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Faithful Citizenship

By Cardinal James A. Hickey, Archbishop of Washington

Catholic Standard newspaper

October 26, 2000

During this very long political season, I have thought more than once about my Grandpa Ryan. A businessman (he owned a furniture store), he was also something of a politician (he was a Democrat and the elected sheriff of Midland County, Michigan). Family lore has it that most of time Grandpa Ryan was comfortably re-elected. But on at least one occasion, his opponent prevailed. However, political defeat didn’t relegate Grandpa Ryan to the furniture store. Grandma Ryan continued to run the store because the Democratic administration in Washington saw to it that Grandpa Ryan was appointed postmaster. Students of American history will remember this as "the spoils system."

How different those times were from these. The local politics of Midland County at the dawn of the 20th century seem so simple compared with the protracted and expensive political campaigns, both local and national, that are currently underway. But for all the expense and media hype of modern politics, many pundits nonetheless maintain that this year’s political season, including the presidential race, has few substantive issues.

I respectfully disagree. There is a multitude of serious issues facing voters this year. Many of those issues are described in a document from the U.S. Bishops entitled Faithful Citizenship. There are important choices to be made regarding heath care, including the provision of prescription drugs in Medicare, the future of Social Security, the provision of debt relief for poor and developing countries, the question of military preparedness and, indeed, capital punishment. All those issues and many more besides require careful consideration on the part of all voters.

But there is one issue that rises above the others. When you vote on November 7, I hope and pray that you will not forget the most disenfranchised citizens in this land - the unborn. Truly they have no voice but ours. Even their humanity has been arbitrarily denied by the reigning culture of death. Indeed, to this day, our country countenances the destruction of an unborn human being at the very moment of birth in spite of the fact that the American Medical Association has made it clear that this barbaric procedure has no legitimate medical purpose.

It is not my job to tell you how to vote. Nor can I tell you that either major presidential candidate fully embraces all that we, as believers and citizens, should hold regarding the dignity of the human person and the worth of human life. For example, both major presidential candidates support capital punishment. Yet, as each of us makes a prudential judgment in voting for a new president, we need to ask which candidate will offer even a measure of protection for the unborn. Who is more likely to pierce through the rhetoric and politics of choice in the clear realization that abortion is always a choice to destroy an utterly innocent and defenseless human being?

Some voters, even pro-life voters, may have concluded that that abortion is here to stay - a sad but permanent fixture in our culture. Indeed, some believe (wrongly in my view) that abortion is so deeply engrained in our national life that no elected official can effect a change. But it does matter who our elected leaders are. Politicians, to be sure, aren’t the only ones who form our culture but the laws that are enacted and the judicial decisions that are reached truly do help shape what kind of a nation we are.

As Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life: "It is...urgently necessary, for the future of society and the development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential and innate human and moral values that flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority and no State can ever create, modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect and promote." (EV, 71) If Grandpa Ryan were to survey today’s political landscape, he’d be amazed. The times are radically different than they were a century ago. But there is one thing we should hold in common with the wise old sheriff of Midland County: We need to let our core beliefs - the beliefs that flow from both faith and reason - illuminate our votes. We need to take very seriously our responsibilities both as believers and as citizens.

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