October 11, 2012
Evaluating issues, candidates? There’s help
By Bishop George Thomas *

By Bishop George Thomas *

Election season rhetoric has taken a turn for the worse.

Politicians’ pledges to engage in civil dialogue have devolved into acrimony and name calling.

Television and radio stations are reaping the benefits of negative infomercials devoid of content and substantive information.

We deserve better.

The U.S. bishops, in an effort to help Catholics make good political choices and navigate the turbulent waters of election 2012, have re-proposed a practical and accessible document titled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

It does not provide us with a voters’ guide, a scorecard of issues or directions on how to vote.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” does, however, give conscientious Catholics useful tools and moral principles to help “shape their choices, form their consciences, and contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue.”

The questions we face as a nation are daunting and complex. Some involve intrinsic moral or social evil.

Consider what the Catholic citizen or politician is to do as we face a plethora of contemporary concerns such as:

-The continuing destruction of unborn children through abortion and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick or unwanted.

-The renewed efforts to force Catholic ministries in health care, education and social services to violate their consciences or stop serving others in need.

-The increasing efforts to redefine marriage and enact measures that undermine marriage as the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman, and a fundamental moral and social institution essential to the common good.

-The economic crisis that has devastated lives and livelihoods, increased national and global unemployment, poverty and hunger, increased deficits and placed a massive burden of debt on future generations.

-The failure to repair a broken immigration system through comprehensive measures that promote true respect for the law, protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants and refugees, recognize their contributions to our nation, keep families together and advance the common good.

-The wars, terror and violence that raise serious moral questions on the use of force and its human and moral costs in a dangerous world, particularly the absence of justice, security and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.

“Faithful Citizenship” provides us with valuable tools, information and guidelines that help us to think clearly and critically, and to evaluate the issues and candidates through the lenses of Catholic social and moral teaching.

It challenges us not to make blind choices based on party affiliation, uncritical ideology or selfish personal interests.

It encourages voters to pay close attention to the endorsements that accompany a candidate’s name and voting record.

“Faithful Citizenship” helps us to evaluate policy positions, party platforms and candidates’ promises and actions in light of the Gospel and through the lenses of Catholic moral and social teaching.

It raises up the clear and compelling obligation we hold as voters to oppose those intrinsic evils that never can be justified, and to prayerfully consider those issues that require us to forge new paths to justice and peace.

It challenges politicians to lead from a base of sound moral principles rather than governance by political popularity or by the latest polling results.

“Faithful Citizenship” acquaints the reader with the foundational elements of Catholic social teaching – values such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person, the right to life, a preferential option for the poor, the theology of the common good, an emphasis on family and community, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, global solidarity and caring for God’s creation.

“Faithful Citizenship” is practical, accessible and easy to digest. The information it contains helps us to make those well-formed decisions that flow from the well-formed conscience.

This important document challenges us to avoid what I have called “camouflage Catholicism,” i.e., the radical privatization of religion that unhinges the connection between faith and public life, religion and morality, prayer and compassion, worship and justice, or in Gospel parlance, love of God and love of neighbor.

You can find “Faithful Citizenship” at www.faithfulcitizenship.org.

Reprinted with permission from the Montana Catholic, official newspaper for the diocese of Helena.

Most Rev. George Thomas is bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Montana.
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