Get Into Politics, Bishops Urge Laity

WASHINGTON-America's bishops want Catholics to vote not just with their wallets, but also with their hearts.

The U.S. bishops will mail the Oct. 20 document “Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium” to every parish in the country this November. The booklet outlines voters guidelines for America's 61 million Catholics.

“While many Catholics, like others, have retreated from the political process, our faith calls us to engagement ... to get more involved in not only our own interests, but in moral principles as well,” said John Carr, spokesman for the conference.

The bishops have released such documents every four years since 1976, but this time “it's shorter more direct, in some ways more urgent,” Carr told the Register.

“We have a responsibility to try to reform and to renew this tradition,” Carr said of the political process. “We need to use this opportunity to shape this world to a greater respect for human life, human dignity and justice.”

“This is about more than our pocketbook, this is about whether we protect human life,” said Carr.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the monthly First Things, agreed in the sense of urgency. He told the Register that now more than ever, Catholics must bring their convictions to the ballot box.

‘We're really trying to reach the folks in the pews, not just the leadership people or the social justice people’

— Cardinal Mahony

“On the crucial issue of the day, between the culture of life and the culture of death, I think there will be a clear and drastic difference between the two parties and the two candidates” in the presidential election for 2000, Father Neuhaus said.

The document outlines the Church's stances on social and economic issues, from abortion to helping the poor.

“As Catholics we need to share our values, raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society that protects human life, promotes family life, pursues social justice, and practices solidarity,” the bishops say in the document. “We believe every candidate, policy, and political platform should be measured by how they touch the human person; whether the enhance or diminish human life, dignity and human rights; and how they advance the common good.”

While the bishops do not intend to create a Catholic voting bloc and will not endorse candidates or political parties, they encouraged Catholics to affirm their faith in the political process.

“The title really says it all,” Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, told the Catholic News Service. “Catholics really have a great responsibility to be active members of society, to really be informed.”

According to some, Catholics have fallen well short of voting in accordance with the Church's stances on such issues as abortion.

“When I think about a Catholic vote, I think of what Stalin said, ‘How many legions does the Pope have?’ You mean there is a Catholic vote?” syndicated columnist and vice-presidential candidate Joseph Sobran told the Register. “Some Catholic vote. We just aren't acting like serious Catholics.”

The bishops hope to change that.

“We're really trying to reach the folks in the pews, not just the leadership people or the social justice people,” said Cardinal Mahony, who is co-chairman of the U.S. bishops' Domestic Policy Committee.

Carr said, “The statement makes clear that in our tradition, citizenship is a virtue and participation in the political process in a moral obligation.”