A new document concerning the duties of Catholic voters has been overwhelmingly approved at the Baltimore meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops this morning. Many of the bishops expressed their belief that this is document is a great improvement over teachings from past years.
Titled "Forming Citizens for Faithful Citizenship," the document is an update to past conference statements of the same name. Unlike previous years, this version underwent multiple revisions and was brought before the whole bishops' conference for approval. The bishops approved the document with 97.8 % in favor and only three votes against it.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn led the presentation of the document to the bishops' conference. He said the document takes its inspiration from Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," where the Pope says that the Church “wishes to help form consciences in political life.”
The bishop emphasized that following those words was their goal. "This document is not about bishops and politicians," he said, "it’s about helping Catholics form their consciences."
At the presentation of the document one bishop asked if the scandal of pro-abortion politicians receiving Holy Communion was addressed in the document. Bishop DiMarzio answered that the question had already been answered twice in previous "Faithful Citizenship" documents, to which the latest document referred its readers.
The document itself said that with a proper foundation, "Catholics are better able to evaluate policy positions, party platforms, and candidates’ promises and actions in light of the Gospel and the moral and social teaching of the Church in order to help build a better world."
"Faithful Citizenship" explained that conscience was not a justification for doing what one wants, nor a mere feeling, but instead the voice of God revealing the truth to us and calling us to do good. "Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith," it said.
The document briefly mentioned various voter guides distributed to voters in election years, but recommended that Catholics look to their bishops for proper formation. "We encourage Catholics to seek those resources that are authorized by their own bishops, their state Catholic conferences, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This statement is intended to reflect and complement, not substitute for, the ongoing teaching of bishops in our own dioceses and states," the document read.
The document also rebuked partisanship and warned of its potential to corrupt the conscience: "As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths."
"Faithful Citizenship" emphasized that a person’s conscience motivates one not just to avoid evil, but also to do good. As examples of positive action mandated by conscience, the document said "The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors--basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work--is universally binding on our consciences."
But the document did not neglect to list some political evils that should always be avoided: "Abortion, racism, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy-these are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act."
The bishops' document also warned of the effects of political decisions on voters' and politicians' spiritual welfare. "It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens impact on general peace and prosperity and also may affect the individual’s salvation. Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being."
"Faithful Citizenship" reiterated support for the right to life, the dignity of the human person, action supporting both the family and the community, and the importance of balancing rights and responsibilities. It explained the "preferential option" for the poor and vulnerable, calling all people to solidarity with one another. The document also spoke of the dignity of work, and the rights of workers. Touching on environmental issues, it also examined the duty to care for God's creation.
Expressing his overall satisfaction with the new document Bishop Morlino of Madison, WI said, “I’m generally… very pleased with the text. I find that many of our people have been misinstructed about conscience. They’ve been taught that conscience is a maker of truth instead of a seeker of the truth. Our emphasis on conscience dictates and clarifies… that at times salvation can be at stake.”
Also approved by an almost unanimous vote (98%) was a bulletin insert informing parishioners about the new “Faithful Citizenship” document.