US Bishops Urge Voters to Give Priority to Life

Late last year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put out its strongest statement yet about the need for American voters to avoid voting for candidates who refuse to defend the sanctity of human life. This document urged Americans to involve their consciences in politics, a novel concept for some folks.

The document, entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, was released by the USCCB as a sort of “open letter” to American Catholics, advising them on the morality of certain important political issues. The document urged them not to submit to the moral pluralism that has infected so many otherwise sensible people.

The guidelines put in place by the American bishops are relentlessly clear, so specific that even the most committed loophole-searcher would be hard-pressed to dodge them. “Conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart,” the document declares unequivocally, “revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. … a legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.”

Some issues are more important than others, say the bishops, and the life issues are the most important of all. In the bishops’ own words:

“[34…] A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

“35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.

“36. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

“37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.

“38. It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation. Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well being . . .

“41. Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidate’s positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they 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 . . .’

“42. As Catholics we are not single-issue 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.”

Although the document mentions genocide and torture as human rights abuses that Catholics must oppose, the issue of abortion stands paramount in their thinking. Abortion is the central human rights issue in the U.S. today. While the United States is not guilty of institutionalized genocide or torture, over 4,000 abortions take place within her borders each day.

Remember, when election time rolls around, that the pro-life issue is always paramount. Consistently voting for life does not make Catholics and other Christians single-issue voters. Rather, it makes them sensible ones. Without the right to life, all other human rights are meaningless.

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  • dennisofraleigh

    An excellent effort by the U.S. Bishops. However, U.S. Catholics, being U.S. Catholics (I count among them the millions who only *occassionaly* attend Sunday Mass yet consider themselves “good Catholics”) will proceed to pretty much (as is their “thing”) *ignore* whatever the Church teaches and follow whatever political whim moves them. Otherwise how do you explain the past voting patterns of those states with the highest number of Catholic registered voters also electing (and re-electing. Does the name “Kennedy” have a familiar ring?)lawmakers whose positions on the sanctity and dignity of human life are waaaaaaay off the mark when stacked up against Church teaching.
    I have my serious doubts that this “Faithful Citizenship” statement will be any more persuasive at moving Catholic voters away from anti-life candidates than previous statements, as good as this most recent one is in articulating the critical importance of “life” issues in the litany of “social justice” issues Catholics are called to consider. And that is presuming most Catholics will even take the time to *read* the thing. Most won’t, unfortunately. This culture is in the firm grip of what Pope Benedict once characterized as the “dictatorship of relativism.” And our Catholic brothers and sisters seem quite comfortable goose-stepping to that relativist drumbeat all the way to the polling stations.

  • fw1952

    A copy of this document should be given to all Mass-attending Catholics. Whether we leave them in the bulletins, place them on windshields, or physically hand a copy to each person entering or leaving Church, we all have a responsibilty to spread this word.

    Some Catholics will wiggle out of their responsibility, but most will read it and factor it into their voting habits. And when Catholic democrats begin to vote pro-life, abortion will end.

  • tednkate

    I hate to say this, but I don’t think the lay Catholic can be entirely to blame for their failing to put pro-life issues above all, Fact is, many pro-abortion politicians announced their intention to attend the recent Papal Mass beforehand, and then proceded to take communion. No one prevented it, and to the best of my knowledge, no heads rolled over this (although Guiliana was belated taken to task for it).

    There is an old saying: actions speak louder than words.

  • SolaGratia

    This isn’t going to accomplish anything because the vast majority of Catholics are never going to see or hear about it – as per usual. The average Catholic – even those who are fairly devout – does not have time to keep track of what documents the bishops’ conference is putting out. I don’t even have time to keep up with our less than edifying diocesan paper & I am one of those who tries to keep an ear to the ground.

    So the bishops as a collective group do not make any serious efforts to inform or educate us because they have not developed an effective means of getting the really important information to the people in the pews,

    Plus these crafty pols latch onto snippets from these documents to publicly spin it into whatever they want it to say & no one corrects them publicly so people who want to believe what they say are left comfortable in their errors.

    Also because we’re so busy embracing the “Big Tent” theory that we have celebrated “diversity” to the point that we’re too fragmented to be a cultural force anymore (diversity has trumped unity as a new mark of the Church),

    AND because the bishops write it like legal jargon & our modern attention deficit society (yes,I include myself here) does not have the attention span to wade thru it & try to figure out what the heck they’re really saying.

    Seriously, my mind totally balked at reading this article (due to past experience with the bishops on this topic) & I never even made it all the way through – sure enough, the brain tuned out as soon as it started quoting from the bishops document.

    I am a college educated professional & an avid reader who watches very little TV (EWTN & old movies). If it has this effect on me, I doubt the average “Joe 6-pack” is going to react much differently…

  • troymartz

    The reality is that the problem lies directly with many of the Bishops themselves. How hypocritical of these people to spend a few days pretending to care about these issues only to return to their dioceses and embrace and excuse the pro-abortion politicians.

    They have spent so much of the past few decades being “pastoral” that they have neglected to protect the flocks from the the wolves — whether it be predatory pedaphiles, liberal politicians, or heterodox dissident priests.

    Frankly, the USCCB will have more credibility when they hold their own accountable for obedience to the Church.

  • mrteachersir

    St. John Chrysostom once remarked that the floor of hell is littered with the skulls of bishops and priests. This does not mean that we need to be disrespectful of our bishops all the time. Have they erred? You betcha! They are, however, the Successors to the Apostles. They have been consecrated (not merely blessed).

    Since the 2004 Presidential Election, we have seen a number of Bishops, like Archbishop Burke, publically remind the faithful that voting for abortion is completely against our Faith. Cardinal Egan’s reprimand of Giuliani was public…a brilliant move at publicizing the gravity of voting for abortion. And we have this document, which at the very least says very clearly that not all moral issues are of the same weight.

    Are these things strong enough? That is up for debate. Perhaps, we are seeing a subtle shift. I think it is telling that recently, the President of the USCCB, Cardinal George, celebrated an ordination Ordinary Form Mass in Chicago this weekend in Latin, facing ad orientum…keeping in line with the liturgical tradition and orthodoxy of the Church. With the liturgy goes the doctrine (is there any surprise that the Bishops we hear so many unorthodox things from are hesitant to embrace the liturgical traditions of the past?).