.- Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, writing on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, Vice-president-elect Joseph Biden and Congress to assure them of the bishops’ prayers and their commitment “to make this period of national change a time to advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all.”
The January 13 letter from Cardinal George, who is the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offered an outline of “an agenda for dialogue and action.”
The cardinal began by explaining that bishops approach public policy “as pastors and teachers.” Their moral principles have guided them in reaching out to the needy, offering health care and housing, and educating children.
“We lead the largest community of faith in the United States, one that serves every part of our nation and is present in almost every place on earth,” the letter continued. “From our experience and our tradition, we offer a distinctive, constructive and principled contribution to the national dialogue on how to act together on issues of economic turmoil and suffering, war and violence, moral decency and human dignity.”
The letter’s policy content began with a pledge to help the new presidential administration and Congress “support strong, prudent and effective measures” to address the “terrible impacts” of the economic crisis. The bishops advocated that poor families and vulnerable workers be given priority.
The bishops, who said that access to decent health care is a basic human right, urged “comprehensive action” to ensure “truly universal health care coverage which protects all human life including pre-natal life.” “Any such legislation ought to respect freedom to choose,” they said, by offering options and ensuring respect for the moral and religious convictions of patients and health care providers.
They also gave their “enthusiastic backing” to efforts to relieve HIV/AIDS and other diseases in ways that are “both effectively and morally appropriate.”
The bishops pledged cooperation in seeking a “responsible transition” in an Iraq “free of religious persecution.” They also urged leadership in bringing peace to the Holy Land and in supporting “increased and reformed” foreign aid to overcome poverty, hunger and disease.
Advocating “comprehensive reform” to American immigration policy, the bishops said such a reform must be based upon “respect for and implementation of the law” while dealing with “the economic and human realities of millions of immigrants.”
The defense of marriage as being between a man and a woman was also raised by Cardinal George, who wrote, “We stand firm in our support for marriage which is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman and must remain such in law.” “Marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children. No other kinds of personal relationships can be justly made equivalent to the commitment of a man and a woman in marriage.”
The bishops added their support to initiatives which provide resources for parents to choose the best education for their children’s needs.
They also welcomed “continuing commitments” to faith-based programs in anti-poverty work and other efforts in ways that do not encourage the government to abandon its responsibilities and don’t require religious groups to abandon their identity and mission.
“Most fundamentally,” the Catholic bishops wrote, “we will work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and voiceless members of the human family, especially unborn children and those who are disabled or terminally ill.”
“We will consistently defend the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death,” the bishops’ letter closed.
The bishops endorsed finding common ground to reduce the number of abortions in “morally sound ways.” They also pledged opposition to initiatives to expand abortion. The bishops mentioned conscience protection for health care workers and prohibitions on taxpayer funding of abortion as particular areas of concern.