Faithful Citizenship in 2012 

The American bishops’ landmark 2007 instruction to Catholics about politics will be not be changed, but will be re-issued in … Continued

The American bishops’ landmark 2007 instruction to Catholics about politics will be not be changed, but will be re-issued in its original form. Titled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, these instructions had come under fire from those, like former GOP Catholic liaison Deal Hudson, who complained bitterly that the 2007 document afforded cherry-picking by Democrats anxious to win church neutrality even for pro-choice candidates. Today, three years into the Obama presidency, the bishops are set to renew their support for Faithful Citizenship and its 2007 language.

What makes this all but certain was the release Tuesday of a brief introductory note over the signature of U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York with unanimous endorsements from all bishops who head policy committees of the conference.  That note re-affirms the 2007 insistence that Catholics are morally obliged in political life to attend not only to the most important issue of abortion, but also to those of family, poverty, social justice, environment and peace.

Catholics should be pleased. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is a poignant articulation of the Catholic argument for good citizenship. Its teachings are both timeless statements of political responsibility and timely reflections on the moral imperatives of contemporary governance and citizenship.  We are reminded at once that the church’s moral and social teachings transcend partisan politics and yet they also sharply challenge the ideologies fragmenting American political life–and challenge too the specific party platforms of Democrats and Republicans.  More importantly, we’re reminded that in the Catholic understanding politics is itself good, that the political order arose not out of human sin but from the Creator’s intention that we be citizens, that governance is not a necessary evil but natural and divinely ordained, and that it is the moral obligation of government to promote life, serve the poor, build peace, assure health care, strengthen families, advance a living wage and employment for all, steward the earth, and bring justice to inequities.

Like Pope Benedict XVI’s wonderful encyclical
Spe Salvi
(Saved by Hope) that was also released in 2007, Faithful Citizenship insists that the operative virtue of political life is prudence.  In Spe Salvi, the pontiff critiqued the ideologies of the modern world that promise to replace prudence with formulaic certainty in the unfolding of human affairs.  In the same way, Faithful Citizenship insists that while Catholics are required in public life to address issues of life and social justice, they do so not with formulaic, ideological programs but with prudence (and maybe too, humility) grounded in a comprehensive, faith-based understanding of the human person, the human condition.

Sadly, reports suggest that few Catholics are even aware of
Faithful Citizenship
. Yet this powerful and clear teaching on the place of Catholics in public life has a special urgency for America today: a nation bitterly divided along partisan and ideological fault lines and roiled by hyper-individualistic movements on the far left and far right that deny the very legitimacy of its tenets.  The American bishops need to bring the message of Faithful Citizenship to American Catholics.  It should be in hands of every journalist and blogger in the country.  It should be distributed in Catholic high schools and colleges.  Homilies should be devoted to it.  Talks and forums should be organized.

The American bishops, moreover, would do well to read this document again themselves.  A marvelous crystallization of Catholics teachings about the person, the community, the common good, and the morality of governance, Faithful Citizenship should serve as the bishops’ own map for political engagement in American politics.  The political engagement it preaches is neither a juridical one of judgment and censure nor a pietistic one of withdrawal and turning-inward.  Faithful Citizenship demands from everyone a much richer and more positive participation in public life.

Stephen F. Schneck, Ph.D., is director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.

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  • david6

    The USCCB does need to read this because they have become obsessed with only one issue, an issue barely touched on in the Bible, an issue they have elevated above concern for the poor, an issue that lets the GOP in its war on the poor, the sick and the elderly.

    I have no reason to trust any Catholic bishops any more. They have betrayed the trust of their members.

  • GregoryofNyssa

    Faithful Citizenship was used to give cover to Catholics who voted for Obama. Failure of the bishops to make the needed revisions to address this is scandalous.

  • geraldodoire

    The document ” Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” does not differentiate the level of gravity between for example the scourge of abortion and economic issues where legitimate differences of opinion are tolerable. Thus “pro-choice” politicians can put all these issues in the same sack, shake them all about and chose which ones suit their agendas,

  • geraldodoire

    So you think that the terrible crime of abortion is not covered in the bible. Well, if you are familiar with that great tome, you will realize that it is explicitly or implicitly condemned in numerous places-
    “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13,
    “You knit me in my mother’s womb . . . nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret” (Psalm 139:13,15)
    “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.” (Jeremiah 1:5 )
    The child in the womb is among the most innocent and vulnerable of our citizens. How can one talk about justice for the poor, sick and the elderly when life that is developing in a mother’s womb is cruelly snuffed out?

  • geraldodoire

    I agree with you that the command “thous shalt not kill” should apply to states who use executions as punishment for the crime of murder when other more humane options are available instead. The death penalty is a form of retributive killing that as the bible says leaves everyone blind because it is based on “an eye for an eye”.
    I also agree that the horrible revelations concerning the crime of sex-abuse of minors by priests and the subsequent cover-ups, revealed the corrupting nature of sin within the body of the Church. But I sincerely believe that our present pope is pursuing a thorough program of reform and renewal to tackle this scourge at it’s root.

  • amelia45

    “Faithful Citizen” allows us to hold accountable those Catholic politicians who vote agianst health care, against safety nets for the old, poor, disabled, and against those who have so vilified the existence of government as to make a mockery of it.

    I am glad the bishops have come out so clearly on the idea that there are many issues that require our attention, not just abortion and gay marriage. And we must weigh our own position on a particular politician on all these issues and find our own balance.

  • Secular1

    Come on guys to repudiate the bishops argument using “Thou shalt not kill” from that putrid tome from the ignorant ancients from 25 centuries is plain stupid. Why do you even elevate that filthy book as source of any moral argument. Once you have conceded the moral equivalence between abortion and state sanctioned execution, then you have already forfeited your position. then they clobber you with the fact that the numbers just do not compare. What, perhaps a hundred state run execution across the country to a few million abortions each year. the numbers kill you.

    The case to be made is not from equating the two. The first thing that needs to be done is to separate moral equivalence between the two. First of all that filthy tome is not coherent. While “thou shall not kill” is one of the pearls in it, compared to the muck in it we should make a case that that book is worthless for moral guidance. It talks of killing the infants by the thousands. Well on second thoughts, we are not going win over folks with that approach – not in America at least.

    So we need to scour that filthy tome and show that teh sky daddy did not have any position on the fetus’s well being. Show that sky daddy did not have position or consider fetus as a living thing. Then show that these pedophile covering priests made up stuff about fetus being a full blown human being even as they are trying to limit women.. Perhaps pro-choice folks should definitely concede that at some point during the pregnancy there is a point of no return, in the sense that the abortion must not be considered as an opt

  • James210

    What happened to core values? Jesus was sent to Hell?
    One cannot minister or organize unless, open discussion is permitted?

    Jewish law, Islamic prayer, Ka-tholic Values, Faith of the earth? and, we have added the non-elective courses on Atheism -trap setting and witchKraft.

    Inventors=intelligent design=atheist,agnostics? rogue

    Your influence is noted! however, i prefer not to enter the debate on Eve offering to Adam, the pear? The paradox?

    Yes, i enjoy being battered by Higher educated and throwing out the use of historical precedents and presedence and catalystic loops.

    Of course, alcohol fueled intel-lectual conversation often can lead to people apologizing, for agreeing with one another.

    I’m guessing the use of sin does have it’s benefits when defending the home turf.
    alcohol +anger=outspoken .

    there are entirely too many of these types of Wanderers. And, i wonder who Jesus would execute first?