WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 14, 2007 (Zenit.org).- U.S. bishops are encouraging people to use their faith and a well-formed conscience as guidance in political choices.
The U.S. episcopal conference approved today a statement called "Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility." The bishops are meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, for their fall general assembly through Thursday.
"In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote," a statement from the bishops explained. "Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God's truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election."
The Church's role in helping Catholics to form their consciences is a central theme of the document.
"With this foundation," the bishops explained, "Catholics are better able to evaluate policy positions, party platforms, and candidates' promises and action in light of the Gospel and the moral and social teaching of the Church in order to help build a better world."
The bishops affirmed their legitimate role in public life. "The obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to [our] mission," they stated. "Our nation's tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions and concerns into public life."
The document recalls that respect for the dignity of every human being is a foundation for Catholic teaching about "faithful citizenship."
The statement says people must oppose actions that are intrinsically wrong, such as abortion and euthanasia, because these actions involve directly and intentionally ending an innocent human life.
It also affirms the obligation to promote the common good by combating such threats to human life and dignity as hunger, poverty, racism, unjust immigration policies, and unjust war. "Both opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations," the document says.
The bishops warn of two temptations for Catholics in public life.
"The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity," the statement says. "The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life […] is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed."
A second temptation, the bishops said, involves "dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, torture, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or lack health care, or unjust immigration policies are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act."
The bishops call Catholics to a different kind of political engagement shaped by well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.
They add, "Participation in political life in light of fundamental moral principles is an essential duty for every Catholic and all people of good will."
The bishops also acknowledge the challenges faced by Catholic voters: "Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church's comprehensive commitment to the dignity of the human person.
"As Catholics we are not single issues voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support. Yet a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support."
Despite challenges, the statement urges Catholics "to become more involved: running for office, working within political parties, and communicating concerns to elected officials."
It suggests that Catholics should be "guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group."
As they prepare for the elections, the statement says "Catholic voters should use Catholic teaching to examine candidates' positions on issues and should consider candidates' integrity, philosophy and performance."