Public witness on issues of public concern is natural for Catholics because we have a commitment to the common good and to the dignity of each human person. Those two pillars — the common good and the dignity of every human person — come right out of Scripture. They underpin all of Catholic social thought.
That includes politics. Politics is where the competing moral visions of a society meet and struggle. And since a large majority of American citizens are religious believers, it makes sense for people and communities of faith to bring their faith into the public square.
As a result, if we believe that a particular issue is gravely evil and damaging to society, then we have a duty, not just a religious duty but also a democratic duty, to hold accountable the candidates who want to allow that evil. Failing to do so is an abuse of responsibility on our part, because that’s where we exercise our power as citizens most directly — in the voting booth.
The “separation of Church and state” can never mean that religious believers should be silent about legislative issues, the appointment of judges or public policy. It’s not the job of the Church to sponsor political candidates. But it’s very much the job of the Church to guide Catholics to think and act in accord with their faith.
So since this is an election year, here are a few simple points to remember as we move toward November.
1. “Catholic” is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the Gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. If we choose to call ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act. We can’t truthfully call ourselves “Catholic” and then behave as if we’re not.
2. Being a Catholic is a bit like being married. We have a relationship with the Church and with Jesus Christ that’s similar to being a spouse. If a man says he loves his wife, his wife will want to see the evidence in his fidelity. The same applies to our relationship with God. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to show that by our love for the Church and our fidelity to what she teaches and believes. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves. God certainly won’t be fooled.
3. The Church is not a political organism. She has no interest in partisanship because getting power or running governments is not what she’s about, and the more closely she identifies herself with any single party, the fewer people she can effectively reach.
4. Scripture and Catholic teaching, however, do have public consequences because they guide us in how we should act in relation to one another. Again, Catholic social action, including political action, is a natural byproduct of the Church’s moral message. We can’t call ourselves Catholic, and then simply stand by while immigrants get mistreated, or the poor get robbed, or – even more fundamentally — unborn children get killed. If our faith is real, then it will bear fruit in our public decisions and behaviors, including our political choices.
5. Each of us needs to follow his or her own conscience. But conscience doesn’t emerge miraculously from a vacuum. The way we get a healthy conscience is by submitting it to God’s will; and the way we find God’s will is by listening to the counsel of the Church and trying honestly to live in accord with her guidance. If we find ourselves frequently disagreeing, as Catholics, with the teaching of our own Church on serious matters, then it’s probably not the Church that’s wrong. The problem is much more likely with us.
In the end, the heart of truly faithful citizenship is this: We’re better citizens when we’re more faithful Catholics. The more authentically Catholic we are in our lives, choices, actions and convictions, the more truly we will contribute to the moral and political life of our nation.
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“As a result, if we believe that a particular issue is gravely evil and damaging to society, then we have a duty, not just a religious duty but also a democratic duty, to hold accountable the candidates who want to allow that evil….” Archbishop Chaput
This quote is an obvious reference to a candidate’s view on abortion rights. In my view, hs Emminence suggests that Catholics ought to vote for the Republican candidate, since it’s generally known that most Democrats support a woman’s “choice” and Republicans (at least at the national level) support restricting a woman’s right to choose. It confounds me, however, that the Church publicly routinely seems to suggest that the individual Catholic voter choose his or her candidate based only on the candidate’s position on this one issue.
There are many issues that should concern the Catholic voter, and in my view, a candidate’s position on these other issues is just as important as his/her view on abortion rights. For example, while a Catholic Democratic candidate might publicly support “choice” (even though he/she may reject abortion personally), that same candidate may take a more “Catholic” stance on curbing urban violence/gun control, on social justice for the poor, accessible health care, immigration issues, eliminating the death penalty, etc. Odds are that the typical Republican candidate (certain those at the national level) reject limitations on gun ownership, on programs designed to alleviate suffering of the disadvantaged, on eliminating the death penalty, workers’ rights, etc. That Republican candidate’s position may be directly at odds with Catholic teachings or positions on these issues. Yet, the Church would have the Catholic voter choose the Republican over the Democratic candidate because the Republican rejects “choice.”
While it is important for the Church to speak out against abortion, it should encourage the Catholic voter to also examine a candidate’s position on all issues that the Catholic faith teaches are important. And, the Church ought to identify its position on these issues in the same kind of “Citizenship” statement. I just get the impression that, time and time again (especially at election time), the Church only seems to concern itself about how Catholic voters decide the one abortion issue, and to me, this inappropriately minimizes the importance of what the candidate’s position is on these other public issues. I would venture to guess that, by and large, the typical Democrat’s position on a wide array of “Catholic” issues might well more more aligned with the Church’s teachings.
“Faithful Citizenship”, What is that? “Eyes have not seen ,ears have not heard”. Does that suprise you? Not me. The last survey in 2008 and I would suspect that with the results from the respondents,Do you recall hearing about….. Yes 16% No 54% Not sure 30% ….. No impression one way or the other 68% all respondents……Didn’t read 90% all respondents. There is a good chance the Bishops don’t want too revist that. The heart of truly faithful citizenship is this; BE INFORMED and faithfully vote you conscience. “Joyful are those who seek God ,not those who found God”.
“….As a result, if we believe that a particular issue is gravely evil and damaging to society, then we have a duty, not just a religious duty but also a democratic duty, to hold accountable the candidates who want to allow that evil….” Archbishop Chaput
Yes, all Philadelphia Catholics should those elected officials in Harrisburg responsible who refuse to take action on those important legislative proposals and measures that would eliminate the statute of limitations, both civilly and criminally, for victims of child sexual abuse as well as allow for a definite time period (window) during which past victims can sue civilly regardless of the date of the alleged sexual abuse.
These proposals apply to ALL victims here in Pennsylvania, regardless of the institution, agency, or organization, both public and private, religious and non-religious.
Most Reverand Chaput,
Your Eminence, thank you so very much for being so clear on being a catholic in todays world. Your clearity is refreshing and past due. I intend to make your words known to all my family and friends and then let God work in their lives. May God grant you perseverebce. Jo-Ann, Mich.
From my perspective, the essential difference between the Democrats (Obama) and the Republicans (Romney) is that the Democrats refuse to put people in prison if they violate certain social teachings of the Catholic Church while the Republicans are not sure what they would do with people who violate the social teachings of the Catholic Church. The Democrats rely on the individual churches to define their own position on social issues and to discipline their own members if they disobey while the Republicans aren’t sure what to do regarding the definition of social teachings nor what to do should someone disobey.
Great post providing food for thought, thank you!
The problem continues as Mass attending Catholics who have previously voted for Obama are not likely to be convinced to change. I can tell by conversations with them.
A few Bishops have warned about the intrinsic evil of abortion and same sex marriage and the danger to the immortal souls of those who are morally complicit.
The USCCB voters guide of 2008 enabled Catholic voters to support Obama, The tweaked 2012 version is hadly any improvement.
Catholic voters need to be warned by a few shocking sound bites from their Bishop.
William and Mary Tobin
Hey there, William Tobin, and I was just thinking that, despite what our Bishops say, we will not be able to persuade the pro-Romney Catholics to change their vote for Obama!
“We can’t call ourselves Catholic, and then simply stand by while immigrants get mistreated” I agree with your statement as written. I disagree with your mis-interprettion of the word immigrant. An immigrant is an individual who enters a country legally, with the permission of the receiving country. Such people are entitled to full assistance and aid when in need. An alien is either a legal temporary visitor who has come to view the country, attend to a short business trip or to attend school. Such individuals all apply for and receive visas before entry. An illegal alien is a thief or gate grasher who exercises his individual desire to crash the wiating list or break in outside peorts of entry. They are criminals and other than temporary sustenance while awaiting disposition are not entitled to any government assistance save a bus ticket back home. We mustr end the flow of illegal aliens into this country, identify those who are already here and begin deportation proceednings on them. If they coluntarily come forward for deportation, allow them to apply for legal entry upon return home and add their names to the waiting list. If they are detained before requesting return to their own country, then they should be fingerprinted, photographed and a computer record made of the entry barring them from legal entry in the U.S. again, or until a lengthy (10 years or more) period of time has passed. We are a nation of immigrants being destroyed by illegal aliens invading without permission or desire to assimilate. That must end.
Please Read!!!A very good article and it’s good for the soul!!
“…. But it’s very much the job of the Church to guide Catholics to think and act in accord with their faith….”
And this is exactly what has been happening over the past several years on each First Friday of the month outside the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Catholic faithful, young and old, victims and their families, advocates and those committed to the protection of our children and the safeguarding of their innocence, spirit and soul stand up and speak out for the children and young adults.
Clearly, such commitment is to “act in accord with (one’s) faith” and to ensure those who have been victimized by sexual abuse have access to the legal system, regardless of when they are able to come forward and pursue justice against such evil and reprehensible criminal conduct.
Thank you, Michael, for reminding all of us about those who have been cast aside and made to feel like the least of our brothers and sisters by the instituional catholic church.