Reflections on the 1996 Elections by the Administrative Board of the United States Catholic Conference
Pope John Paul II’s Challenges for America
Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States in the fall of 1995 was a powerful call to American Catholics to use our freedom in the service of truth, to protect human life and human dignity, and to stand up for unborn children, poor families, and immigrants. The Holy Father’s words are a powerful call to genuine political responsibility. We begin these reflections by citing just a few of the challenges he raised in those remarkable few days in our land.
It is vital for the human family that . . . America keeps compassion, generosity, and concern for others at the very heart of its efforts. . . . It is my prayerful hope that America will persevere in its own best traditions of openness and opportunity. . . . The same spirit of creative generosity will help you to meet the needs of your own poor and disadvantaged. They too have a role to play in building a society truly worthy of the human person—a society in which none are so poor that they have nothing to give and none are so rich that they have nothing to receive. . . . America will continue to be a land of promise as long as it remains a land of freedom and justice for all.(1)
True patriotism never seeks to advance the well-being of one’s own nation at the expense of others. . . . The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty.(2)
Is present-day America becoming less sensitive, less caring toward the poor, the weak, the stranger, the needy? It must not! . . . When the unborn child—the "stranger in the womb"—is declared to be beyond the protection of society, not only are America’s deepest traditions radically undermined and endangered, but a moral blight is brought upon society. I am also thinking of threats to the elderly, the severely handicapped, and all those who do not seem to have any social usefulness. . . . Both as Americans and as followers of Christ, American Catholics must be committed to the defense of life in all its stages and in every condition.(3)
In practical terms, this truth tells us that there can be no life worthy of the human person without a culture—and a legal system—that honors and defends marriage and the family
. . . . The truth which Christ reveals . . . challenges us to be involved. It gives us the courage to see Christ in our neighbor and to serve him there. We ought to invite others to come to us by stretching out a helping hand to those in need, by welcoming the newcomer, by speaking words of comfort to the afflicted.(4)
The basic question before a democratic society is: "How ought we to live together?" Can the biblical wisdom which played such a formative part in the very founding of your country be excluded from that debate? Would not doing so mean that tens of millions of Americans could no longer offer the contribution of their deepest convictions to the formation of public policy? . . . Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like but in having the right to do what we ought.(5)
Democracy needs wisdom. Democracy needs virtue. . . . Democracy stands or falls with the truths and values which it embodies and promotes. Democracy serves what is true and right when it safeguards the dignity of every human person, when it respects inviolable and inalienable human rights, when it makes the common good the end and criterion regulating all public and social life.(6)
1. Politics: Citizenship and Cynicism
Elections are a time for debate and decisions on the leaders, policies, and values that will guide our nation. For the last five presidential elections, the administrative board of our bishops’ conference has issued a statement on political responsibility to encourage broad participation in the electoral process, outline the role of the Church in public life, and raise the moral and human dimensions of key issues for discussion in the coming campaigns.
We update and reissue this statement, convinced that the 1996 elections will be a time for important choices for our nation. American public life is too often overshadowed by widespread public cynicism and frustration. Many citizens simply don’t vote. Many Americans seem disinterested or disenchanted with politics. This alienation is a dangerous trend, threatening to undermine our democratic traditions.
There are a variety of causes for this decline of political life. Some problems are structural, such as unnecessary barriers to voter registration, but others are more subtle. Too many candidates and political professionals engage more in tactical combat than civil debate, seeking to reduce support for an opponent rather than gather support for their own cause. The news media sometimes seem more interested in tactics and "who’s ahead" than in issues and character. And many citizens are too often preoccupied by narrow self-interest, indifferent to public life or unconvinced that politics makes any difference. The result is elections without full public participation, campaigns with little substance, and widespread public cynicism and alienation.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Public life should be a place of civil debate and broad public participation. However, many people see politics as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Some Americans believe our representatives are more interested in contributors than constituents, spending more of their energies looking for campaign funds than the common good. Sound bites and symbols, war rooms and attack ads are replacing civil debate and the search for the common good. Too much of public life reflects our fears more than our hopes, dividing us by age, race, region, and class. Too often the voices that set the agenda of public life are not those who seek the common good, but those who seek to divide us. The politics of money and polarization may help fund raising and ratings, but it is a bad way to build community.
For example, in the ongoing family values and welfare debates we are offered false choices between responsibility and compassion, between greater involvement of community structures and federal investment in fighting poverty. Some advocates say that we need only better values (more time with children, more sexual restraint, more personal responsibility, a greater focus on moral values). Others say we need only better policies (more jobs, a higher minimum wage, better child care, decent health care, and better housing). Our ongoing Catholic Campaign for Children and Families seeks to move beyond the limited perspectives of both right and left to advocate new policies that reflect our best values.
There is also a growing temptation to blame our sense of economic insecurity and moral decline not on cultural disarray or the failures of political and economic leadership, but on too much compassion. To listen to some, our nation is in trouble because of too many immigrants and welfare mothers; not enough birth control, abortions, prisons, and executions; and too much foreign aid and affirmative action. Our problems are far more fundamental. They cannot be blamed only on people who are poor and powerless. The "rich and famous" and the rest of us have at least as much responsibility as the "least among us."
These political trends diminish genuine public debate and increase cynicism, feeding frustration that "politics as usual" responds to elite and powerful constituencies more than ordinary citizens and the common good. We share these concerns not to cast blame, but to advance and strengthen our democracy. Public service is both a vocation and a public trust. We gratefully acknowledge the sacrifice, hard work, and commitment of those who serve our nation and communities. We regret public attitudes that dismiss the legitimate role of government and ridicule public officials in misguided frustration with all politics. We need more, not less public participation—not only in electoral politics, but also in issue advocacy, legislative networks, and community organizations, which give important vitality and substance to public life.
As the nation prepares for the 1996 elections, we need to examine our own political behavior and take steps to build public confidence and participation in the political process. We ask candidates to trust the American people enough to share their values and vision with us without resorting to empty rhetoric or polarizing tactics. We urge the news media to cover campaigns in ways that tell us more than who’s ahead or whose commercials are more clever. The nation needs more thorough and unbiased coverage of the positions and qualifications of the candidates and the major issues facing the nation.
And, most importantly, as citizens we need to face our own public responsibilities: to register and vote; to understand issues and assess candidates’ positions and qualifications; and to join with others in advocating for the common good. Together, we can make this election an opportunity for informed debate and clear choices about the future.
Rediscovery of the Common Good
The key to a renewal of public life is reorienting politics to reflect better the search for the common good (i.e., reconciling diverse interests for the well-being of the whole human family) and a clear commitment to the dignity of every person. If politics ignores this fundamental task, it can easily become little more than an arena for partisan gamesmanship, the search for power for its own sake, or interest group conflict. Pope John Paul II has warmly praised democratic values but warned against a "crisis within democracies," which "seem at times to have lost the ability to make decisions aimed at the common good."(7)
In an age of powerful political action committees and justifiable public concern about campaign financing, the Holy Father issued a warning which we should take to heart: "Certain demands which arise within society are sometimes not examined in accordance with criteria of justice and morality, but rather on the basis of the electoral or financial power of the groups promoting them. With time, such distortions of political conduct create distrust and apathy, with a subsequent decline in the political participation and civic spirit of the general population, which feels abused and disillusioned." The pope deplores the "growing inability to situate particular interests within the framework of a coherent vision of the common good" which "demands a correct understanding of the dignity and the rights of the person." He calls on us to "give democracy an authentic and solid foundation through the explicit recognition of [human] rights."(8)
Pope John Paul II is even more insistent in his recent encyclical The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae):
The value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the "common good" as the end and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental and not to be ignored.(9)
The Holy Father goes on to point out:
The Gospel of life is for the whole of human society. To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized. . . . There can be no true democracy without a recognition of every person’s dignity and without respect for his or her rights.(10)
American political life must refocus on the search for the common good over the pursuit of partisan advantage, private gain, or special interest agendas.
Questions for 1996
The continuing challenge to seek the common good is not an abstract ideal for us, but an urgent task for this election year. We face many important issues. The United States is blessed with extraordinary freedom, resources, and strength. We have accomplished much together in our economic, social, and political life. However, we confront important decisions on how to respond to urgent national problems and dramatic global change. A number of critical questions need to be addressed in the coming campaign:
• How can our nation best respond to the haunting needs of vulnerable children in our midst? We live in a society where 1.5 million unborn children die each year through legalized abortion. We live in a rich nation where more than a fourth of our preschoolers grow up poor. We live in a world where almost 35,000 children die every day from hunger and the diseases associated with malnutrition. The lives and dignity of vulnerable children—born and unborn—remain central questions for 1996.
• How can our nation bring together the strength of a powerful market economy and just public policies to confront continuing poverty and dependency, joblessness and declining real income for many families, and growing hostility toward immigrants and refugees?
• How can our society best combat continuing prejudice and discrimination, overcome the divisions among our people, provide full opportunity for all people, and heal the open wounds of racism and sexism?
• How can our society better support families in their irreplaceable moral role and social duties, offering real choices and help in finding and affording decent education, housing, and health care? How can we help parents raise their children with sound moral values, a sense of hope, and an ethic of responsibility for themselves and others?
• How can our nation respond creatively to dramatic international changes and pursue the values of justice and peace in a world often marked by too much violence and not enough development, too many violations of human rights and not enough respect for human life?
• How can we find fair ways to invest in our human needs, protect the environment, deal with our global responsibilities, and meet our fiscal and moral obligations to future generations without spending resources we don’t have and running up deficits in the future? How can we fairly allocate scarce public resources and share the blessings and burdens of citizenship without increasing debt for our children?
• What are the appropriate responsibilities and limitations of free markets, government, voluntary organizations, and families? How can these essential elements of society work together to increase productivity, unleash creativity, restrain excesses, combat injustice, and pursue the common good?
• And perhaps most fundamentally, how can we resist what Pope John Paul II calls a growing "culture of violence"? Why does it seem that our nation is turning to violence to solve some of our most difficult problems—to abortion to deal with unplanned pregnancies, to the death penalty to combat crime, to euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of age and illness?
We raise these questions not to exhaust the possibilities, but to suggest key concerns and issues for the campaigns ahead. We believe every proposal, policy, or political platform should be measured by how it touches the human person; whether it enhances or diminishes human life, human dignity, and human rights; and how it advances the common good.
The common good is shaped by the moral convictions, personal virtue, and active commitment of every person. The renewal of democracy is not simply a task for others, but for each of us. It is the traditional virtue of citizenship that will renew American democracy. In bringing the virtues and values we seek to uphold in our personal lives into the public arena, we strengthen public life and build a better society.
A Religious Call to Political Responsibility
While it is increasingly acknowledged that major public issues have clear moral dimensions and religious values have significant public consequences, there is often confusion and controversy over the participation of religious groups in public life.
The religious community has important responsibilities in political life. We believe our nation is enriched and our traditions of pluralism enhanced when religious groups join with others in the debate over the policies and vision that ought to guide our nation. Our Constitution protects the right of religious bodies to speak out without governmental interference, endorsement, or sanction. Religious groups should expect neither favoritism nor discrimination in their public roles. The national debate is not enhanced by ignoring or ruling out the contributions of citizens because their convictions are grounded in religious belief.
We welcome the growing discussion of the role of moral values in public life and religious groups in the public square. We recognize that religious voices in public life must persuade, not just proclaim, and that the test of our witness is not only how strongly we believe, but how effectively we persuade and translate our beliefs into action.
The challenge for our Church is to be principled without being ideological, to be political without being partisan, to be civil without being soft, to be involved without being used. Our moral framework does not easily fit the categories of right or left, Republican or Democrat. We are called to measure every party and movement by how its agenda touches human life and human dignity. For example, we stand with various religious and other groups to protect the unborn and defend the family; we also insist that a test of public advocacy is how public policies touch the poor and the weak. A key question is where are "the least among us" in any national agenda?
We also work with a variety of groups to defend the poor and to seek greater economic justice. At the same time, we ask some of those who claim to stand for the weak why they protect the eggs of endangered species but fail to defend the lives of unborn children. A key criterion is consistency; we are called to stand up for human life whenever it is threatened, to stand with the weak and vulnerable whatever their age or condition.
As advocates of both subsidiarity and solidarity,(11) we also welcome the dialogue over how public and private sectors, government and community institutions can work together for the common good. What are the responsibilities and limitations of business and labor, churches and charities, and the various levels of government in protecting human life, enhancing human dignity, and pursuing social justice? Our tradition and experience teach us that markets have both advantages and limitations, that government is neither the solution nor the enemy, that private charities have essential roles, but cannot substitute for just public policies. How these sectors complement and restrain one another is a major issue for 1996.
As leaders of the Catholic community, we join these debates to share our experience in serving the poor and vulnerable and to add our values to the national dialogue over our nation’s future. What we seek is not a religious interest group, but a community of conscience within the larger society, testing public life on these central values. Our starting point and objectives are neither partisan nor ideological, but are focused on the fundamental dignity of the human person, which cuts across the political categories of our day.
The Catholic community is very diverse. We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We come from differing ideological and political persuasions. But we are all called to a common commitment to ensure that political life serves the common good and the human person. Our call to political responsibility is neither a partisan nor a sectarian appeal, but a call to reinvigorate the democratic process as a place for debate about what kind of society we want to be, about what values and priorities should guide our nation.
This kind of political responsibility does not involve religious leaders telling people how to vote or religious tests for candidates. These would be, in our view, pastorally inappropriate, theologically unsound, and politically unwise. Rather, we seek to lift up the moral and human dimensions of public issues for our own community and for the broader society. We encourage people to use their voices and votes to enrich the democratic life of our nation and to act on their values in the political arena. We hope American Catholics, as both believers and citizens, will use the resources of our faith and the opportunities of this democracy to help shape a society more respectful of the life, dignity, and rights of the human person, especially the poor and vulnerable.
In the Catholic tradition, citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is an obligation. We are not a sect fleeing the world, but a community of faith called to renew the earth. The 1996 elections provide new opportunities to replace the politics of polarization and false choices with the politics of participation and the common good.
Our community of faith brings two major assets. The first is a consistent set of principles. Our religious teaching provides a moral framework that can guide policy choices. Our community of faith does not rely on focus groups or polls to chart our directions; we advocate a consistent commitment to the human person. We draw our principles from Catholic teaching and tradition, not partisan platforms or ideological agendas. We stand with the unborn and the undocumented when many politicians seem to be abandoning them. We defend children in the womb and on welfare. We oppose the violence of abortion and the vengeance of capital punishment. We oppose assault weapons on our streets and condoms in our schools. Our agenda is sometimes countercultural, but it reflects our consistent concern for human life.
Secondly, we bring broad experience in serving those in need. The Catholic community educates the young, cares for the sick, shelters the homeless, feeds the hungry, assists needy families, welcomes refugees, and serves the elderly. People who are poor and vulnerable, the elderly, and immigrants are not abstract issues for us. They are in our parishes and schools, our shelters and soup kitchens, our hospitals and charitable agencies.(12) On many of the most vital issues facing our nation, we have practical expertise and day-to-day experience that can contribute to the debate.
Our task is to bring together our values, experience, and community in an effective public witness. The test of the 1996 elections will be how our choices touch the weak and vulnerable. Catholics need to share our values, raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society more respectful of human life, human dignity, and human rights. We encourage parishes, dioceses, schools, and other Catholic institutions to encourage active participation by voter registration and voter education efforts that are genuinely nonpartisan. A number of dioceses have established nonpartisan political responsibility guidelines, which promote voter registration efforts, nonpartisan candidate forums, and questionnaires on the issues of human life, social justice, and peace. These efforts seek to promote genuine citizenship and a more active and informed participation in the political process. This kind of religious political responsibility can strengthen our nation and renew our Church.
In the sections that follow we outline traditional Catholic teaching on the Church in the public order and some important issues addressed by our conference.
2. The Church and the Political Order
It is appropriate in this context to offer our own reflections on the role of the Church in the political order. Christians believe that Jesus’ commandment to love one’s neighbor should extend beyond individual relationships to infuse and transform all human relations from the family to the entire human community. Jesus came to "bring good news to the poor . . . to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind . . . and to let the oppressed go free . . ." (Lk 4:18). He called us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and afflicted, and comfort the victims of injustice (cf. Mt 25:35–41). His example and words require individual acts of charity and concern from each of us. Yet they also require understanding and action on a broader scale in pursuit of peace and in opposition to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Such action necessarily involves the institutions and structures of society, the economy, and politics.
The Church, the people of God, is itself an expression of this love and is required by the Gospel and its long tradition to promote and defend human rights and human dignity. In his recent encyclical The Gospel of Life,(13) Pope John Paul II quotes with new urgency the message of the Second Vatican Council:
Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.(14)
This view of the Church’s ministry and mission requires the Church to relate positively to the political order, since social injustice and the denial of human rights can often be remedied only through governmental action. In today’s world, concern for human life, social justice, and peace necessarily requires persons and organizations to participate in the political process in accordance with their own responsibilities and roles.
Christian responsibility in the area of human rights includes two complementary pastoral actions: the affirmation and promotion of human rights and the denunciation and condemnation of violations of these rights. In addition, it is the Church’s role as a community of faith to call attention to the moral and religious dimension of secular issues, to keep alive the values of the Gospel as a norm for social and political life, and to point out the demands of the Christian faith for a just transformation of society. Such a ministry on the part of every individual as well as the organizational Church inevitably involves political consequences and touches upon public affairs. As Pope John Paul II suggests, "as a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, solidarity also needs to be practiced through participation in social and political life."(15)
The Responsibility of All Members of the Church
The Church’s responsibility in this area falls on all its members. As citizens, we are all called to become informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process. It is the laity who are primarily responsible for activity in political affairs, since they have the major responsibility for renewal of the temporal order. In the words of the Second Vatican Council:
The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. . . . They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. . . . They are called there by God so that by exercising their proper function and being led by the spirit of the Gospel, they can work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven.(16)
The hierarchy also has a distinct and weighty responsibility in this area. As teachers and pastors, they must provide norms for the formation of conscience of the faithful, support efforts to gain greater peace and justice, and provide guidance and even leadership when human rights are in jeopardy. Drawing on their own experience and exercising their distinctive roles within the Christian community, bishops, clergy, religious, and laity should join together in common witness and effective action to bring about the Church’s vision of a well-ordered society based on truth, justice, charity, and freedom.
The Distinct Role of the Church
The Church’s role in the political order includes the following:
• Educating the faithful regarding the teachings of the Church and their responsibilities
• Analyzing issues for their social and moral dimensions
• Measuring public policy against gospel values
• Participating with other concerned parties in debate over public policy
• Speaking out with courage, skill, and concern on public issues involving human rights, social justice, and the life of the Church in society
Unfortunately, our efforts in this area are sometimes misunderstood. The Church’s participation in public affairs is not a threat to the political process nor to genuine pluralism, but an affirmation of their importance. The Church recognizes the legitimate autonomy of government and the right of all, including the Church itself, to be heard in the formulation of public policy. As the Second Vatican Council declared:
By preaching the truth of the Gospel and shedding light on all areas of human activity through her teaching and the example of the faithful, she [the Church] shows respect for the political freedom and responsibility of citizens and fosters these values.
. . . She also has the right to pass moral judgments, even on matters touching the political order, whenever basic personal rights or the salvation of souls make such judgments necessary.(17)
A proper understanding of the role of the Church will not confuse its mission with that of government but, rather, see its ministry as advocating the critical values of human rights and social justice. It is the role of Christian communities to analyze the situation in their own country, to reflect upon the meaning of the Gospel, and to draw norms of judgment and plans of action from the teaching of the Church and their own experience.(18) As Pope John Paul II has pointed out, "The social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis and motivation for action. . . . Today, more than ever, the Church is aware that her social message will gain credibility more immediately from the witness of actions than as a result of its internal logic and consistency."(19)
The application of gospel values to real situations is an essential work of the Christian community. Christians believe the Gospel is the measure of human realities. However, specific political proposals do not in themselves constitute the Gospel. Christians and Christian organizations must certainly participate in public debate over alternative policies and legislative proposals, yet it is critical that the nature of their participation not be misunderstood.
We bishops specifically do not seek the formation of a religious voting bloc; nor do we wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates. We do, however, have a right and a responsibility as teachers to analyze the moral dimensions of the major issues of our day. We urge citizens to avoid choosing candidates simply on the basis of narrow self-interest. We hope that voters will examine the positions of candidates on the full range of issues, as well as their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance. We are convinced that a consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework from which we address all issues in the political arena. In this consistent ethic, we address a spectrum of issues, seeking to protect human life and promote human dignity from the inception of life to its final moment.
As bishops, we seek to promote a greater understanding of the important link between faith and politics and to express our belief that our nation is enriched when its citizens and social groups approach public affairs from positions grounded in moral conviction and religious belief. As religious leaders and pastors, our intention is to reflect our concern that politics receive its rightful importance and attention and that it become an effective forum for the achievement of the common good. For, in the words of John Paul II, "An important challenge for the Christian is that of political life. In the state, citizens have a right and duty to share in the political life. For a nation can insure the common good of all the dreams and aspirations of its different members only to the extent that all citizens in full liberty and with complete responsibility make their contributions willingly and selflessly for the good of all."(20)
3. Principles and Issues
Without reference to political candidates, parties, or platforms, we wish to offer a listing of some principles and issues which we believe are important in the national debate during 1996. These brief summaries are not intended to indicate in any depth the details of the positions we have taken in past statements on these matters. For a fuller discussion of our point of view, we refer the reader to the documents listed after each summary.
A Tradition of Concern
These concerns are rooted in a tradition of social teaching which has taken on increasing importance and urgency over the last century. In a statement on the one hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical On the Condition of Workers (Rerum Novarum),(21) our conference outlined six basic principles that are at the heart of these issues:
l. The life and dignity of the human person. In the Catholic social vision, the human person is central, the clearest reflection of God among us. Each person possesses a basic dignity that comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment, not from race or gender, age or economic status. The test of every institution or policy is whether it enhances or threatens human life and human dignity. We believe people are more important than things.
2. Human rights and responsibilities. Our dignity is protected when human rights are respected—the right to life and to those things which make life truly human: religious liberty, decent work, housing, health care, education, and the right to raise and provide for a family with dignity.
3. The call to family and community. The human person is not only sacred, but social. We realize our dignity and achieve our rights in relationship with others in our families and communities. No community is more central than the family—the basic cell of society.
4. The dignity of work and the rights of workers. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a vocation, participation in creation. Workers have basic rights—to decent work, to just wages, to form and join unions, and to economic initiative, among others. The economy exists for the human person, not the other way around.
5. The option for the poor. People who are poor and vulnerable have a special place in Catholic teaching. The Scriptures tell us we will be judged by our response to the "least of these." We need to put the needs of people who are poor first.
6. Solidarity. As Pope John Paul II reminds us, we are one human family despite differences of nationality or race; the poor are not a burden, but our sisters and brothers. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in the 1990s.
The issues that follow are not the concerns of Catholics alone; in every case we are joined with others in advocating these concerns. They represent a broad range of topics on which we bishops of the United States have already expressed ourselves and are recalled here to emphasize their special relevance in a period of national debate and decision.
Human life is a gift from God which all of us are called to protect, nurture, and sustain. The right to life, the most basic of all human rights, must be protected by law. Abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue of our day because it is the deliberate destruction of a human being before birth.
The United States, avowedly a defender of the weak, has one of the highest legal abortion rates and the most extreme abortion policy of any industrialized western nation in the world. There are now more than 1.5 million abortions every year in the United States, over 4,400 a day, with well over 95 percent performed for economic or social reasons. Thousands of unborn children are killed each year in the final months of pregnancy.
We support policies and laws that encourage childbirth over abortion, and urge government and the private sector to provide programs that assist pregnant women and their children, especially those who are poor. We support efforts to prohibit domestic and foreign abortion funding, as well as efforts to protect states from having to fund abortions contrary to their own laws. We reject the 1973 Supreme Court abortion decisions which deny legal protection to unborn children, and we support efforts to prohibit or restrict abortion legislatively and to provide constitutional protection for unborn human life. Laws and policies on medical research, health care, and related issues must respect and protect human life from the moment of conception. (Documentation on the Right to Life and Abortion, 1974, 1976, 1981; Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Reaffirmation, 1985; Resolution on Abortion, 1989, 1995; Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection, 1995.)
Arms Control, Arms Trade, and Disarmament
While some progress has been made in recent years, additional steps are needed if nuclear policies and priorities are to keep up with the dramatic changes in world politics. An active commitment by the United States to progressive nuclear disarmament and the strengthening of collective security is the only moral basis for our deterrent and our insistence that other nations forego these weapons. Ratification and implementation of the arms treaty are essential, but much deeper cuts in nuclear arms are both possible and necessary. We support the current moratorium on nuclear testing as our nation pursues an effective global test ban.
The end of the Cold War still provides an opportunity to substantially reduce military spending. Diverting scarce resources from military to human development is not only a just and compassionate policy, but also a wise long-term investment in global and national security. Concern for jobs cannot justify military spending beyond the minimum necessary for legitimate national security and international peacekeeping obligations.
Neither can jobs at home justify exporting the means of war abroad. The United States has a special responsibility to undertake more serious efforts to control and significantly reduce its disproportional role in the scandalous global trade in arms. The unemployment and economic disruption caused by defense cuts must be addressed concretely through economic development and adjustment programs, a stronger non-military economy, and other programs to assist those affected. The United States should take a leadership role in reducing reliance on, ending export of, and ultimately banning antipersonnel landmines, which kill some 26,000 civilians each year. (The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, 1983; A Report on the Challenge of Peace and Policy Developments 1983-1988, 1989; The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993; Confronting a Culture of Violence, 1995.)
The Church’s commitment to the value and dignity of human life leads us to oppose the use of the death penalty. We believe that a return to the use of the death penalty is further eroding respect for life in our society. We do not question society’s right to protect itself, but we believe that there are better approaches to protecting our people from violent crimes. The application of the death penalty has been discriminatory toward the poor, the indigent, and racial minorities. Our society should reject the death penalty and seek methods of dealing with violent crime that are more consistent with the gospel visions of respect for life and Christ’s message of healing love. This principle is set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person." (Community and Crime, 1978; U.S. Bishops’ Statement on Capital Punishment, 1980; Confronting a Culture of Violence, 1995.)
The telecommunications industry has undergone a significant transformation with the advent of new technologies and changing governmental policies and regulations. The battle for ratings and a singular emphasis on profits have too often replaced the commitment to legitimate public interest standards. We are deeply concerned about the glorification of violence and exploitation of sexuality in some television programming, movies, and other newer media. Since the deregulation of the industry that began in the early 1980s, the amount of time and resources the industry has devoted to issues of community importance has declined.
Three principles must be maintained: (1) the communications industry, considering its widespread influence, needs to operate in the public interest as well as its own ownership interests; (2) citizens must be able to participate effectively in defining and enforcing services in the public interest; and (3) fairness and diversity must be assured in ownership, employment, and public access of these services.
We support requirements for the telecommunications industry to air more educational and informational children’s programs and to curtail violence and commercialization during children’s television programming. We strongly advocate measures that will lead to the improvement of moral standards in the media and an increase in values-based programming.
We also support reasonable and constitutionally acceptable regulations that prohibit the distribution of obscene material and restrict the distribution of indecent material over the electronic media, so that this material is not accessible to minors. We oppose advertising and public service announcements that have the effect of impinging on the right of parents to teach their children about responsible sexuality. (Statements and testimony by the USCC Department of Communications before Congress and the Federal Communications Commission.)
Discrimination and Racism
Discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity, or age continues to exist in our nation. Signs of increased racial hostility poison our society. Such discrimination constitutes a grave injustice and an affront to human dignity. It must be aggressively resisted by every individual and rooted out of every social institution and structure. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or other arbitrary standards can never be justified. Where the effects of past discrimination persist, society has the obligation to take positive steps to overcome the legacy of injustice. We support judiciously administered affirmative action programs as tools to overcome discrimination and its continuing effects.
Racism is a particularly serious form of discrimination. Despite significant strides in eliminating racial prejudices in our country, there remains an urgent need for continued reconciliation in this area and continued commitment to move forward to overcome more subtle but still destructive forms of discrimination and intolerance. Racism is not merely one sin among many. It is a radical evil dividing the human family. (Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1989.)
Our pastoral letter Economic Justice for All insists that every economic decision and institution should be judged in light of whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. The economy must be at the service of all people, especially the poor. Society as a whole, acting through private and government institutions, has the moral responsibility to enhance human dignity and protect human rights.
The most urgent priority for domestic economic policy is to create jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions. High levels of unemployment and underemployment are morally unacceptable in a nation with our economic capacity. The minimum wage should be raised to help workers and their families live decent lives. We reaffirm the Church’s traditional teaching in support of the right of all workers to organize and bargain collectively and to exercise these rights without reprisal.
The fact that so many people are poor in a nation as wealthy as ours is a social and moral scandal that must not be ignored. The disproportionate impact of poverty on children, women, and members of racial and ethnic minorities must be addressed through just policies on employment, taxes, welfare, and family life. Wage discrimination against women and other economic consequences of sexism must be overcome. Vigorous efforts are needed to overcome barriers to equal employment and pay for women and minorities. Dealing with poverty is not a luxury to which our nation can attend when it finds the time and resources. Rather, it is a moral imperative of the highest priority.
In the area of tax policies, we support effective incentives for charitable giving, an earned income tax credit that ensures that working families will not have to raise their children in poverty, and a tax code that reflects traditional Catholic teaching that tax rates should reflect a person’s ability to pay.
It is essential that all aspects of international economic policy—trade, aid, finance, and investment—reflect basic moral principles and promote the global common good. The United States has a moral obligation to take the lead in helping to alleviate poverty through sustainable development, supporting programs that emphasize greater participation of the poor in grassroots development rather than large-scale government projects. We have a humanitarian obligation to support victims of war and natural disaster. We also support long-term development initiatives for poor countries undergoing transition from civil war or authoritarian regimes. We continue to emphasize human development over military assistance in the priorities of U.S. foreign aid programs. We must reform foreign assistance, not abandon it. (Economic Justice for All, 1986; Relieving Third World Debt, 1989; Putting Children and Families First, 1992; The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993.)
All persons of whatever race, sex, condition, or age, by virtue of their dignity as human beings, have an inalienable right to a quality education. The provision of a quality education, which helps prepare each person to address the complex challenges of our society and world, is a lifelong process and is the responsibility of all members of our civic society. We advocate public policies that provide for the following:
• Adequate public and private funding to make a quality education available for all citizens and residents of the United States in an orderly and respectful environment
• The development and implementation of a form of moral education integrated into the total public school curriculum that responds to student needs and is respectful of the variety of beliefs found in our nation
• Government and voluntary action to reduce inequalities of educational opportunity by improving the opportunities available to educationally, economically, and socially disadvantaged persons
• Orderly compliance with legal requirements for racially integrated schools and additional voluntary efforts to increase racial and ethnic integration in public, private, and religious schools
• Equitable tax support for education of pupils in public, private, and religious schools to implement the natural right of parental freedom of choice in the education of their children
• Salaries and benefits of teachers and administrators that reflect the principles of economic justice
• The principle that private and religious school students and professional staff have the right and opportunity for equitable participation in all government programs to improve education, especially those which address the needs of the educationally, economically, and socially disadvantaged
(To Teach As Jesus Did, 1972; Sharing the Light of Faith: National Catechetical Directory, 1979; Value and Virtue: Moral Education in the Public School, 1988; Economic Justice for All, 1986; In Support of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, 1990; Principles for Educational Reform in the United States, 1995.)
Pope John Paul II has called the environmental crisis fundamentally a "moral" challenge. The whole human race suffers as a result of environmental blight, and generations yet unborn will bear the cost for our failure to act today. What is needed is the will to make changes in policy and lifestyles, to arrest, reverse, and prevent environmental decay, and to pursue the goal of sustainable, equitable development for all. Our call to environmental justice includes supporting policies that
• Promote sustainable economic practices that reduce the current stress on natural systems, remain consistent with sound environmental practices, and establish common ground between the needs of workers and the environment
• Place the needs of the poor as a priority through a more just and more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources
• Foster environmental justice and the elimination of discriminatory practices, which place a disproportionate burden on poor people and communities of color
• Promote policies which ensure a fair balance between public and private costs of environmental protection
• Seek alternative agricultural and energy sources that rely less on chemical-intensive agricultural practices and nonrenewable energy resources
• Sustain and enhance the biological and ecological diversity of God’s creation
(Renewing the Earth, 1992; Economic Justice for All, 1986.)
We affirm public policies that respect the life and dignity of those who are dying: legal safeguards against direct killing by action or omission, policies that enable mentally or physically disabled patients to receive the same basic care accorded others, and funding policies to ease burdens on families whose members are in need of long-term care. We reject any law or social policy that sanctions suicide or assisted suicide or any deliberate and direct hastening of death for seriously ill patients. (Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, 1989; Guidelines for Legislation on Life-Sustaining Treatment, 1984; Statement on Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, 1986; NCCB Administrative Committee Statement on Euthanasia, 1991; Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection, 1995.)
Families and Children
We urge a reordering of priorities to focus more on the needs and potential of the nation’s children. If society seeks to help children, it has to support families, since children’s lives are nurtured or neglected, enhanced or diminished by the quality of family life. The undeniable fact is that our children’s future is shaped both by the values of their parents and the policies of our nation. Our nation must move beyond partisan and ideological rhetoric to support families in their essential roles and insist that public policy protect poor and vulnerable children.
We continue to advocate policies and priorities which meet these basic criteria:
1. Put children and families first. Analyze every policy and program for its impact on children and families.
2. Help; don’t hurt. Insist that policies support families rather than undermine them; encourage self-help rather than promote dependency.
3. Those with the greatest need require the greatest response. While every family needs support, poor families and families facing discrimination carry the greatest burdens and require the most help.
4. Empower families. Help families meet their responsibilities to their children in education, child care, health, and other areas. Tax, workplace, divorce, and welfare policies must help families stay together and care for their children.
5. Fight economic and social forces that threaten children and family life. Efforts to overcome poverty, provide decent jobs, and promote equal opportunity are pro-family priorities.
6. Build on the strengths of families. Reward responsibility and sacrifice for children.
7. Recognize that foreign policy is increasingly children’s policy. Global poverty, armed conflict, and systematic injustice threaten the lives of millions of children and their families around the world.
(Putting Children and Families First, 1992; A Family Perspective in Church and Society, 1988.)
Food and Agriculture
In a world where 800 million people, half of them children, are starving or malnourished, we support food and agriculture policy that makes food security for all people its first priority. U.S. agriculture policy should
• Offer farmers the opportunity to make a decent living while providing safe and affordable food to consumers
• Work to keep farmers on the land and encourage broad-based ownership of farmland by targeting farm programs to small and moderate-sized farms
• Ensure that farmworkers receive a just wage and are provided with decent housing and safe working conditions
• Continue to provide food aid to the poorest countries and the neediest people
Ensuring adequate nutrition for low-income pregnant women, children, the elderly, and the unemployed continues to be a cornerstone of food security at home. We support food stamps, WIC, school lunches, and other federal programs that provide for the nutrition needs of low-income people. International food and development aid should be focused on the neediest people and poorest countries in ways that contribute to economic and human development and promote self-reliance. International agricultural policy should emphasize equitable distribution of benefits and broader participation in land ownership and should help other nations move toward food self-sufficiency.
We support food and agriculture policy that promotes food security not only for the present but for future generations. As such, we urge policies that support sustainable agriculture and careful stewardship of the earth and its natural resources. (Economic Justice for All, 1986; Food Policy in a Hungry World, 1989; Putting Children and Families First, 1992; The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993.)
Health, AIDS, and Substance Abuse
Our nation’s health care system still serves too few and costs too much. Decent health care is an essential safeguard of human life. We believe reform of the health care system must be rooted in values that respect the essential dignity of each person, ensure that human life is protected, and recognize the unique needs of the poor. Our criteria for reform include respect for life, priority concern for the poor, universal coverage, pluralism, cost containment and controls, and equitable financing.
Genuine health care reform is a matter of fundamental justice. We urge national leaders to look beyond special interest claims and partisan differences to unite our nation in a new commitment to meeting the health care needs of our people.
The continuing crisis of AIDS within our society requires policies that emphasize continuing research, routine voluntary testing, compassionate care, responsible education, effective support for persons with AIDS and their families, and respect for the dignity and rights of persons with AIDS.
Substance abuse is a nationwide problem of immense proportions. Our conference advocates effective, compassionate policies to turn the tide of addiction in this country, including public policy and funding to ensure access to adequate, affordable, and appropriate treatment and services for all those in need, especially pregnant women. (A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform, 1993; Called to Compassion and Responsibility: A Response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis, 1989; New Slavery, New Freedom: A Pastoral Message on Substance Abuse, 1990.)
Housing is being seriously neglected as a priority of national concern, governmental action, and federal investment. Shelters cannot substitute for real housing for low-income families and poor individuals. The major goals for national housing policy should include the following:
• Preservation. Effective policies to help preserve, maintain, and improve low-cost, decent housing.
• Production. Creative, cost-effective, and flexible programs that will increase the supply of quality housing for low-income families, the elderly, and other vulnerable people.
• Participation. Active and sustained involvement and empowerment of the homeless, tenants, neighborhood residents, and housing consumers, building on American traditions of home ownership, self-help, and neighborhood participation.
• Opportunity. Stronger efforts to combat discrimination in housing.
(Homelessness and Housing, 1988.)
Respect for fundamental human rights is necessary if nations are to serve human dignity and the common good, including civil, political, social, and economic rights. Religious freedom, a cornerstone for human rights, is a priority concern for us given the extent of its suppression or disregard in many parts of the world, including China, East Timor, Vietnam, Cuba, Sudan, and parts of the Middle East. We condemn once again the evil of "ethnic cleansing," which requires effective action by the international community to banish it forever. The destruction of people because of their religion, race, ethnicity, or nationality is a crime against humanity.
With respect to international human rights, there is a pressing need for the United States to pursue a double task: (l) to strengthen and expand international mechanisms by which human rights can be protected and promoted; and (2) to give greater weight to the human rights dimensions of U.S. foreign policy. Therefore, we support U.S. ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Convention on Race and Torture, and we support ratification of the remaining Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and other sound mechanisms to implement the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Further, the United States has a responsibility to use its power and influence consistently and creatively in the effective service of human rights throughout the world. (The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993.)
Catholic tradition defends basic human rights, including the right to work. The United States bishops support a generous U.S. immigration policy and a U.S. commitment to providing temporary safe haven for those in need. The bishops have expressed concern at the surge of anti-immigrant sentiment reflected in California’s Proposition 187 and proposals to restrict immigration and deny nearly all basic social services to immigrants. The U.S. bishops have reaffirmed several basic immigration principles. First, persons fleeing persecution have a special standing and thus require special consideration as emigrants. Second, workers have the right to live and work without exploitation. Third, family reunification remains an appropriate basis for just immigration policy. Fourth, every effort should be made to encourage and enable highly skilled and educated persons to remain in or return to their homelands. Fifth, efforts to stem migration that do not effectively address its root causes are not only ineffectual, but permit the continuation of the political, social, and economic inequities that cause it. These principles, including a particular pledge of solidarity with the undocumented, form the core of Catholic priorities regarding U.S. immigration policy. (One Family Under God, 1995.)
International Affairs and the United Nations
Building peace, combating poverty and despair, and protecting freedom and human rights are not only moral imperatives, but also wise national priorities. They can shape a world that will be a safer, more secure, and more just home for all of us. The U.S. Catholic Conference urges
• Creative, engaged, and responsible U.S. leadership that rejects the illusion of isolationism and avoids the dangers of unwise intervention
• A reshaped foreign aid program designed to combat poverty with sustainable development and economic opportunities for the poor
• Accelerated progress toward a nuclear test ban, preventing nuclear proliferation, eliminating nuclear weapons, and restraining the conventional arms trade
• Legal protection for selective conscientious objectors and improved protection for conscientious objectors
• Review of economic sanctions as an alternative to war and a means to enforce fundamental international norms, in light of the suffering they inflict on innocent people
• Clarification of the right and duty of humanitarian intervention in exceptional cases, by means consistent with Catholic teaching when the survival of whole populations is threatened
Political leaders and citizens have a positive duty to support the development, reform, and restructuring of regional and global political and legal institutions, especially the United Nations. As Pope John XXIII observed in Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris), a worldwide public authority is necessary, not to limit or replace the authority of states, but rather to address fundamental problems that nations alone, no matter how powerful, cannot be expected to solve. The United States should play a constructive role in making the United Nations and other international institutions more effective, responsible, and responsive. At a minimum, the United States must pay in full its UN assessments. Preventive diplomacy, peace-building after war, and peacekeeping all deserve special support and attention. (The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993.)
In response to what Pope John Paul II has called "perhaps the greatest tragedy of all the human tragedies of our time," the Catholic community operates the largest refugee resettlement system in the United States and is deeply concerned for the fate of the millions of oppressed and dispossessed persons in the world today. As the number of refugees has doubled over the last decade and continues to grow and as the post-Cold War world has also seen an even greater growth in the numbers of internally displaced persons in refugee-like circumstances, the United States must continue to take the lead in bringing an adequate response from the international community. Refugee resettlement of those in particularly difficult situations who cannot return home remains one important component of the U.S. response. In addressing this problem, special attention must be paid to unaccompanied refugee children, single women and women head of families, the disabled, and religious minorities. U.S. policy must respect and seek to ensure the preservation of temporary asylum for all refugees and assistance at levels adequate to ensure the safety and dignity of the world’s 40 million refugees and displaced persons. Where voluntary return home is a possibility, this should be encouraged and provided adequate material support. (One Family Under God, 1995.)
Regional Concerns: Eastern Europe, Middle East,
Latin America, and Africa
The USCC is concerned about human rights and regional conflicts throughout the world, but four areas are of particular concern, in part due to the involvement of the Church, the substantial influence of U.S. policy, and the region’s importance for international order: Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa.
Eastern and Central Europe
The advent of a new era in Central and Eastern Europe has created radically new opportunities and challenges, both for the nations of that region and for a new, more just international order. U.S. policy should continue to promote religious liberty and human rights and press for necessary political and economic changes where authoritarian regimes or their structures remain in place or reappear. We support a major undertaking by the United States to assist the emerging democracies of the region in their monumental task of constructing a new political, economic, social, and moral order. This should include support for peaceful, democratic, and negotiated efforts for peoples to realize their legitimate aspirations for self-determination in ways compatible with greater stability and justice in the region.
A special tragedy and moral challenge has arisen in the Balkans. The United States and the international community must do more to bring about a just and lasting resolution to the war in the Balkans. Any political solution should avoid, as far as possible, the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and other countries of the region along ethnic lines and should continue to insist on the equal rights and equal legitimacy of all ethnic, religious, and national groups there. The international community has a right and duty to intervene, including with the limited use of force, to protect vulnerable civilian populations, to enable relief supplies to get through, and to implement a peace settlement. UN peacekeeping and humanitarian protection should be strengthened so that it can more effectively prevent "ethnic cleansing" and meet its commitments to humanitarian protection. While we do not believe this is a religious conflict, any crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion. (War in the Balkans: Moral Challenges, Policy Choices, 1993; The New Moment in Eastern and Central Europe, March 1990; The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993.)
The Middle East
Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians. We have worked for, prayed for, and supported the peace process in the Middle East. Peace comes slowly to this troubled region of the world. The peace agreements between Israel and the PLO and between Jordan and Israel have been welcome steps toward peace in the region. A great deal remains to be accomplished between Israel and the Palestinians. We continue to support
• Full support of Israel’s right to exist within secure borders
• Recognition of Palestinian rights, the right to self-determination, including their option for an independent homeland
• Fulfillment of UN resolutions 242 and 338 on the Middle East
The parties ought to be scrupulous in fulfilling their stated obligations to one another and in their observance of human rights. The international community ought to be generous with aid to preserve and foster the peace, especially in helping establish the basic humanitarian services to the Palestinian people.
Jerusalem. Our conference has particular concern for the holy city of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Special care must be taken to guarantee the rights of the three Abrahamic faiths in Jerusalem, including the rights of the living religious communities in the city. Access to the holy places and religious liberty in the city ought to be guaranteed internationally.
Lebanon. The world must not forget Lebanon. We strongly support a permanent end to violence, effective reform and reconciliation, and the final withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, as well as significant economic assistance for Lebanon’s recovery. (Toward Peace in the Middle East, 1989.)
Latin America and the Caribbean
The ties between the churches of Latin America and the United States continue to be strong and enduring. For two decades, issues of human rights, religious liberty, economic justice, and armed violence have been priorities for our conference. We remain concerned about the slow process of economic recovery and have continuing concerns about human rights in Central America and the Caribbean. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, and Panama continue to need sustained U.S. assistance and attention to protect human rights, promote development, and foster democratic values.
The Church in Cuba has called for greater dialogue within Cuba and between Cuba and the United States. Our priorities remain support for the aspirations of the Cuban people for greater religious liberty, democracy, and economic freedom. We support efforts to provide humanitarian and medical assistance to the Cuban people and to link relaxation of the embargo to concrete steps toward democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.
Mexico has assumed a more significant place in U.S. foreign and economic policy. Continued U.S.-Mexican cooperation is essential in the areas of trade, migration, narcotics control, and environmental protection, as well as concern for human rights. Mexico’s troubled democracy and the peace process in Chiapas need the encouragement of the United States.
In other parts of Latin America, U.S. policy should continue to promote democracy, respect for human rights, religious liberty, and demilitarization. Debt and development remain central issues for the future of Latin America. U.S. policy must also address the broader forces at work in much of Latin America—poverty, debt, lack of development, and the drug trade—which diminish respect for the lives, dignity, and rights of so many people. (USCC Statement on Central America, 1987; The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993.)
The African continent has been plagued with armed conflict, often of long-term duration, that has resulted in millions of displaced persons, tens of thousands maimed both physically and mentally, and untold devastation of human life and physical resources. Ethnic and civil conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi continue to rise, potentially escalating to the proportions of 1993-94 when more than a million civilians were brutally massacred, while the civil conflicts in Liberia and the Sudan continue to rage out of control. These conflicts have created tremendous refugee problems in neighboring countries and a pressing need for an international response to violence and human rights violations occurring in these and other countries of the African continent. The difficult transition to democracy in many countries requires the diplomatic assistance of the United States. And in the aftermath of the UN withdrawal from Somalia, the international community must continue to guard against an escalation of violence. Our conference remains concerned that too many African countries engage in arms races they can ill afford, often with the encouragement of the more powerful nations. More steps are necessary to curb the arms trade, not only in Africa but throughout the world.
We welcome the first free and democratically elected government of South Africa. We renew our call for dioceses and religious bodies, the U.S. government, business, investors, and all interested parties to use every available and practical means to ensure the success of nonracial democracy in south Africa. (Economic Justice for All, 1986; The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993; Statements on South Africa, 1993, 1994.)
Violence in our culture is fed by multiple forces—the disintegration of family life, media influences, growing substance abuse, the availability of so many weapons, and the rise of gangs. Traditional liberal or conservative approaches by themselves cannot effectively overcome this plague. In confronting a culture of violence, our Church calls for
• Opposing the violence of abortion
• Curbing the easy availability of deadly weapons
• Supporting community approaches to crime prevention and law enforcement
• Pursuing swift and effective justice without vengeance and effective reform of our criminal justice system
• Attacking the root causes of violence, including poverty, substance abuse, lack of opportunity, racism, and family disintegration
• Promoting more personal responsibility and broader social responsibility in our policies and programs
• Overcoming the tragedy of family violence and confronting all forms of violence against women
• Continuing to work for global disarmament, including curbs on arms sales and a ban on landmines
(Confronting a Culture of Violence, 1995.)
The Catholic community brings strong convictions and broad experience to welfare reform. We support genuine welfare reform that strengthens families, encourages productive work, and protects vulnerable children—born and unborn. We are not defenders of the welfare status quo; however, we oppose abandonment of the federal government’s essential role in helping families overcome poverty and meet their children’s basic needs.
Welfare reform needs to be comprehensive in analysis, but targeted and flexible in its implementation. We seek a new approach which promotes greater responsibility and offers more concrete help to families in leaving poverty behind through productive work and other assistance. We advocate for welfare reform which
• Protects human life and human dignity (we, therefore, oppose family cap and child exclusion measures which encourage abortion without addressing the fundamental contributors to illegitimacy)
• Strengthens family life
• Encourages and rewards work
• Preserves a safety net for the vulnerable
• Builds public/private partnerships to overcome poverty
• Invests in human dignity and poor families
For the Catholic community, the measure of welfare reform is whether it will enhance the lives and dignity of poor children and their families. The target of reform ought to be poverty, not poor families. The goal of reform is reducing poverty and dependency, not cutting resources and programs. (Moral Principles and Policy Priorities for Welfare Reform, 1995.)
This is not an exclusive listing of the issues that concern us. For example, we have great concern for the elderly, especially those who lack adequate nutrition, medical care, and housing, and who are victims of abuse. As Pope John Paul II has said, the Church cannot remain insensitive to whatever serves true human welfare any more than it can remain indifferent to whatever threatens it.(22) Thus, we are advocates on many other social justice concerns, such as the civil and political rights of the elderly and persons with disabling conditions and the reform of our criminal justice system.
In summary, we believe that the Church has a proper role and responsibility in public affairs flowing from its gospel mandate and its respect for the dignity of the human person. We hope these reflections will contribute to a renewed political vitality in our land, both in terms of citizen participation in the electoral process and the integrity and accountability of those who seek and hold public office.
We urge all citizens to use their franchise by registering to vote and going to the polls. We encourage them to get information from the campaigns as well as from the media coverage of those campaigns and to take stands on the candidates and the issues. If this campaign year is to engage the values of the American people, the campaigners and voters alike must share the responsibility for making it happen. We urge each person to become involved in the campaign or party of their choice, to learn about the issues, and to inform their conscience.
We urge Christians to provide courageous leadership in promoting a spirit of responsible political involvement and a commitment to the common good. In the elections of 1996, we urge our fellow believers to proclaim the "Gospel of life," to protect "the least among us," and to pursue the common good.
1. John Paul II, Arrival Statement, Newark, Origins 25:18 (October 19, 1995): 301.
2. John Paul II, "Address at the United Nations," Origins 25:18 (October 19, 1995): 299-300.
3. John Paul II, "Homily at Giants Stadium," East Rutherford, N.J., Origins 25:18 (October 19, 1995): 304.
4. John Paul II, "Homily at Aqueduct Racetrack," Brooklyn, N.Y., Origins 25:18 (October 19, 1995): 305.
5. John Paul II, "Homily at Camden Yards," Baltimore, Origins 25:18 (October 19, 1995): 313.
6. John Paul II, Departure Statement, Baltimore, Origins 25:18 (October 19, 1995): 318.
7. John Paul II, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum (Centesimus Annus) (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1991), no. 47.
9. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1995), no. 70.
10. Ibid., no. 101.
11. In Catholic social teaching, subsidiarity and solidarity are elements of the common good. Subsidiarity helps to establish the autonomy of groups and to specify the correct relationships that ought to exist between different organizations and associations within society. Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.
12. The Catholic community has a national network present in virtually every part of the nation. It includes almost 20,000 parishes, 8,300 schools, 231 colleges and universities, 900 hospitals and health care facilities, and 1,400 Catholic Charities agencies. The Catholic community is the largest nonpublic provider of education, health care, and human services in the United States.
13. Evangelium Vitae, no. 3.
14. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), no. 27.
15. Evangelium Vitae, no. 93.
16. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), no. 31.
17. Gaudium et Spes, no. 76.
18. Paul VI, A Call to Action (Octogesima Adveniens) (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1971), no. 4.
19. Centesimus Annus, no. 57.
20. John Paul II, Address in Nairobi, Kenya, Origins 10:2 (May 29, 1980): 28.
21. United States Catholic Conference, A Century of Social Teaching: A Common Heritage, A Continuing Challenge (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1990), 4-7.
22. John Paul II, The Redeemer of Man (Redemptor Hominis) (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1979), no. 13.
Source: Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1995.