.- The Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey, has responded to an article in the Times of Trenton entitled, âU.S. bishops: Vote your conscience.â In his response, Bishop Smith states that the article trivialized âthe issues and voting choices facing Catholics this year,â and failed to provide the readers with an adequate understanding of the U.S. bishopsâ document, âForming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.â
The July 30 issue of the Times of Trenton published an article summarizing the bishopâs statement, âForming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.â However, Bishop Smith writes that, the article âfailed to provide readers with an adequate understanding of this program and misrepresented the very spirit of the document.â
Explaining that the Timesâ summary âis a serious oversimplification,â and that it âundermines the core message of their statement,â Bishop Smith writes âthat Catholics are called to form their consciences in order to exercise faithful citizenship.â
The Bishop of Trenton gives a more detailed explanation of what this means in his reply: Forming oneâs conscience ârequires serious engagement and commitmentâ that âdoes not begin or end at the polling booth. We are even told how to form our consciences, beginning with a âwillingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right through the study of sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and continuing with an examination of the background related to the choices before us. We are told that forming our conscience also requires âprayerful reflection to discern the will of Godâ (Section 18).â
âAnd yet, nowhere in the article is the need to form oneâs conscience ever addressed. Instead, readers are led to believe that they should vote on the basis of what they âthinkâ or âfeel.â There is no reference to this active process Catholics are instructed to perform. The very essence of what it means to be a âfaithful citizenâ is omitted,â critiques Bishop Smith.
The bishop also defines âFaithful Citizenship,â explaining that it âis the compilation of general principles applied to the obligation that Catholics have to exercise political responsibility in the light of their faith, regardless of whether it is an election year, and irrespective of the candidates who are running and the issues on which they are basing their campaigns.â
Bishop Smith also took issue with The Timesâ inaccurate interpretation of the U.S. bishopsâ statement on the weight Catholics should give to different moral issues being debated in elections.
âThe Timesâ handling of the very delicate and complex challenge of voting also failed to represent the full scope of the Bishopsâ instructions. The statement goes into great detail to emphasize that not all issues carry the same moral weight, and that âopposing intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actionsâ (Section 37). The document further cautions against the âmoral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposedâ (Section 28).â
The Bishop Smith concludes his response by encouraging the laity to read the full bishopsâ statement, which can be found at www.faithfulcitizenship.org.