In advance of the 2010 elections, the five Catholic bishops of Wisconsin have written a letter to provide Catholics a “framework” of Catholic social teaching to help them form their consciences in evaluating candidates and public policies. The letter called the right to life the “most essential” right.
The bishops’ Sept. 1 letter emphasized four themes: the right to life, the protection of marriage, assistance for the poor, and the protection of the environment.
“First and foremost, the right to life of every human person – from conception to natural death – is the primary and thus most essential of all human rights,” the letter stated. Both faith and reason confirm that human life is not a “privilege” but a “right” that society must protect.
“As Christians, we are called to witness to an authentic ‘human ecology’ which safeguards all human life – no matter how frail or impaired – from being manipulated or destroyed,” the bishops explained.
Discussing marriage as God’s established foundation of the family and the “vital cell of society,” the bishops said that marriage is a social as well as a sacred good that government needs to recognize and encourage. “Marriage promotes the interest of children who need the constant love, attention, and guidance of their mothers and fathers to reach their fullest potential,” they explained.
A “consistent life ethic” also means recognizing God’s special love for the poor and all those in distress, they continued, citing Matthew 25. They also quoted Pope John Paul II’ s encyclical “Centesimus Annus” which noted the need to change lifestyles and the structures of power to help the marginalized succeed economically and develop as people.
“Our natural resources are gifts from God and we are all responsible for protecting them,” the bishops added, noting that the wise use of natural resources will give everyone “the opportunity to thrive.”
The bishops’ letter recognized the need for unity on essential matters of Church doctrine as well as the disagreement possible about non-essentials or about the means of pursuing true goods.
“All of us, however, bear witness to Our Lord Jesus Christ when, in the midst of our vigorous debates, we demonstrate charity and respect for one another,” the bishops commented. “Being a faithful citizen is never easy. Yet, if Catholics continue to remain engaged, not just politically but also culturally, there is so much good that we will contribute to our nation and to our world.”
They said they wrote not to endorse candidates or to impose doctrinal beliefs but to assist the laity’s role as citizens to “bring the love and truth of Jesus Christ into a world where these are so dearly needed.”
The letter was signed by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee; Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison; Bishop Peter F. Christensen of Superior; Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay; and Bishop William P. Callahan of La Crosse.
While federal tax rules prohibit churches from endorsing or opposing specific candidates’ election, they may speak for or against specific legislation or positions.