When I was bishop of the Diocese of Portland, we had the custom of hosting an annual social for our governor, state legislators and others in political life. It was an opportunity to thank men and women in elected office for their service to the people of Maine. It was also a moment for me to share reflections on various dimensions of Catholic teaching concerning issues of public policy current at the time.
When I was preparing for the first time to craft my comments for this event, I asked our diocesan public policy director for suggestions on topics. He said, "Bishop, it's simple. Just explain to them why the Catholic Church takes positions on public policy." I must say that I was taken aback, assuming (naively, I guess) that it would be clear to everyone that the Church has the obligation as a matter of faith to participate in shaping the moral character of society. It is part of our mission. Responsible citizenship is, after all, a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in "Deus Caritas Est," "The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly."
As we prepare for Election Day and evaluate candidates' positions on pressing moral and human problems, we would do well to heed the U.S. Catholic bishops' call to political responsibility, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," which highlights in particular the following challenges:
• continuing destruction of unborn children through abortion and other threats to the life and dignity of persons who are vulnerable, sick or unwanted
• attacks on religious liberty in the continuing effort to force Catholic ministries in health care, education and social services to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need
• ongoing efforts to undermine marriage as the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman and a fundamental social institution essential to the common good
• an economic crisis that has devastated lives and livelihoods, increasing unemployment, poverty and hunger
• failure to repair a broken immigration system with comprehensive reform that promotes respect for law, protects the human rights and dignity of immigrants and refugees, recognizes their contribution to our communities, and keeps families together
• wars, terror and violence that raise serious moral questions on the use of force and its human and moral consequences in a dangerous world.
There are many other issues that concern us as we prepare to enter the voting booth in November. Some of these will be matters of prudential judgment on which people of good conscience may and will disagree.
But not all issues are of equal import morally. Abortion, as a prime example, is an intrinsic evil.
I never have and never will vote for a pro-choice candidate, no matter what other good causes he/she may espouse. Americans stand for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." No right to life, no other rights. A no brainer. Amen.
Lots to think about. A well-formed conscience is the key. And prayer.