Bishop's Interview: Forming our conscience so that we vote with faith
Interview with Bishop Gregory Aymond, Bishop of the Diocese of Austin, TX
Interview with "The Catholic Spirit" of the Diocese of Austin, TX
Editor: Bishop Aymond, the Faithful Citizenship document that has been printed by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops has been on people’s minds lately because of the November presidential election. What is this document and what are some of the points you find most important?
Bishop Aymond: Through this publication the bishops of the U.S. call Catholics to be faithful citizens and to remember they have a responsibility to participate in the political process. It is very important that we, as Catholics, make sure that both individually and as a church our voice is heard. The Catholic Church does not and should not tell people how to vote. The document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” lists the important issues that are dominant in the Gospel and in the teachings of the Catholic Church. We are asking Catholics to read this document or at least an abbreviated form of it (see pages 16 and 17), and to become sensitive to and aware of these issues. Then each Catholic is invited to take the teachings of Christ in the Scripture and the teachings of the church and to apply them to the platform of each candidate. By so doing, we then go into the voting booth and we vote not just with our finger but with faith, knowledgeable of the teachings of Christ and the church. Once again, the church does not tell people for whom to vote. Our goal as teachers is to help people know the issues, to form their consciences and then to vote in faith. I hope that all of us as Catholics realize the important responsibility we have to participate in the political process. Sometimes we are tempted to say, “Well, if I don’t vote, it is only one vote.” Obviously, if thousands upon hundreds of thousands of people say that, then we basically wreck the democratic system and we don’t have a voice. Our voices should be heard because we are good citizens and people who stand for the values of Jesus Christ.
Editor: Are you and the other bishops interested in shaping a Catholic voting block?
Bishop Aymond: We are not and, as I just mentioned, we do not back a particular candidate. Our guidelines for the Catholic Church in the U.S. say we can not hold political speeches or rallies or endorsements of particular candidates. The only time the Catholic Church can in any way hold a political rally would be when both candidates are invited to debate and we would not be allowed to show any kind of preference for one candidate over the other. I have also asked all of our clergy, religious and those in lay ministry to use only one document as we prepare for the election and that is the document we are discussing, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” Much of the material that is published is not accurate and tends to sway people into voting for one candidate or another. In the document, we also mention it is possible in a local or national election that there may not be any candidate who upholds all of the Catholic values. Some Catholics would then say, “Well, I just won’t vote.” We would greatly disagree with that stance. If this is the case, Catholics are to look carefully at the platform of each candidate and to consider voting for that person who will more likely help our country grow in the values of Jesus; likewise, to vote for the candidate who might be more open to change than one who would not be open. No one in ministry should mention the name of a candidate in a talk or homily. However, we are to invite and challenge people to vote and to take very seriously their vote and that it will hopefully reflect what that particular person thinks is in unison with Christ and the teachings of the church.
Editor: So much attention is often given to the presidential election and the national offices at stake. Would you describe the issues that conscientious Catholic voters should keep in mind when evaluating candidates for state offices?
Bishop Aymond: The issues for national as well as state and local elections are the same. First, we are encouraged to vote for a candidate who will foster and promote the right to life and the dignity of the human person. This involves in a very special way the issue of abortion, and also other direct threats to the sanctity of human life, including euthanasia, human cloning and the destruction of human embryos. In the Faithful Citizenship document, the bishops go on to say that we also oppose torture, unjust war, the use of the death penalty, racism, poverty and unnecessary suffering. Secondly, we would encourage people to look at the platform of the various candidates and to see how each candidate views marriage and family life, and how they uphold the sacrament of marriage. Thirdly, we are asking our Catholic family to vote for a candidate who understands human rights and responsibilities: which candidate would more justly bring about a respect for human decency and provide food, shelter, education, employment, health care, housing and the respect for religious freedom. Fourthly, we expect our government leaders to work with us in reaching out to the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. Ask yourself, is this candidate sensitive to the needs of the poor, weak and vulnerable? Fifth, we believe that the dignity of work and the rights of workers are at the very heart of the Gospel message. Work is more than just a way to make a living. It is a form of continuing to participate in God’s creation. Will the candidate that I am voting for contribute to the common good through the dignity and right of workers? Sixth, does the candidate that I am voting for encourage global responsibility, a solidarity with other nations who may be experiencing extreme poverty and disease that plague so much of our world? Lastly, we encourage voting for people who are committed to using the gifts of God’s creation in a wise and respectful way. We are, after all, called to be stewards of the earth. Once again, in order to take these issues seriously and then to see how they are reflected in the position of the various candidates will take time, prayer and study. By so doing, though, we vote with faith and not just out of popularity or because a candidate sounds good, looks good or may be an eloquent speaker.
Editor: Our political responsibility does not end on Election Day. What else can we do to live as faithful citizens in between election days?
Bishop Aymond: It is very important for us as Catholics to be in dialogue with our local, state and national legislators. They represent us and we should respectfully encourage them to embrace and stand with us for the values of Jesus as we find them in the Gospel and the 2,000-year tradition of the church. As I have often said, I think that we have a very powerful symbol in the Austin Diocese, the Catholic Church of Central Texas. On Congress Avenue is our large, beautiful and prominent Capitol building. One block from the Capitol building is our Chancery Office, and a couple blocks south of the Capitol is our Cathedral. From the Cathedral we pray for our legislators and all those who work for government. And from the Chancery we are in dialogue with them encouraging them to think deeply and wisely about their work and to vote in such a way that will benefit the human family and the dignity of each person. In the upcoming elections, both state and national, I wonder who Jesus would vote for?
Editor’s note: For more information on Faithful Citizenship, see pages 16 and 17 or visit www.faithfulcitizenship.org. Bishop Aymond also gave a talk about Faithful Citizenship that can be obtained on DVD or CD by contacting the diocesan Office of Social Concerns at (512) 651-6103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.