This week the Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops released a statement on the 2012 elections. Beautifully written and uncompromising in its call for Catholics to use their religious principles to guide their votes, the statement urges Catholics to make their presence felt–and vote.
The statement begins by reminding the laity that they are celebrating All Saints Day, then follows by invoking the memories of the holy people of the past to inspire a call for holiness.
Then the bishops throw down the gauntlet:
We, the bishops of Pennsylvania, see next Tuesday (November 6), Election Day, as a day of historical challenge for our time. We propose this statement now because the upcoming elections, at every level, offer a critical opportunity for Catholics – i.e., all of us who are believers: clergy, religious, and lay alike – to exercise our civic duty and fulfill our social responsibility in a way that becomes us as aspiring saints.
Because politics is the place where competing moral visions of a society meet and struggle, our democracy depends on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square, yet doing so with an abiding respect for one another. That struggle includes and depends on all of us, precisely as Catholics. For if we believe that a particular issue is gravely evil or that it will result in serious damage to society, then we have a duty, both as Catholics and as Americans, to hold political candidates accountable.
The bishops then discuss American history with great clarity, noting:
Today it is no longer the case, as it was for our country’s Founders, that religion can provide a shared moral framework and vocabulary for a pluralistic democracy. In fact, Americans would do well to realize that many of our country’s leading thinkers in law, higher education, and the social sciences simply no longer believe in the idea of inalienable natural rights guaranteed by a Creator higher than the State – one of the cornerstone principles of the American experiment.
And what follows is quite specific:
This has serious implications because many of our most urgent political issues – ranging from the economy, immigration, and abortion to global security – raise profoundly moral questions. These questions cannot be resolved without a common understanding of right and wrong. Consider today’s aggressive efforts to redefine the nature of marriage, to exclude parental authority in the choice of the best education for their children, and to force Catholic healthcare and social services to end their ministries unless they violate their religious identities through mandated support of practices contrary to the very sanctity of human life.
The bishops conclude:
As Christians we do owe an appropriate loyalty to the State. We strive to maintain good relations with civil authority. But our primary allegiance must always be to God and to God alone. As St. Thomas More once said so eloquently, we are God’s good servants first. That is the nature of our personal calling; that is our human mission; and that is something we cannot forsake without betraying our baptism. Moreover, our calling and mission as Catholics remain fully consonant with the historic American understanding of law and justice …
And so, we, the bishops of Pennsylvania, urge citizens to vote this year, and we encourage Catholics to learn what our faith believes about the issues at stake in the 2012 election … In this Year of Faith, let us bring our faith to bear on how we vote this Election Day.
And may God, in His goodness, continue to bless America.
Will the Catholic voters of Pennsylvania listen?
Photo credit: T. O’Keefe