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October 28, 2004

THE GRAVEST OF ALL ISSUES

The following statement appears in the October 28, 2004 issue
of The Catholic Standard & Times



Statement of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Archbishop of Philadelphia


Catholic participation in the political process


No one observing our nation's electoral process over the past several months could fail to notice the role of religion in politics. Some have sought to deny this role, citing a strict "separation of Church and State."

This phrase itself is a misinterpretation of the Constitution, which actually allows for free exercise of religion and prohibits establishment of a state religion. It does not preclude religious involvement in the civic arena. The issue nonetheless leads us to examine whether religious faith should play a role in the political process and to what extent the faith of citizens should bear upon their nation's public policy.

There is a necessary and integral relationship between beliefs and actions. Catholics believe we are all created by God in His likeness, that our sinful nature is redeemed by Christ and that, because we are oriented toward justice and peace as sons and daughters of God, we are led by the Holy Spirit to live these values.

If we believe these truths about ourselves then we are compelled to believe them of others. We have life, and because we revere our own life we want life to be lived in fullness by all. We wish to be free and gain respect for our rights as persons. We wish to be healthy and secure in our basic needs, and indeed, prosper.

As we seek these goods for ourselves we are compelled to seek them for others whom we also recognize as created, redeemed and sanctified persons. We do this by contributing to public policy, codified in the civil law of our society, that values all persons as we value ourselves. This is the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Catholics seek the common good

The Catholic Church is a community of believers who are also citizens of the United States of America. Catholics seek, as do many others, the common good based on our view of the person. The leaders of our community, the bishops, serve as teachers for the faithful. When a bishop speaks to the faithful it is to remind them of the truths of our faith as expressed in Sacred Scripture, in the tradition of the Christian faithful and in the official teachings in our 2,000-year history. We look to Jesus Christ and present his constant truths to the living Church, living in the ever-changing circumstances of the contemporary world.

The role of Catholics in politics, then, is to have a voice on policies that reflect the truths of the natural law. Being informed by our own faith perspective, we seek to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ as we seek in truth the common good for all citizens of our land.

We acknowledge threats and even attacks against the human person in a variety of ways which we are compelled to address. We seek an end to deadly attacks against the most defenseless, including children in the womb, and aged or infirm individuals. We seek security at home and peace abroad, mindful of the horrible consequences of violence and war. We endeavor to serve the needs of poor families and search for ways to ease their burden of poverty. We work to establish justice in a society free from the discrimination and vice that deaden the human spirit.

The role of one's conscience

In order to remedy these situations, the Church proclaims that Catholics have not only a right to vote but a duty to participate in the election process. The Church expends enormous effort to teach moral norms for the good of society. It also goes to great lengths to avoid endorsing specific candidates for public office or political parties, thus showing respect for the conscience of individual voters.

It is this conscience which, if it is well formed with the help of Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium, will help build a culture that serves the common good. Persons with a well-formed Christian conscience will want to work for a just society not only on election day but in the many circumstances of everyday life.

Since voting is the fundamental means of participation in the political process, Catholics are obliged to bring their conscience to bear on issues that affect society.

The Church encourages Catholics to learn its teachings on morality and the place of morality in society. These teachings will be helpful in evaluating the position on public policy that is taken by candidates for political office. Thus education in Church teachings and in candidates' public positions is a means by which Catholic citizens may best decide for whom they will vote.

On the issues

The Church identifies moral principles about which Catholics should be informed when exercising their right to vote. As Catholics, we hold in highest priority the right to life and our duty to defend innocent human life. This principle applies directly to the protection of unborn children as well as to the Church 's opposition to embryonic stem cell research, cloning, assisted suicide and euthanasia

On a different level, we also vigorously oppose the death penalty. Although it does not involve the taking of innocent human life, we consider it cruel and unnecessary for the defense of society, an affront to human dignity.

We oppose so-called "same-sex marriage" as we consistently uphold marriage as defined between a man and woman and as we promote family life as the stabilizing factor in society. We acknowledge the need to serve the poor and vulnerable, as we also work to promote the dignity of workers and the protection and well-being of children.

As Catholics, we also seek the way of peace by practicing global solidarity. Further, we acknowledge the importance of proper stewardship over creation by appropriate care for the environment.

All these issues should be considered by voters as they form their conscience. Since one votes not only for people but also for issues, one must consider the candidates' stands on these issues. Citizens of faith should learn about the candidates' specific proposals and, if possible, their past positions on all these matters. Catholic voters should note well when candidates assume positions in support or opposition to an issue with a moral component for which the Church has and must continue to take a stand.

Not all these issues are of equal gravity. Prudent judgments made by thoughtful Catholics can lead to different legitimate approaches to solving the problems of poverty, immigration, healthcare and acceptable military force. Some issues, however, because they lie at the foundation of society and address fundamental aspects of what it means to be human, must be considered first and foremost.

As Catholics we revere life and find the destruction of innocent human life abhorrent. Abortion is an act evil in itself because a fetus in the womb is a complete human being in the process of development. The person is innocent and defenseless from attack. Since abortion destroys this life, it is intrinsically evil. In a similar way embryonic stem cell research by its nature destroys a fertilized egg an embryo that would otherwise mature until birth. Regardless of putative benefits to medical science, the cost is the destruction of innocent human life.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia, also known as "mercy killing," violate the gift of life by destroying it instead of permitting it to pass through its natural course. Cloning also violates the natural order by attempting to create life by scientific means divorced from the natural process of generation: the conjugal union of two persons married for life.

The family itself, as the font from which all human life springs and which nurtures it to maturity, is also under direct attack with attempts to redefine marriage to include "same-sex marriage." Legal protections and provisions for homosexual persons may be reflected in civil law, but society cannot change the definition of marriage that is revealed in natural law and confirmed by human history. The Church consistently proclaims that marriage exists only between one man and one woman.

Catholic citizens must directly oppose the promotion of laws that sanction these threats to the very foundation of society. With his or her vote, each Catholic chooses whether or not to contribute to the common good by safeguarding the innocent and most vulnerable. All actions that enable direct attacks upon innocent human life and the family deserve absolute rejection.

Questions to consider

As we prepare to exercise on November 2 our right to vote according to our properly formed conscience we should keep in mind a number of questions which the candidates for whom we vote are called to address in the coming months and years:

Above all, must we not reject the taking of innocent human life?

Must we not work to overcome all threats to life in our midst?

Must we not remedy the civil laws that permit, if not encourage, these evils to continue?

How can we more effectively build a more just, more secure, more peaceful world, thoroughly respectful of human life and dignity?

How will we overcome poverty, maintain healthcare, apply justice, heal injustice, care for creation?

How can society defend traditional marriage and better support families to raise children with respect for life, sound moral values and personal responsibility?

In these and other questions, with God's help and the guidance of the Church, as Catholics we are committed to moral solutions. This is the work of faithful citizenship.

In our earthly pilgrimage of which political activity is a part, we have food and strength for the journey. The Eucharist sustains and fortifies us. Through it Christ becomes present to us in the Sacrifice of the Mass. He is the source and summit of our life, and He calls us to go forth into the world sanctified by His presence in the Eucharist.

Local polling stations for voting are open on November 2 from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. I earnestly encourage all Catholics to try to begin their day on Tuesday, November 2 by participating at Mass which is celebrated at various times in the parishes of the Archdiocese.

The Eucharistic table is a fitting place to begin the journey of casting our votes. This privilege, for which so many of our forebears sacrificed, can lead to a more just society and a more just world, a world ultimately transformed by the power of Christ.


Cardinal Justin Rigali
October 28, 2004

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