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Archdiocese of Boston

Bishop William Murphy's
Pilot Column

Catholics and the Church belong in our political life

We Catholics "need to share our values, raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society that protects human life, promotes family life, pursues social justice and practices solidarity.

As citizens, we have to participate in the processes of the state. Freedom becomes distorted in a democracy if the citizens do not take an active role in the decision making process. Without the involvement of all, self interest groups, legitimate in themselves, become powerful lobbyists using their power to the expense of others. To counter that the first responsibility we all have is to vote and then, in accordance with our possibilities, to make our views known in ways that advance the true good of society, especially the protection of the weakest and voiceless among us.

We Catholics bring to the political process a consistent moral framework that can only serve to better our society. That moral framework is based on God’s revelation and Jesus’ message about the true meaning of the human person in society. It has been developed and explicated through the two thousand years of the Church’s experience, an experience that has been enriched by the life of the Church in our own country. It is never tied to one political party or limited by the predominance of one sector of society over another. Rather it seeks the true good of every person and the common good of all.

Often enough in our society today, there are those who argue that our moral framework should have no influence in public debate and political choices. That is utter nonsense. Why does someone’s secular viewpoint, denying the transcendence and ultimate meaning of human life, have a "right" to form society but our viewpoint not? Obviously we cannot impose our views. But we have every right to make arguments that others can grasp, arguments that are shaped by and expressive of the dignity of the human person and the common good of society that is so much a part of our heritage.

Even more vociferous and critical are those who would claim that the Church as an institution has "no right to speak" in the public sphere. This too is utter nonsense. Why do labor unions and manufacturing associations have a right to speak but an institution that serves the good of all not have that right?

The Church has never and will never seek any privileged position in our society. We bishops "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, insist on our right to educate our people and, by extension, society at large. We do insist on our right to teach and proclaim the truths about the human person in society. We do insist on our right to address the issues from the perspective of Christian faith and Catholic social principles. And we have every confidence that Catholics will listen to this teaching and make it part of their own reflection as each member of the Church of God seeks to be informed in order to make the best choice in this and in every election.

One of the appeals the bishops have consistently made to Catholics and, by extension, to all men and women of good will is "to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric carefully, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not merely party affiliation or mere self interest." This is not opposition to political parties as such. In fact political parties have been the normal way that democracies guarantee that a variety of opinions be heard and real choices offered. It does say that "my party, right or wrong" is not an intelligent approach to the issues. It does say that we have to assess parties and judge if they do, in fact, reflect our teaching and our principles on specific issues or have they changed their coloration and become parties of self interest rather than the common good.

In this positive spirit of seeing the good in our democracy and urging the parties to reflect sound principles, we Catholics "need to share our values, raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society that protects human life, promotes family life, pursues social justice and practices solidarity." By these words the bishops challenge Catholics to be faithful and good citizens not only for their own personal goods but for the good of all society. That means that there must be moral priorities at play in our process of determining how to vote. In the weeks ahead, I would like to share with you what those priorities are because they will be very important as we make our choices in November.

Priests for Life
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