Dioceses, state conferences help Catholics form conscience on election issues

Dioceses, state conferences help Catholics form conscience on election issues

Voters cast their ballots to vote in state and local elections Nov. 5, 2019, at Robious Elementary School in Richmond, Va. (Credit: Ryan M. Kelly/Reuters via CNS.)

The U.S. bishops' quadrennial document on political responsibility, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," has been widely embraced and shared by dioceses hoping to inject wisdom and clarity into the run-up to the November general election.

The U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document on political responsibility, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” has been widely embraced and shared by dioceses hoping to inject wisdom and clarity into the run-up to the November general election.

The bishops first issued the document in 1976 and it has been updated periodically. What began as a 3,400-word document first titled “Political Responsibility: Reflections on an Election Year” and addressed only eight specific issues is today a 53-page document mentioning dozens of issues.

Across the United States, some bishops and state Catholic conferences feel called to carry out an additional effort to help Catholics reflect upon how their faith intersects with public policy issues and develop well-formed opinions on these issues.

“In this election year, there is no doubt that we are faced with a choice between two deeply flawed candidates, and that neither party perfectly aligns with our Gospel values,” said Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo, Ohio, in a recent public letter, “Conscience and the Catholic Voter.”

As Catholics, “we need to ask ourselves which party platform, which evident actions and voting records of candidates are more closely aligned to what we hold to be true and just, and whether any of these are directly opposed to the fundamental moral teachings of the church.”

With both parties’ conventions in the rear view mirror and their platforms published, it is now time for Catholic to form their consciences “from the heart of the church,” the bishop said.

A a series of eight outlines regarding Catholic social teaching and “issues of consequence” in the election were developed this year by the Toledo Diocese’s Office for Life and Justice of Catholic Charities and were distributed to parishes and posted on the Diocese of Toledo website, along with the letter.

The Catholic Conference of Ohio also develops materials based on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document each year, said Carolyn Jurkowitz, executive director of the state conference, which is the public policy arm of the Ohio’s Catholic bishops. Usually that’s so the information can be presented in a parish-bulletin-ready, concise way, and so that Ohio ballot issues can be included.

Again this year, two documents — “Making Moral Choices in Voting” and “Reflections on Choosing Political Candidates” — were sent via electronic newsletter to all parishes, religious orders and Catholic institutions in the Ohio dioceses of Youngstown, Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The documents refer heavily to iterations of the USCCB document and poses questions voters may wish to ask themselves about a candidate’s commitment to protect human life and dignity, noting that discernment in voting “should focus on a candidate’s consistency with moral principles, integrity and the ability to effect the policies that he or she promotes. It should also include seeking and verifying background information regarding a candidate’s stance on policy issues, and a consideration of those who would be directly impacted by such policies.”

The conference additionally shared the USCCB “Civilize It” pledge — found at https://www.wearesaltandlight.org/civilize-it — that promotes human dignity by asking participants to disagree respectfully with those of differing political opinions, asks them to root their political viewpoints in Gospel teachings and to treat others with compassion.

Also posted online at the USCCB website’s faithfulcitizenship.org and the USCCB’s YouTube channel are five videos in four languages explore various aspects of Catholic social teaching while reflecting the teaching of Pope Francis.

To complement the USCCB guidelines, Bishop John F. Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan, offered local Catholics a reminder of the responsibility to vote and participate in the public square.

“I am not telling you how to vote, nor am I supporting any political party or candidate,” he said of the “2020 Moral Principals Voting Guide” developed by the diocese and posted online. “Rather, I am speaking to moral principles that we are called to embrace, and it is your responsibility to consider prayerfully how to vote in light of these principles. In doing so, we are not imposing our Catholic faith on others.”

The moral principles discussed are rooted in basic truths about the human person. The guide is divided into three parts: the four basic principles of Catholic social teaching to be applied to public life, the obligation to do good and the necessity of avoiding evil. It is presented along with “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” Michigan Catholic Conference election year guidelines for Catholic parishes and organizations, the “Civilize It” pledge and other resources

A link to the guide is available on the Diocese of Marquette website.

Three free, live webinars — “Beyond Secular Politics: Walking in Faithful Citizenship” — will present political decision-making insights to Catholic voters in Indiana. The webinars, sponsored and hosted by the Indiana Catholic Conference in October, will be free of charge and identical in content. The five dioceses of the province — the Gary, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Lafayette-in-Indiana and Evansville dioceses and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis — have committed to promoting the webinars in print, online and through social media.

“While neither the church nor the ICC supports or opposes a specific candidate or party, Catholics are called through fulfillment of our civic responsibility to shape morality in the political arena,” Angela Espada, the conference’s executive director, told Catholic News Service. “We do this when we vote by remembering our Catholic social teachings of loving our neighbor, caring for the least among us, and supporting policies that promote the common good.”

The conference also is providing, for use at the discretion of the five dioceses, a document, “Political Guidelines for Parishes.” It reminds pastors of the types of election or voting speech that are permitted in a parish setting, and those that are prohibited.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix encourages a direct route to discerning between the issues and candidates of the day — prayer.

Armed with an action plan, Bishop Olmsted invites Catholics in the Diocese of Phoenix to join him in a 54-day “Rosary Novena for the Nation,” which began Aug. 30.

The trials suffered by the U.S. and even the world today, Olmstead told the Phoenix faithful, are, “as St. Josemaria Escriva says, ‘crises of saints.'” Those praying the “Rosary for the Nation” are asked to pray for nine intentions, including authentic leadership, political parties of led by the common good, the cultivation of true patriotism and the “restoration of one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The novena concludes Oct. 22.

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