The bishops were particularly pleased with their efforts when they voted to approve their document on Faithful Citizenship on November 14. The bishops voted electronically, and then the conference President called for the results to be shown on the large screen. The yes and no votes were tabulated and displayed as two bars. The vote was almost unanimous. Only four bishops voted against the document.
The applause that then ensued was sustained, and was just as much for the process by which this document had come about as it was for the substance of it. Over the last three decades, the “Faithful Citizenship” documents, issued every four years just before a presidential election year, have been the topic of controversy and division. Those in the Church whose work is specifically to end abortion and euthanasia, which the Church has identified as “preeminent issues,” have often felt that the documents have been confusing when they essentially just provide a litany of issues that voters have to consider in elections. Obviously, support for scholarships is not on the same level of urgency as the taking of the lives of the children who might one day receive them. Therefore, many argued, the document has to make the distinction clear.
On the other hand, those whose work is primarily in the area of improving the quality of life and fostering various social programs worry that some people, because they focus on the preeminent issues, will feel justified in ignoring the other issues.
Efforts were made to address both concerns. Rather than having the document issued by the Administrative Committee of the bishops, as has been the case in previous years, the document was prepared by the collaborative work of seven different committees of the conference. Then, the document was presented to the entire body of bishops for amendments and debate. I saw firsthand the seriousness of the effort.
Now that the document is issued, there are several things to keep in mind.
First, no document of the Church stands on its own. This document is meant to be read in the light of related documents, such as those listed in its bibliography, including Living the Gospel of Life.
Second, the impact of the document will be as accurate or slanted as those who present it. Given that such effort went into drafting it, we who teach and preach it should undertake corresponding efforts to do so accurately. And we should correct distortions and misinterpretations.
Third, the document does clearly distinguish some issues as more fundamental than others. The document states, “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many.” The statement, furthermore, explains that Catholics who vote for candidates because they want to keep abortion legal, or who ignore the pro-abortion stance of a candidate and support him or her just because of party loyalty, are acting immorally.
Let us read, study, and properly teach this document.
Read the complete text of Faithful Citizenship (PDF format)
Read Fr. Frank's full statement on the Bishops' document
Read Fr. Frank's Press release on the Bishops' document