The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: October 24, 2003
Bishops issue call to political responsibility
A visitor from Mars asked to evaluate the state of American Catholicism based on popular press presentations of the past year could easily conclude that it is a religion focused on sex (whether that be abuse of minors, optional celibacy for priests, gay marriage) and the deteriorating physical condition of its aging Rome-based leader.
This is a caricature: a grain or more of truth taken to its illogical extreme.
It is true, however, that the prophetic voice of the church has been muffled, if not quite silenced, by the scandals of the past 22 months.
Often in these same pages, however, we are reminded that the church is more than sex scandals and papal deathwatches. The heroics of migrant activists, health care workers, peacemakers in a violent world and courageous religious leaders who have been subjects of recent cover stories and major stories make the point. The point was emphasized further earlier this month by the U.S. bishops in their 8,000-word reflection on Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.
Say the bishops: While working to protect children and rebuild trust, we must not abandon the churchs important role in public life and the duty to encourage Catholics to act on our faith in political life.
Amen to that.
Since 1975, the bishops have issued such a document to coincide with the federal election cycle. But this years reflection seems particularly significant: Since the last presidential election and our last reflection on faithful citizenship, our nation has been attacked by terrorists and has gone to war twice. We have moved from how to share budget surpluses to how to allocate the burdens of deficits.
The bishops offer this framework: Politics in this election year and beyond should be about an old idea with new power -- the common good. The central question should not be, Are you better off than you were four years ago? It should be, How can we -- all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable -- be better off in the years ahead?
The bishops speak plainly: As Catholics, we are not free to abandon unborn children because they are seen as unwanted or inconvenient; to turn our backs on immigrants because they lack the proper documents; to create and then destroy human lives in a quest for medical advances or profit; to turn away from poor women and children because they lack economic or political power; or to ignore sick people because they have no insurance. Nor can we neglect international responsibilities in the aftermath of war because resources are scarce. Catholic teaching requires us to speak up for the voiceless and to act in accord with universal moral values.
That structure established, they move on to specific issues.
Whatever one makes of the solutions the bishops offer (and were grateful, for example, that their defense of marriage makes no mention of their ill-advised support for a constitutional amendment banning gay unions), theres no doubt that it is a radical gospel-based vision, a far cry from the platforms offered by our tweedledum and tweedledee political parties.
And the document serves as a reminder to the 64 million U.S. Catholics that our church is about more than scandal and shame; that however flawed we are, however flawed the institution is, were ultimately called to love one another, to promote -- as best we can discern it -- the common good.
National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2003
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