Citizenship – November 2006

As Catholics, we see responsible citizenship as a virtue, and thus participation in the political process is not only a right but also a duty.  This Tuesday is Election Day and as Catholics and as American citizens we should exercise the right and duty of our citizenship by going to the polls and voting.

Our Church rightly does not tell the faithful to vote for any particular candidate or party. The Catholic Church is not – nor does she want to be – a political agency.  However, she does have a profound interest – and rightly so – in the good of the political community, the soul of which is justice.  (cf. Pope Benedict, Deus Caritas Est #28-29).  For this reason, the Church engages in a wide variety of public policy issues including immigration, education, poverty and racism among many others.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops and, on the state level, our Florida Catholic Conference help to educate Catholics and others of good will so that our choices, made with an informed conscience, will be coherent with our faith. In doing so, the Church offers a specific moral framework that should guide the voter in making  prudential decisions as to who are the “best” candidates – or as sadly happens to often, who are the least “worse” candidates.  This moral framework anchored in the Scriptures and expressed in the teaching of the Church – more than mere party affiliation or self-interest – should guide the serious Catholic to examine the candidates on a full range of issues as well as on their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance.  In this way, our vote will be an exercise of both responsible as well as faithful citizenship.

For Catholics, the defense of human life and dignity is not a “narrow cause” but a way of life.  For this reason, no Catholic should vote for a political program or law that would contradict the fundamental principals of our faith.  And as Catholics, when we share our social teachings in order to highlight the moral dimensions of issues by our participation in the various debates on public policy, we do not threaten our nation.  Too often a false understanding of the “separation of Church and State”, one which would relegate religion to the private sphere, is used to stifle debate.  To allow ourselves to be silenced would be an abdication of our obligation to bear witness to Christ and would reduce us to the status of “second class citizens”. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement showed, when religious groups join public debate, the nation is enriched, not threatened.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a recent address to European politicians:  “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her intervention in the public area is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable.  Among these the following emerge clearly today:  protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage;…the protection of the rights of parents to education their children”.  (March 30, 2006)

The stridency and polarization of politics in America today can be discouraging.  We need a new kind of politics – one focused on moral principles, not on polls; on the needs of the vulnerable, not the contributions of the powerful; and on the pursuit of the common good, not the demands of special interests.  Too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity. And too few citizens hold elected officials accountable by actually exercising their right to vote.  All this shows that, as Catholics, we should be more – and not less – engaged in political life.  All of us are called to become informed, active and responsible participants in the political process – and to do so by bringing together, coherently and consistently, our faith, our moral convictions and our responsibilities in the public square.

On Tuesday, vote!