Faith and Responsible Citizenship: It's More than One Issue

By Fr. Donnell Kirchner

In a previous article [“The Catholic Vote,” 6/15/12 TPP], I described the principles and criteria which should guide the Catholic voter as election time draws nearer. Since Catholics make up the single largest religious group (but far from being a harmonious bunch), it is important that there be clarity on what and how one exercises this fundamental right and privilege as a citizen.

The Bishops of the United States have written a document, “Forming Consciences for Responsible Citizenship.” Even though written specifically for Roman Catholics, it can be a useful tool for those of another faith or no faith to be Responsible Citizens.

Among the points which I have already noted:

• no one should be a single issue voter;

• as backers of a pro-life culture, protecting unborn life rests in first place;

• the Church endorses no candidate or political party, but invites each person to use his or her conscience, formed “in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want.” Then one employs Prudence “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” no. 1806).

Let us turn our attention to key themes where this is to be lived out and influence how one votes.

The first issue, call it the Mother of all Pro-Life activities, is to protect and promote unborn life, the weakest members of the general public. Abortion can never be seen as a solution to a problem. But also to be included are euthanasia and assisted suicide. Pro-Life issues also include avoiding the destruction of human embryos in the name of research, the use of the death penalty to combat crime, torture, and imprudent resort to war to address international disputes.

Catholics now talk about the “Seamless Garment” argument, to be consistent pro-life at all level, from womb to tomb, as some say. Where do your candidate and political party come down on these issues?

As the battle over marriage, as only a union between one man and one woman, is being heavily waged and debated, all can agree the future well being of the country includes good, stable family life which “needs support morally, socially, and economically.” We all desire that parents can raise their children with respect for life, sound moral values, and an ethic of stewardship and responsibility. Both candidates seem to be good faithful husbands and devoted fathers. Separation of Church and State does not mean to be indifferent to moral/ethical issues.

Where do their parties and followers come down on this issue?

What does it mean that one is hoping to get a comprehensive immigration reform? Securing the borders would be on most people’s list. What about treating immigrant workers and their families fairly, once they are here? Can the American economy and market really survive in a healthy mode without many of our “visiting” laborers, who do the jobs that others shun? And while we are at it, would it not also be helpful to address the factors that compel people to leave their own countries?

Which party seems to have a more human and enlightened approach? Are there attitudes or policies that reflect prejudice, hostility toward immigrants, religious bigotry, and other forms of discrimination? For a nation that has been created out of the immigrants from the four corners of the globe, which political party is best equipped to continue this legacy?

Access to education has meant upward mobility for many families. Educated and prepared workers rise out of poverty because traditionally they were able to get decent work with good wages. Should students get special loans so as to be able to afford higher education? Why role does government, whether federal or local, play in furthering a student’s career? Many have said that the greatest riches of a country is its educated work force. What policies and visions does your party offer to prepare future generations? This too is part of a pro-life agenda, as a society prepares its future leaders.

As controversial as it currently is, health care is one of the fundamental rights a citizen should enjoy. So providing coverage for the growing number of people without it is a huge issue. Is that a something for the individual to achieve all for himself? Is it an issue so important to the well being of a nation that the government needs to intervene? Cultures and civilizations judged on how they protect and look after its weaker members: the poor, the young, the aging, and the sick. How does your candidate and his party treat this issue?

Caring for the environment, called creation by those with faith in a Creator, means that we have been provided with means not only for survival, but also for our comfort and ease. What are our responsibilities over its uses? What about future generations’ needs? The bishops remind all responsible citizens that our present uses of Mother Nature should not “compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We have a moral obligation to protect the planet on which we live — to respect God’s creation and to ensure a safe and hospitable environment for human beings.” Can we continue to take and use without any consideration of the consequences? Does common sense tell us that we need something like an EPA to protect us from those whose only interests are pure economic gains? What do your candidate and party believe about this?

“The economy must serve people, not the other way around,” says the bishops’ document. “Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation … (so) workers, employers, and unions should not only advance their own interests, but also work together to advance economic justice and the well-being of all.”

Not every action of each union or its workers can be justified, but the right to organize a group of workers into a union has been one of the conquests of this latter part of human history. Who are against unions? Have they become too powerful, outlived the reason for their existence? Who wants to keep the minimum salary low? Who ships jobs overseas so as to maximize profits for a few? As many have already said, a country or nation’s greatest riches or assets are its workers!

Can the Just War theory be legitimately invoked anymore? Common sense and economic realities tell us that we need “to see limits placed on the moral use of military force, debates on when it can be used. What is the human cost to going to war?”

All responsible citizens “must also work to avoid war and to promote peace. Nations should protect the dignity of the human person and the right to life by finding more effective ways to prevent conflicts, to resolve them by peaceful means, and to promote reconstruction and reconciliation in the wake of conflicts. Nations have a right and obligation to defend human life and the common good against terrorism, aggression, and similar threats”, honor the “commitment and sacrifice of those who serve in our nation’s armed forces, and also recognize the moral right to conscientious objection to war in general, a particular war, or a military procedure”.

We also need to reflect upon “the preventive use of military force”.

What does your candidate and his party think about going to war, to using military options in a world full of fanatical, unreasonable people who preach more hatred that anything else? Is it something to be used as only a last resort, or can we practice a pre-emptive strike in the name of national defense?

Let us remember that all these criteria and themes which the bishops have outlined are based on a desire to promote LIFE, a pro-life culture, a way of helping and promoting the well being of our neighbors. So economic gains, national prestige or developing new arms all have to be subordinated to the well being of humans. The days of saying that what is good for General Motors is good for the country is long gone.

So come Election Day, how do your candidates and political parties line up on these issues?

Father Donnell Kirchner, CSsR, of Liguori, Mo., received a degree in moral theology in Rome and taught for 39 years as a Redemptorist priest in Brazil. He currently travels around the USA preaching. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2012

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