The Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey, has responded to an article in the Times of Trenton entitled, “U.S. bishops: Vote your conscience.” In his response, Bishop Smith states that the article trivialized “the issues and voting choices facing Catholics this year,” and failed to provide the readers with an adequate understanding of the U.S. bishops’ document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
The July 30 issue of the Times of Trenton published an article summarizing the bishop’s statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” However, Bishop Smith writes that, the article “failed to provide readers with an adequate understanding of this program and misrepresented the very spirit of the document.”
Explaining that the Times’ summary “is a serious oversimplification,” and that it “undermines the core message of their statement,” Bishop Smith writes “that Catholics are called to form their consciences in order to exercise faithful citizenship.”
The Bishop of Trenton gives a more detailed explanation of what this means in his reply: Forming one’s conscience “requires serious engagement and commitment” that “does not begin or end at the polling booth. We are even told how to form our consciences, beginning with a ‘willingness 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 ‘prayerful reflection to discern the will of God’ (Section 18).”
“And yet, nowhere in the article is the need to form one’s conscience ever addressed. Instead, readers are led to believe that they should vote on the basis of what they ‘think’ or ‘feel.’ There is no reference to this active process Catholics are instructed to perform. The very essence of what it means to be a ‘faithful citizen’ is omitted,” critiques Bishop Smith.
The bishop also defines “Faithful Citizenship,” explaining that it “is 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.”
Bishop Smith also took issue with The Times’ inaccurate interpretation of the U.S. bishops’ statement on the weight Catholics should give to different moral issues being debated in elections.
“The Times’ handling of the very delicate and complex challenge of voting also failed to represent the full scope of the Bishops’ instructions. The statement goes into great detail to emphasize that not all issues carry the same moral weight, and that ‘opposing intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions’ (Section 37). The document further cautions against the ‘moral 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 opposed’ (Section 28).”
The Bishop Smith concludes his response by encouraging the laity to read the full bishops’ statement, which can be found at www.faithfulcitizenship.org.