Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pastors, Parishes and Political Responsibility

The New York State Catholic Conference has updated its on-line material regarding political activity here. An excerpt follows:
The role and responsibilities of Catholics in public life have been the subject of much discussion throughout our nation in recent months. Catholics, virtually alone among religious denominations, are often made to feel that we should not allow our deeply held beliefs to help shape our positions on political issues. The notion that Catholics should separate their religious and moral beliefs from their actions as policy makers or voters is incorrect on its face. All people are obligated to vote according to their informed conscience, and religious beliefs play a critical role in the formation of the conscience.

In the United States of America, all citizens are blessed to have the opportunity to vote for our political leaders. This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, and the New York State Catholic Conference renews its call to Catholic citizens to inform themselves on the critical issues of the day and to exercise their right to vote. These issues include, but are not limited to, respect for the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, issues of war and peace, the education and formation of children, the needs of the poor, oppressed and vulnerable, and access to health care for all people, particularly the elderly and infirm.

In the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops of the United States remind us of the role of the church in the public square. “The United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination. ...Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions into public life. The Catholic community brings to the political dialogue a consistent moral framework and broad experience serving those in need.”

But the document goes further than asserting the rights of Catholics to participate in the political process. It notes that such participation is obligatory. “In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. ...Catholic lay women and men need to act on the Church’s moral principles and become more involved: running for office, working within political parties, and communicating concerns to elected officials.”

Turning again to Faithful Citizenship, we are reminded of the importance of a well-formed conscience: “The Church equips her members to address political questions by helping them develop well-formed consciences.” It is the exercise of conscience, aided by prudential judgment, that assists Catholics in determining effective ways to promote the common good. The Bishops state, “Catholic voters should use Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues and should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens ‘to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest.’ (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33).”