There has been a flurry of commentary on the Introductory Note added to the new version of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” Some have commented that the version just published by the bishops’ conference is the 2007 version, without revisions, and, as such, has been scored a victory by the Catholics who supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Naturally, those who abused the 2007 document in telling Catholic voters that Obama was a “pro-life” candidate — no, we are not kidding — would be pleased to receive what they consider a green light to do more of the same in 2012.
A closer look at the new Introductory Note, however, suggests to us language that was intended to be more than a mere appendage, to be conveniently overlooked when it comes time to sell Obama and other pro-abortion politicians to Catholic voters in the upcoming election.
Many bishops, and especially the USCCB Executive Committee who signed the new introduction, are aware of the confusion and consternation created during the 2008 campaign caused by the abuse of the document. Dozens of individual bishops issued statements to clarify the document and defend it against the spin being put on it by abortion advocates. The Introductory Note acknowledges this abuse and warns against the privatized version of conscience long held by pro-abortion Catholic politicians. ”Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops explain,
“Although it has at times been misused to present an incomplete or distorted view of the demands of faith in politics, this statement remains a faithful and challenging call to discipleship in the world of politics. It does not offer a voter’s guide, scorecard of issues, or direction on how to vote. It applies Catholic moral principles to a range of important issues and warns against misguided appeals to “conscience” to ignore fundamental moral claims, to reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters, or to justify choices simply to advance partisan, ideological, or personal interests.” (Emphasis added)
Note the issue of conscience is tied specifically to those who would limit their political concerns to “one or two matters.” What makes this quite interesting is the fact that the problem of the privatized conscience has never been laid at the feet of pro-life, pro-marriage voters. We can only infer, therefore, that this comment is aimed at those Catholics whose “social justice” orientation narrows their issues to those of poverty and war, thus, ignoring the settled issues of life, marriage, religious liberty, and euthanasia.
But, it’s the last line from the paragraph above that most directly rebukes those who have abused the bishops’ 2007 document. “It [Faithful Citizenship] does not offer a quantitative listing of issues for equal consideration, but outlines and makes important distinctions among moral issues acknowledging that some involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified and that others require action to pursue justice and promote the common good.” (Emphasis added)
There is no clarification contained in the new introduction more welcome than this for those who have engaged in the political process on behalf of the unborn, marriage, and families. For too many decades, pro-abortion Catholic politicians and their supporters have been allowed to treat all the issues of our social teaching as if they had the same value, say, a value of one. Thus, when issue questionnaires are published and scored, a politician who is pro-abortion loses only one point but gains that point back if he or she supports, say, net-neutrality. The ridiculousness of this requires no comment.
The Introductory Note pays particular attention to religious liberty at a time when it is being challenged in a historic way by the Obama administration and its Department of Health and Human Services, headed by Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic. The administration fully supports the recently published HHS regulations of the new health care law requiring all organizations and businesses to provide contraceptive and abortion services in their health insurance coverage. The bishops write,
“As Americans, we are also blessed with religious liberty which safeguards our right to bring our principles and moral convictions into the public arena. These Constitutional freedoms need to be both exercised and protected, as some seek to mute the voices or limit the freedoms of religious believers and religious institutions. Catholics have the same rights and duties as others to participate fully in public life. The Church through its institutions must be free to carry out its mission and contribute to the common good without being pressured to sacrifice fundamental teachings and moral principles.” (Emphasis added)
The level of concern over the demand to provide contraception and abortion coverage prompted the bishops to form a new Committee on Religious Liberty at the USCCB. We at Catholic Advocate think religious liberty will become one of the major social issues of the 2012 campaign, rivaling both abortion and gay marriage.
The Introductory Note does not pull any punches when it comes to our “clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified and that others require action to pursue justice and promote the common good.” That some evils are “intrinsic” in nature, and not a matter of prudential judgment, is the reason that all the issues cannot be assigned the same quantitative value — there are, as the bishops point out, qualitative differences.
And, when it comes to underscoring the specific “current and fundamental problems” among “pressing national issues,” the Introductory Note begins with “Continuing destruction of unborn children through abortion and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick, or unwanted,” followed by the attempt of government to force those in “health care, education, and social services—to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need.”
How those Catholics who support the reelection of Barack Obama can celebrate a victory given the language of this Introductory Note is puzzling, unless they intend to ignore it altogether. Even further, the next two specifics mentioned by the bishops are the “efforts to redefine marriage,” another project supported by the Obama administration, and the “economic crisis which has devastated lives and livelihoods, increasing national and global unemployment, poverty, and hunger,” a situation only worsened by the insistence of the present administration to put our country deeper and deeper into debt.
The Obama administration has done nothing but pay lip service to the bishops’ concern for “the failure to repair a broken immigration system with comprehensive measures that promote true respect for law.” And, when it comes to their final issues of national concern; war, terrorism, and “particularly the absence of justice, security, and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East,” the record of the present administration gives those Catholics who loudly bashed the Bush administration on the invasion of Iraq a chance to make the same criticisms of Obama. But, we won’t hold our breath on that one!
The Executive Committee of the USCCB has done all Catholics a great service by providing a guide to using their “Faithful Citizenship” document. This guidance provides just what was needed, so as the bishops urge us, “We can act together to promote and protect human life and dignity, marriage and family, justice and peace in service to the common good.”