
The U.S. bishops’ conference has also launched a new website to assist the faithful in the formation of conscience. The website, which can be accessed at http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/, offers formation tools for parishes, organizations and individuals.