For the Christian people of America conversion to the Gospel means to revise "all the different areas and aspects of life, especially those related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good." It will be especially necessary "to nurture the growing awareness in society of the dignity of every person and, therefore, to promote in the community a sense of the duty to participate in political life in harmony with the Gospel."
- Pope John Paul II
The Church in America (Ecclesia in America)
In a few short weeks, citizens of the United States will have the opportunity to go to the polls once again to select a new president and Congress, and to make their choices concerning the political course that our country should take over the next four years. Now that the conventions and debates are over, and all of the political parties have outlined their own particular visions for the future, Catholics in America are faced with some very difficult decisions.
This is a time for people of faith to stand up and press for accountability. Both of the major parties, Republican and Democrat, claim to be close to the Catholic Church's teaching on a number of issues - and in certain instances they are. But neither party totally reflects the consistent ethic that Catholic Social Teaching has upheld and continues to call for. Forty-five million Americans lack health insurance and 35 million live below the poverty level (up over a million just this past year)... Social Security reform is a necessity if it is to meet its promises... 30,000 children die every day as a result of hunger, international debt and lack of development throughout the world... many people resort to violence to solve our most difficult challenges - abortion to deal with problem pregnancies, the death penalty to combat crimes, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of age, illness and disability, and war to address international disputes.
Given all of that, Americans must weigh carefully how participation in the public policy debate and our vote can contribute to greater respect for human life and dignity, religious tolerance and democracy, economic justice, and care for God's creation.
If there is such a thing as a "Catholic Platform" it has been eloquently stated in the American Bishops Statement, Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium. In this document, the bishops outline seven areas that are at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching:
- The Life and Dignity of the Human Person
- The Call to Family, Community, and Participation
- Common Rights and Responsibilities: faith and family, food and shelter, health care and housing, education and employment
- Options for the Poor and Vulnerable
- The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
- Solidarity: a commitment to the common good everywhere
- Care for God's Creation: stewardship of the earth These are not the concerns of Catholics alone; in every case the bishops join with others in advocating these concerns. They suggest specific priorities that must be addressed: the protection of human life, the promotion of family life and values, the quest for social justice and the pursuit of global solidarity. And while not promoting specific solutions, they ask some very pointed questions, among them:
- How will we protect the weakest in our midst-innocent, unborn children?
- How will we address the consequences of hunger, debt, and lack of development around the world?
- How can we raise our children with respect for life, sound moral values, a sense of hope, and an ethic of stewardship and responsibility?
- How will we address the growing number of families and individuals without affordable and accessible health care? How can health care protect and enhance human life and dignity?
- How do we combat continuing prejudice, bias, and discrimination and heal the wounds of racism, religious bigotry, and other forms of discrimination?
- Why does it seem that our nation is turning to violence to solve some of its most difficult problems? The Church has never made an endorsement for any one political candidate, and the bishops remind us that they believe "every candidate, policy, and political platform should be measured by how they touch the human person; whether they enhance or diminish human life, dignity, and human rights; and how they advance the common good." Catholics need to act in support of these principles and policies in public life. It is the particular vocation of the laity to transform the world. We have to encourage this vocation and do more to bring all believers to this mission. As bishops, we do not endorse or oppose candidates. Rather, we seek to form the consciences of our people so that they can examine the positions of candidates and make choices based on Catholic moral and social teaching.
There is much that can be done by Catholics right now - even before the elections - to express our concerns to all candidates running for office. We need to challenge them to enact just policies. We need to remind them of our belief that government should focus on the common good, the protection of our planet Earth and all of its wonderful resources, and to address the growing disparity between rich and poor. We need to do this because our lives are rooted in the Gospel values of Christ and the social justice teachings of our Church.
Today's first reading reminds us that: "The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard..." This election year presents a great opportunity for Catholics to hold our political leaders accountable for addressing the important moral issues that face all Americans today. With our bishops and religious leaders, we must pledge to get involved in forming public policy, to take the time to study the issues and the candidates, to reflect on our rich Catholic tradition of Social Justice teaching, to vote wisely and to encourage others to do so as well.