FAITHFUL CITIZENSHIP AND CONSCIENCE
At its Fall General Assembly in November 2015, the U.S. Bishops offered once again Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, its teaching document on political responsibility. The bishops urge use of the document to help in the formation of consciences, and to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue and to shape political choices in light of Catholic teaching.
Considering the conscience, we must be careful not to attempt to separate “the right to follow our consciences” from “the duty to inform our consciences.” The conscience is not merely a hunch to excuse doing whatever we want to do; rather, the conscience “bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn” (Catechism, 1777) because a well-formed conscience is moral judgment enlightened, upright and truthful (Catechism, 1783). The U.S. Bishops remind us that “participation in political life is a moral obligation…rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do” (Faithful Citizenship, 13; Catechism, 1913-1915).
READ THE DOCUMENT
Read Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States (en Español), which provides a framework for Catholics in the United States. In an effort to help to understand the document, there are also questions for reflection and discussion on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (also en Español).
OUR MISSION AS FAITHFUL CITIZENS
Discipleship demands that all Catholics work with others to build a civic society aligned with Catholic Social Teaching in which all people are able to reach their fullest calling in both personal and community life. Catholic Social Teaching is a central and essential element of our faith. Because this commitment to social justice is at the heart of who we are and what we believe, it must be shared more effectively. The Church is called to address the pressing need to share the social demands of the Gospel and Catholic tradition more clearly. If Catholic education and formation fail to communicate our social tradition, they are not fully Catholic.
Responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. However, Faithful Citizenship is about more than elections. It requires ongoing participation in the continuing political and legislative process.
To participate in the political and legislative process as a faithful citizen requires that first of all our political positions be grounded in our faith. For this the bishops point us to “Scripture and the Catholic Social teaching” and specifically mention “the themes at the heart of our Catholic Social Tradition.” These themes are:
- Life and Dignity of the Human Person
- Call to Family, Community, and Participation
- Rights and Responsibilities
- Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
- Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
- Caring for God’s Creation
People are encouraged to read the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church which gives us a more complete picture of the Catholic Social Teaching. The bishops point to the full scope of the social teachings as the proper grounding for being faithful citizens. It is not a matter of making selections.
Second, to be a faithful citizen it is important to be informed about how the social teachings apply to the issues that are either being considered or should be considered in the political arena.
Third, being a faithful citizen cannot stop there but calls for us to be “active and responsible participants in the political process.”
To support the effort for all of us becoming faithful citizens the bishops say, “forming their consciences in accord with Catholic teaching, Catholic lay women and men can become actively involved: running for office; working within political parties; communicating their concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, community organizations, and other efforts to apply authentic moral teaching in the public square. Even those who cannot vote have the right to have their voices heard on issues that affect their lives and the common good” (16).
Contact your local county to register to vote in the November elections. Parishes are encouraged to hold non-partisan voter registration drives at their parishes. Persons can be deputized by the county to become voter registrars. Contact your local county to find out procedures. For more information on ways that parishes can encourage non-partisan political participation visit the Texas Catholic Conference.