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American and Catholic: thoughts on responsible citizenship

Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap.

Archbishop of Denver

American and Catholic: thoughts on responsible citizenship

In less than a month, voters around the country will elect a new president and a new congress. Here in northern Colorado, many state and local races will be decided as well, along with ballot initiatives and amendments. As Catholics in the year of the Great Jubilee, God calls on us not just to "renew" our religious faith, but to make it the guiding force in our lives, both private and public.

In a nation like the United States, every vote and every voter counts. Therefore, as Catholics, I’d like to invite all of us to remember and pray over four simple principles as we prepare to vote on November 7:

First, be informed. Ignorance is a luxury none of us can afford. Know the issues and the candidates. Equally important: Know how they intersect -- or don’t -- with your Catholic faith. Read and reflect on the Holy Father’s encyclical The Gospel of Life, and the American bishops’ excellent statements on political life, Living the Gospel of Life and Faithful Citizenship. All of these are available free directly from the internet (see or at nominal cost through Catholic bookstores.

Second, vote. The United States has one of the lowest voter turnouts of all advanced democracies. No democracy can survive the disinterest of its own people. In an election year when critical issues are so prominent, voting is not an option. It is a moral obligation.

Third, vote your moral principles. It is entirely responsible to vote according to our Catholic beliefs. Even more: For Catholics to do otherwise is bad citizenship. Every law, every public policy, embodies a moral conviction. Some laws, and the convictions which undergird them, are good. Others are bad. We cannot turn our culture toward a culture of life if we do not root our actions, including our political choices, in our faith.

Fourth and finally, as you consider your vote, remember the sanctity of human life and dignity. As a nation, America has a grave responsibility to its poor and homeless, to its elderly, to its families, to its children seeking an adequate education and freedom from violence, to its immigrant workers, and to people of other nations whose labor helps to create and sustain our prosperity. On all of these issues, Catholics should press their candidates to support an ethic which consistently protects and advances the human person. As Pope John Paul has written, " . . . there can be no true democracy without a recognition of every person’s dignity and without respect for his or her rights."

The Holy Father has also written: "It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop." As America’s bishops suggested in their 1998 pastoral statement Living the Gospel of Life, it is impossible to advance human dignity by being "right" on issues like poverty and immigration, but wrong about the most fundamental issue of all -- the right to life.

What does that mean? It means, for example, that a so-called "right" to partial-birth abortion can never outweigh a child’s right to life -- and any "right" to kill the innocent undermines every other right of the human person.

For each of us in this Jubilee Year, responsible citizenship may offer complicated choices and imperfect candidates. But we are not alone, even in the voting booth; nor, as believing Catholics, do we lack a compass for conscience and action. May God grant His presence – and the light of our faith -- to each of us as we exercise our freedom this November.

The archbishop will continue his reflections on Catholic faith, responsible citizenship and the issues of Election 2000 next week. Important note: He will also lead a public discussion of "Living the Gospel of Life" and "Faithful Citizenship" on Monday evening, October 23, at 7:15 p.m. in Bonfils Hall at the John Paul II Center. Admission is free. All are welcome.

Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
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