Bishops in US emphasize importance of life, Church teaching in voting guidances
As election day looms, Catholic bishops throughout the country are issuing pastoral guidance on how Catholics should think about their vote, emphasizing the preeminent importance of “life issues” and Church teaching.
“I recognize that many of you feel such deep distress about this election, perhaps the most contentious in the course of our lifetime,” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said ina Sept. 22 letter to Catholics in his diocese.
The bishop noted that there are “problems with each of the major parties’ platforms and their endorsed candidates” and that his job as a bishop is to address “issues grounded on our faith and tradition” rather than to “endorse one or another of candidates for public office, including the office of president.”
Zubik emphasized to Catholics that they must view the act of voting “as a moral decision.”
This decision, he said, must be made with a “well-formed conscience” that is formed through prayer, Scripture, and “honestly inform(ing) yourself about the moral teaching of the Catholic Church,” he said.
Among the major problems facing the country right now are life issues, which “include the serious threats to human life and dignity, some of which are racism, the environmental crisis, human trafficking, unemployment, underemployement, appropriate medical coverage, the death penalty, religious freedom, the plight of immigrants, and poverty among others. In each and all of these, the Gospel calls for our attention.”
Zubik said while that list is but a “partial litany” of life issues, there is a “hierarchy of these issues that needs to be recognized.”
“At the forefront of ‘life issues’ is the right to be born as the right upon which all other ‘life issues’ rest,” he said.
Zubik said that the primacy of the right to life has been a “consistent Catholic teaching,” and pointed to the words of St. John Paul II, Pope Francis, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as examples of this.
“Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question,” Pope Francis wrote of abortion in his apostolic exhortationEvangelii gaudium.
“I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations.’ It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life,” Francis wrote.
Ina Sept. 23 columnfor the Diocese of Madison’s newspaper, Bishop Donald Hying of Madison said that this election has “a contentious and angry divisiveness that we have not seen in our lifetimes.”
Hying said he wanted to remind Catholics that “before all else, we belong to Christ. We are Catholic Christians before we are Americans and certainly before we might be part of any political party.”
“Jesus Christ is our Savior; His teachings and the moral truths of the Church guide us in all aspects of our lives, including how we vote,” he added.
Like Zubik, Hying noted that “the Church cannot and will not endorse a particular candidate or party.”
Rather, he said, his role as pastor is to “teach and preach the Faith, so that all may vote with an informed conscience, even as we acknowledge that no individual or party can ever represent the totality of our values and beliefs.”
Hying referenced a statement from the U.S. bishop’s conference last year, in which they stated that abortion is the “preeminent moral issue facing our nation.”
The use of the word “preeminent” is important, Hying said, because “procured abortion surpasses all other moral issues in its urgency, but clearly is not the only issue we face.”
“Although I have always been pro-life, my commitment and understanding deepened when, as a young priest, I listened to and learned from the emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain of so many women and men who have been profoundly wounded by the violence of abortion,” he added.
Hying said he is grateful for the many ways the Church supports women “both in crisis pregnancy and after their children are born — provides health care, education and social services to those in poverty, and offers hope and healing to women and men grieving in the aftermath of abortion.”
Because of the Church’s support and care for the whole person from birth to natural death, Hying said he rejects the “canard” that pro-life Catholics “only cares about the unborn child, but not those who are born.”
“If a candidate is fundamentally wrong on such a basic and preeminent human rights issue of grave consequence to the most innocent in our society and to our own future, how can I trust the candidate to make moral and prudent decisions on many other important social justice issues pertaining to the common good?” he wrote.
Ina joint letter to Catholics issued this month, the Catholic bishops of Virginia – Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond – outlined three things Catholics should keep in mind when going to the voting booth.
“Many issues are important. Not all issues have equal moral weight. Protecting life is paramount,” the bishops noted.
In their letter, Burbidge and Knestout pointed Catholics to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a statement written by the U.S. bishop’s conference and posted to their website.
“Our moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts – which are ‘always incompatible with love of God and neighbor’ – ‘has a special claim on our consciences and our actions,’” the bishops said, quoting Faithful Citizenship.
“Of these, abortion is the ‘preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed,’” they added.
The bishops of Virginia also encouraged Catholics to visit vacatholic.org, to view a “side-by-side comparison of what the two major-party Presidential candidates have said or done on a wide range of issues of importance to Catholics…compiled jointly by a number of state Catholic conferences, including the Virginia Catholic Conference.”
Inhis column for the September 2020 issue of Florida Catholic, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami also emphasized that the Church was not a political entity that should tell Catholics how to vote.
“Our Church rightly does not tell the faithful to vote for any candidate or party. The Catholic Church is not – nor does she want to be – a political agency or a special interest group,” he said.
“However, she does have a profound interest – and rightly so – in the good of the political community, the soul of which is justice. For this reason, the Church engages in a wide variety of public policy issues including the defense of unborn life, of religious liberty and of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, as well as advocacy on issues concerning immigration, education, poverty and racism, along with many others,” Wenski said.
Wenski also pointed Catholics to Faithful Citizenship as a helpful resource to inform their consciences before they vote.
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 too often, who are the least ‘worse’ candidates,” Wenski stated.
The moral framework by which a Catholic decides their vote should be informed by prayer and Scripture, the bishop noted, and should rise above “mere party affiliation or self-interests…(to) 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.”
Citing the words of Pope Francis, Wenski noted the importance of “the defense of human life and dignity” which is not a “‘narrow cause’ but a way of life.”
“For this reason, no Catholic should vote for a political program or law with the intent of contradicting the fundamental principles of our faith,” he said.
“That some Catholics in public life promote positions on human life that are not coherent with their Catholic faith is a scandal and while they may claim to be ‘practicing’ Catholics, it is obvious that they need to practice a whole lot more – until they get it right,” he added.
Wenski also lamented in his letter that the political landscape in the United States “can be discouraging.” But he encouraged Catholics to engage in politics, rather than retreat, in order to bring about transformation.
“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.”