are a time for debate and decisions about the leaders, policies, and values
that will guide our nation. Since the last presidential election and our
last reflection on faithful citizenship, our nation has been attacked by
terrorists and has gone to war twice.1 We have moved from how to
share budget surpluses to how to allocate the burdens of deficits. As we
approach the elections of 2004, we face difficult challenges for our nation
Our nation has been wounded. September 11 and what followed have taught us
that no amount of military strength, economic power, or technological
advances can truly guarantee security, prosperity, or progress. The most
important challenges we face are not simply political, economic, or
technological, but ethical, moral, and spiritual. We face fundamental
questions of life and death, war and peace, who moves ahead and who is left
Our Church is also working to heal wounds. Our community of faith and
especially we, as bishops, are working to face our responsibility and take
all necessary steps to overcome the hurt, damage, and loss of trust
resulting from the evil of clerical sexual abuse. While working to protect
children and rebuild trust, we must not abandon the Church's important role
in public life and the duty to encourage Catholics to act on our faith in
These times and this election will test us as American Catholics. A renewed
commitment to faithful citizenship can help heal the wounds of our nation,
world, and Church. What we have endured has changed many things, but it has
not changed the fundamental mission and message of Catholics in public life.
In times of terror and war, of global insecurity and economic uncertainty,
of disrespect for human life and human dignity, we need to return to basic
moral principles. Politics cannot be merely about ideological conflict, the
search for partisan advantage, or political contributions. It should be
about fundamental moral choices. How do we protect human life and dignity?
How do we fairly share the blessings and burdens of the challenges we face?
What kind of nation do we want to be? What kind of world do we want to
Politics in this election year and beyond should be about an old idea with
new power--the common good. The central question should not be, "Are you
better off than you were four years ago?" It should be, "How can ‘we'--all
of us, especially the weak and vulnerable--be better off in the years ahead?
How can we protect and promote human life and dignity? How can we pursue
greater justice and peace?"
In the face of all these challenges, we offer once again a simple image--a
table.2 Who has a place at the table of life? Where is the place
at the table for a million of our nation's children who are destroyed every
year before they are born? How can we secure a place at the table for the
hungry and those who lack health care in our own land and around the world?
Where is the place at the table for those in our world who lack the freedom
to practice their faith or stand up for what they believe? How do we ensure
that families in our inner cities and rural communities, in barrios
in Latin America and villages in Africa and Asia have a place at the
table--enough to eat, decent work and wages, education for their children,
adequate health care and housing, and most of all, hope for the future?
We remember especially the people who are now missing at the table of
life--those lost in the terror of September 11, in the service of our
nation, and in the bloody conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East,
A table is also a place where important decisions are made in our
communities, nation, and world. How can the poorest people on Earth and
those who are vulnerable in our land, including immigrants and those who
suffer discrimination, have a real place at the tables where policies and
priorities are set?
For Catholics, a special table--the altar of sacrifice, where we celebrate
the Eucharist--is where we find the direction and strength to take what we
believe into the public square, using our voices and votes to defend life,
advance justice, pursue peace, and find a place at the table for all God's
has been blessed with freedom, democracy, abundant resources, and generous
and religious people. However, our prosperity does not reach far enough. Our
culture sometimes does not lift us up but brings us down in moral terms. Our
world is wounded by terror, torn apart by conflict, and haunted by hunger.
As we approach the elections of 2004, we renew our call for a new kind of
politics--focused on moral principles not on the latest polls, on the needs
of the poor and vulnerable not the contributions of the rich and powerful,
and on the pursuit of the common good not the demands of special interests.
Faithful citizenship calls Catholics to see civic and political
responsibilities through the eyes of faith and to bring our moral
convictions to public life. People of good will and sound faith can disagree
about specific applications of Catholic principles. However, Catholics in
public life have a particular responsibility to bring together consistently
their faith, moral principles, and public responsibilities.
At this time, some Catholics may feel politically homeless, sensing that no
political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human
life and dignity. However, this is not a time for retreat or discouragement.
We need more, not less engagement in political life. We urge Catholics to
become more involved?by running for office; by working within political
parties; by contributing money or time to campaigns; and by joining diocesan
legislative networks, community organizations, and other efforts to apply
Catholic principles in the public square.
The Catholic community is a diverse community of faith, not an interest
group. Our Church does not offer contributions or endorsements. Instead, we
raise a series of questions, seeking to help lift up the moral and human
dimensions of the choices facing voters and candidates:
September 11, how can we build not only a safer world, but a better
world, more just, more secure, more peaceful,
more respectful of human life and dignity?
we protect the weakest in our midst--innocent unborn children? How will
our nation resist what Pope John Paul II calls a "culture of death"? How
can we keep our nation from turning to violence to solve some of its
most difficult problems--abortion to deal with difficult pregnancies;
the death penalty to combat crime; euthanasia and assisted suicide to
deal with the burdens of age, illness, and disability; and war to
address international disputes?
we address the tragic fact that more than 30,000 children die every day
as a result of hunger, international debt, and lack of development
around the world, as well as the fact that the younger you are, the more
likely you are to be poor here in the richest nation on Earth?
our nation help parents raise their children with respect for life,
sound moral values, a sense of hope, and an ethic of stewardship and
responsibility? How can our society defend the central institution of
marriage and better support families in their moral roles and
responsibilities, offering them real choices and financial resources to
obtain quality education and decent housing?
we address the growing number of families and individuals without
affordable and accessible health care? How can health care better
protect human life and respect human dignity?
our society combat continuing prejudice, overcome hostility toward
immigrants and refugees, and heal the wounds of racism, religious
bigotry, and other forms of discrimination?
our nation pursue the values of justice and peace in a world where
injustice is common, desperate poverty widespread, and peace is too
often overwhelmed by violence?
the responsibilities and limitations of families, community
organizations, markets, and government? How can these elements of
society work together to overcome poverty, pursue the common good, care
for creation, and overcome injustice?
should our nation use, or avoid the use of, military force--for what
purpose, under what authority, and at what human cost?
we join with other nations to lead the world to greater respect for
human life and dignity, religious freedom and democracy, economic
justice, and care for God's creation?
these questions and the 2004 campaigns can lead to less cynicism and more
participation, less partisanship, and more civil dialogue on fundamental
One of our
greatest blessings in the United States is our right and responsibility to
participate in civic life. Everyone can and should participate. Even those
who cannot vote have the right to have their voices heard on issues that
affect their communities.
The Constitution protects the right of individuals and of religious bodies
to speak out without governmental interference, favoritism, or
discrimination. Major public issues have moral dimensions. Religious values
have significant public consequences. Our nation is enriched and our
tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups
contribute their values to public debates.
As bishops, we have a responsibility as Americans and as religious teachers
to speak out on the moral dimensions of public life. The Catholic community
enters public life not to impose sectarian doctrine but to act on our moral
convictions, to share our experience in serving the poor and vulnerable, and
to participate in the dialogue over our nation's future.
A Catholic moral framework does not easily fit the ideologies of "right" or
"left," nor tthe platforms of any party. Our values are often not
"politically correct." Believers are called to be a community of conscience
within the larger society and to test public life by the values of Scripture
and the principles of Catholic social teaching. Our responsibility is to
measure all candidates, policies, parties, and platforms by how they protect
or undermine the life, dignity, and rights of the human person?whether they
protect the poor and vulnerable and advance the common good.
Jesus called us to "love one another".3 Our Lord's example and
words demand care for the "least of these"4 from each of us. Yet
they also require action on a broader scale. Faithful citizenship is about
more than elections. It requires ongoing participation in the continuing
political and legislative process.
A recent Vatican statement on Catholic participation in political life
highlights the need for involvement:
Today's democratic societies . . . call for new and fuller forms of
participation in public life by Christian and non-Christian citizens alike.
Indeed, all can contribute, by voting in elections for lawmakers and
government officials, and in other ways as well, to the development of
political solutions and legislative choices which, in their opinion, will
benefit the common good.5 In the Catholic tradition, responsible
citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral
obligation. All believers are called to faithful citizenship, to become
informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process. As
we have said, "We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to
embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an
opportunity meaningfully to participate [more fully] in building the
culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote
counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant
individual power."6 Even those who are not citizens are called to
participate in the debates which shape our common life.
community of faith brings three major assets to these challenges.
A Consistent Moral
The Word of God and the teachings of the Church give us a particular
way of viewing the world. Scripture calls us to "choose life," to serve "the
least of these," to "hunger and thirst" for justice and to be "peacemakers."7
Catholic teaching offers consistent moral principles to assess issues,
political platforms, and campaigns for their impact on human life and
dignity. As Catholics, we are not free to abandon unborn children because
they are seen as unwanted or inconvenient; to turn our backs on immigrants
because they lack the proper documents; to create and then destroy human
lives in a quest for medical advances or profit; to turn away from poor
women and children because they lack economic or political power; or to
ignore sick people because they have no insurance. Nor can we neglect
international responsibilities in the aftermath of war because resources are
scarce. Catholic teaching requires us to speak up for the voiceless and to
act in accord with universal moral values.
Our community also brings to public life broad experience in serving
those in need. Every day, the Catholic community educates the young,
cares for the sick, shelters the homeless, feeds the hungry, assists needy
families, welcomes refugees, and serves the elderly.8 In defense
of life, we reach out to children and to the sick, elderly, and disabled who
need help. We support women in difficult pregnancies, and we assist those
wounded by the trauma of abortion and domestic violence. On many issues, we
speak for those who have no voice. These are not abstract issues for us;
they have names and faces. We have practical expertise and daily experience
to contribute to the public debate.
A Community of People
The Catholic community
is large and diverse. We are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. We
are members of every race, come from every ethnic background, and live in
urban, rural, and suburban communities in all fifty states. We are CEOs and
migrant farm workers, senators and persons on public assistance, business
owners and union members. But all Catholics are called to a common
commitment to protect human life and stand with those who are poor and
vulnerable. We are all called to provide a moral leaven for our democracy,
to be the salt of the earth.9
is called to educate Catholics about our social teaching, highlight the
moral dimensions of public policies, participate in debates on matters
affecting the common good, and witness to the Gospel through our services
and ministries. The Catholic community's participation in public affairs
does not undermine, but enriches the political process and affirms genuine
pluralism. Leaders of the Church have the right and duty to share Catholic
teaching and to educate Catholics on the moral dimensions of public life, so
that they may form their consciences in light of their faith.
The recent Vatican statement on political life points this out:
[The Church] does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the
freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions. Instead, it
intends--as is its proper function--to instruct and illuminate the
consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life,
so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human
person and the common good.10 We urge our fellow citizens "to see
beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to
choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation
or mere self-interest."11 As bishops, we seek to form the
consciences of our people. We do not wish to instruct persons on how they
should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates. We hope that voters will
examine the position of candidates on the full range of issues, as well as
on their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance. We are convinced
that a consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework from which to
address issues in the political arena. 12
For Catholics, the defense of human life and dignity is not a narrow cause,
but a way of life and a framework for action. A key message of the Vatican
statement on public life is that Catholics in politics must reflect the
moral values of our faith with clear and consistent priority for the life
and dignity of the human person.13 This is the fundamental moral
measure of their service. The Vatican statement also points out:
It must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not
permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which
contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian
faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some
particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A
political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church's social
doctrine does not exhaust one's responsibility towards the common good.14
Decisions about candidates and choices about public policies require clear
commitment to moral principles, careful discernment and prudential judgments
based on the values of our faith.
The coming elections provide important opportunities to bring together our
principles, experience, and community in effective public witness. We hope
parishes, dioceses, schools, colleges, and other Catholic institutions will
encourage active participation through non-partisan voter registration and
education efforts, as well as through ongoing legislative networks and
advocacy programs.15 As Catholics we need to share our values,
raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society that protects human
life, promotes family life, pursues social justice, and practices
solidarity. These efforts can strengthen our nation and renew our Church.
approach to faithful citizenship begins with moral principles, not party
platforms. The directions for our public witness are found in Scripture and
Catholic social teaching. Here are some key themes at the heart of our
Catholic social tradition.16
Life and Dignity of
the Human Person
Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore,
each person's life and dignity must be respected, whether that person is an
innocent unborn child in a mother's womb, whether that person worked in the
World Trade Center or a market in Baghdad, or even whether that person is a
convicted criminal on death row. We believe that every human life is sacred
from conception to natural death, that people are more important than
things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it protects and
respects the life and dignity of the human person. As the recent Vatican
statement points out, "The Church recognizes that while democracy is the
best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political
choices, it succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct
understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political
life cannot compromise on this principle."17
Family, Community, and Participation
The human person is not only sacred, but social. The God-given institutions
of marriage--a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman--and family are
central and serve as the foundations for social life. Marriage and family
should be supported and strengthened, not undermined. Every person has a
right to participate in social, economic, and political life and a
corresponding duty to work for the advancement of the common good and the
well-being of all, especially the poor and weak.
Every person has a fundamental right to life--the right that makes all other
rights possible. Each person also has a right to the conditions for living a
decent life—faith and family life, food and shelter, education and
employment, health care and housing. We also have a duty to secure and
respect these rights not only for ourselves, but for others, and to fulfill
our responsibilities to our families, to each other, and to the larger
Option for the Poor
Scripture teaches that God has a special concern for the poor and
vulnerable.18 The prophets denounced injustice toward the poor as
a lack of fidelity to the God of Israel.19 Jesus, who identified
himself with "the least of these",20 came to preach "good news to
the poor, liberty to captives . . . and to set the downtrodden free."21
The Church calls on all of us to embrace this preferential option for the
poor and vulnerable,22 to embody it in our lives, and to work to
have it shape public policies and priorities. A fundamental measure of our
society is how we care for and stand with the poor and vulnerable.
Dignity of Work and
the Rights of Workers
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a
way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God's act
of creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic
rights of workers, owners, and others must be respected—the right to
productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and choose to join a
union, to economic initiative, and to ownership and private property. These
rights must be exercised in ways that advance the common good.
We are one human family. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, wherever
they may be. Pope John Paul II insists, "We are all really
responsible for all". Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a
shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of
justice and peace. Pope Paul VI taught that "if you want peace, work for
justice."23 The Gospel calls us to be "peacemakers."24
Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we be "sentinels of
peace" in a world wounded by violence and conflict.25
Caring for God's
The world that God created has been entrusted to us. Our use of it must be
directed by God's plan for creation, not simply for our own benefit. Our
stewardship of the Earth is a form of participation in God's act of creating
and sustaining the world. In our use of creation, we must be guided by a
concern for generations to come. We show our respect for the Creator by our
care for creation.
These themes anchor our community's role in public life. They help us to
resist excessive self-interest, blind partisanship, and ideological agendas.
They also help us avoid extreme distortions of pluralism and tolerance that
deny any fundamental values and dismiss the contributions and convictions of
believers. As the Vatican's statement on public life explains, we cannot
accept an understanding of pluralism and tolerance that suggests "every
possible outlook on life [is] of equal value".26 However, this
insistence that there are fundamental moral values "has nothing to do with
the legitimate freedom of Catholic citizens to choose among the various
political opinions that are compatible with faith and the natural moral law,
and to select, according to their own criteria, what best corresponds to the
needs of the common good".27
We wish to
call special attention to issues that we believe are important in the
national debate in this campaign and in the years to come. These brief
summaries do not indicate the depth and details of the positions we have
taken in the documents which are cited at the end of this statement.
Protecting Human Life Human life is a gift from God, sacred and inviolable. Because every
human person is created in the image and likeness of God, we have a duty to
defend human life from conception until natural death and in every
Our world does not lack for threats to human life. We watch with horror the
deadly violence of terror, war, starvation, and children dying from disease.
We face a new and insidious mentality that denies the dignity of some
vulnerable human lives and treats killing as a personal choice and social
good. As we wrote in Living the Gospel of Life, "Abortion and
euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity
because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the
condition for all others".28 Abortion, the deliberate killing of
a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable. The destruction of
human embryos as objects of research is wrong. This wrong is compounded when
human life is created by cloning or other means only to be destroyed.
The purposeful taking of human life by assisted suicide and euthanasia
is never an act of mercy. It is an unjustifiable assault on human life. For
the same reasons, the intentional targeting of civilians in war or
terrorist attacks is always wrong.
In protecting human life, "We must begin with a commitment never to
intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life,
no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem."29
We urge Catholics and others to promote laws and social policies that
protect human life and promote human dignity to the maximum degree possible.
Laws that legitimize abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia are
profoundly unjust and immoral. We support constitutional protection for
unborn human life, as well as legislative efforts to end abortion and
euthanasia. We encourage the passage of laws and programs that promote
childbirth and adoption over abortion and assist pregnant women and
children. We support aid to those who are sick and dying by encouraging
health care coverage for all as well as effective palliative care. We call
on government and medical researchers to base their decisions regarding
biotechnology and human experimentation on respect for the inherent
dignity and inviolability of human life from its very beginning, regardless
of the circumstances of its origin.
Catholic teaching calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must
protect the right to life by finding ever more effective ways to prevent
conflicts from arising, to resolve them by peaceful means, and to promote
post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. All nations have a right
and duty to defend human life and the common good against terrorism,
aggression, and similar threats. In the aftermath of September 11, we called
for continuing outreach to those who had been harmed, clear resolve in
responding to terror, moral restraint in the means used, respect for ethical
limits on the use of force, greater focus on the roots of terror, and a
serious effort to share fairly the burdens of this response. While military
force as a last resort can sometimes be justified to defend against
aggression and similar threats to the common good, we have raised serious
moral concerns and questions about preemptive or preventive use of force.
Even when military force is justified, it must be discriminate and
proportionate. Direct, intentional attacks on civilians in war are never
morally acceptable. Nor is the use of weapons of mass destruction or other
weapons that cause disproportionate harm or that cannot be deployed in ways
that distinguish between civilians and soldiers. Therefore, we urge our
nation to strengthen barriers against the use of nuclear weapons, to
expand controls over existing nuclear materials and other weapons of mass
destruction, and to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as a step
toward much deeper cuts and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. We
also urge our nation to join the treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines
and to address the human consequences of cluster bombs. We further urge our
nation to take immediate and serious steps to reduce its own
disproportionate role in the scandalous global trade in arms, which
contributes to violent conflicts around the world.
Society has a right and duty to defend itself against violent crime and a
duty to reach out to victims of crime. Yet our nation's increasing reliance
on the death penalty cannot be justified. We do not teach that
killing is wrong by killing those who kill others. Pope John Paul II has
said the penalty of death is "both cruel and unnecessary".30 The
antidote to violence is not more violence. In light of the Holy Father's
insistence that this is part of our pro-life commitment, we encourage
solutions to violent crime that reflect the dignity of the human person,
urging our nation to abandon the use of capital punishment. We also urge
passage of legislation that would address problems in the judicial system,
and restrict and restrain the use of the death penalty through use of DNA
evidence, a guarantee of effective counsel, and efforts to address issues of
Promoting Family Life
God established the family as the basic cell of human society. Therefore, we
must strive to make the needs and concerns of families a central national
priority. Marriage must be protected as a lifelong commitment between
a man and a woman and our laws should reflect this principle.. Marriage, as
God intended, provides the basic foundation for family life and the common
good. It must be supported in the face of the many pressures working to
undermine it. Policies related to the definition of marriage, taxes, the
workplace, divorce, and welfare must be designed to help families stay
together and to reward responsibility and sacrifice for children. Because
financial and economic factors have such an impact on the well-being and
stability of families, it is important that just wages be paid to
those who work to support their families and that generous efforts be made
to aid poor families.
Children must be protected and nurtured. We affirm our commitment to
the protection of children in all settings and at all times, and we support
policies that ensure that the well-being of all children is safeguarded.
This is reflected within our Church in the Charter for the Protection of
Children and Young People and other policies adopted by our bishops'
conference and dioceses to ensure the safety of children.
The education of children is a fundamental parental responsibility.
Educational systems can support or undermine parental efforts to educate and
nurture children. No one model or means of education is appropriate to the
needs of all persons. Parents—the first and most important educators—have a
fundamental right to choose the education
best suited to the needs of their children, including private and religious
schools. Families of modest means especially should not be denied this
choice because of their economic status. Government should help provide the
resources required for parents to exercise this basic right without
discrimination. To support parents' efforts to share basic values, we
believe a national consensus can be reached so that students in all
educational settings have opportunities for moral and character formation to
complement their intellectual and physical development.
Communications play a growing role in society and family life. The
values of our culture are shaped and shared in the print media as well as on
radio, television, and the Internet. We must balance respect for freedom of
speech with concern for the common good, promoting responsible regulations
that protect children and families. In recent years, reduced government
regulation has lowered standards, opened the door to increasingly offensive
material, and squeezed out non-commercial, religious programming.
We support regulation that limits the concentration of control over these
media; disallows sales of media outlets that attract irresponsible owners
primarily seeking a profit; and opens these outlets to a greater variety of
program sources, including religious programming. We support a TV rating
system and technology that assist parents in supervising what their children
The Internet has created both great benefits and some problems. This
technology should be available to all students regardless of income. Because
it poses serious dangers by giving easy access to pornographic and violent
material, we support vigorous enforcement of existing obscenity and child
pornography laws, as well as efforts by the industry to develop technology
that assists parents, schools, and libraries in blocking out unwanted
Our faith reflects God's special concern for the poor and vulnerable and
calls us to make their needs our first priority in public life.
Church teaching on economic justice insists that economic decisions
and institutions be assessed on whether they protect or undermine the
dignity of the human person. We support policies that create jobs for all
who can work with decent working conditions and adequate pay that
reflects a living wage. We also support efforts to overcome barriers
to equal pay and employment for women and those facing unjust
discrimination. We reaffirm the Church's traditional support of the
right of workers to choose to organize,
join a union, bargain collectively, and exercise these rights without
reprisal. We also affirm the Church's teaching on the importance of
economic freedom, initiative, and the right to
private property, through which we have the
tools and resources to pursue the common good.
Efforts to provide for the basic financial needs of poor families and
children must enhance their lives and protect their dignity. The measure of
welfare reform should be reducing poverty and dependency, not
cutting resources and programs. We seek approaches that both promote greater
responsibility and offer concrete steps to help families leave poverty
behind. Welfare reform has focused on providing work and training, mostly in
low-wage jobs. Other forms of support are necessary, including tax credits,
health care, child care, and safe, affordable housing. Because we believe
that families need help with the costs of raising children, we support
increasing child tax credits and making them fully refundable. These
credits allow families of modest means with children to keep more of what
they earn and help lift low-income families out of poverty.
We welcome efforts to recognize and support the work of faith-based
groups not as a substitute for, but as a partner with, government
efforts. Faith-based and community organizations are often more present,
more responsive, and more effective in the poorest communities and
countries. We oppose efforts to undermine faith-based institutions and their
identity, integrity, and freedom to serve those in need. We also vigorously
resist efforts to abandon civil rights protections and the long-standing
protections for religious groups to preserve their identity as they serve
the poor and advance the common good.
We are also concerned about the income security of low- and average-wage
workers and their families when they retire, become disabled, or die. In
many cases, women are particularly disadvantaged. Any proposal to change
Social Security must provide a decent and reliable income for these
workers and their dependents.
Affordable and accessible health care is an essential safeguard of
human life, a fundamental human right, and an urgent national priority. We
need to reform the nation's health care system, and this reform must be
rooted in values that respect human dignity, protect human life, and meet
the needs of the poor and uninsured. With tens of millions of Americans
lacking basic health insurance, we support measures to ensure that decent
health care is available to all as a moral imperative. We also support
measures to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid as well as measures that extend
health care coverage to children, pregnant women, workers, immigrants, and
other vulnerable populations. We support policies that provide effective,
compassionate care that reflects our moral values for those suffering from
HIV/AIDS and those coping with addictions.
The lack of safe, affordable housing is a national crisis. We support
a recommitment to the national pledge of "safe and affordable housing" for
all and effective policies that will increase the supply of quality housing
and preserve, maintain, and improve existing housing. We promote
public/private partnerships, especially those that involve religious
communities. We continue to oppose unjust discrimination or unjust exclusion
in housing and support measures to help ensure that financial institutions
meet the credit needs of local communities.
The first priority for agriculture policy should be food security
for all. Food is necessary for life itself. Our support for Food Stamps,
the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and
other programs that directly benefit poor and low-income people is based on
our belief that no one should face hunger in a land of plenty. Those
who grow our food should be able to make a decent living and maintain their
way of life. Farmers who depend on the land for their livelihood
deserve a decent return for their labor. Rural communities deserve help so
that they can continue to be sources of strength and support for a way of
life that enriches our nation. Our priority concern for the poor calls us to
advocate especially for the needs of farm workers, whose pay is
generally inadequate, whose housing and working conditions are often
deplorable, and who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. We urge
that public policies support sustainable agriculture and careful
stewardship of the Earth and its natural resources.
The Gospel mandate to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger leads the
Church to care for and stand with immigrants, both documented and
undocumented. While affirming the right and responsibility of sovereign
nations to control their borders and to ensure the security of their
citizens, especially in the wake of September 11, we seek basic protections
for immigrants, including due process rights, access to basic public
benefits, and fair naturalization and legalization opportunities. We oppose
efforts to stem migration that do not effectively address its root causes
and permit the continuation of the political, social, and economic
inequities that contribute to it. We believe our nation must remain a place
of refuge for those fleeing persecution and suffering exploitation—refugees,
asylum seekers, and victims of human trafficking.
All persons, by virtue of their dignity as human persons, have an
inalienable right to receive a quality education. We must ensure that
our nation's young people?especially the poor, those with disabilities, and
the most vulnerable?are properly prepared to be good citizens, to lead
productive lives, and to be socially and morally responsible in the
complicated and technologically challenging world of the twenty-first
century. This requires that all educational institutions have an orderly,
just, respectful, and non-violent environment where adequate professional
and material resources are available. We support the necessary initiatives
that provide adequate funding to educate all persons no matter what school
they attend—public, private, or religious—or their personal condition.
We also support providing salaries and benefits to all teachers and
administrators that reflect the principles of economic justice, as well as
providing the resources necessary for teachers to be academically and
personally prepared for the critical tasks they face. As a matter of
justice, we believe that when services aimed at improving the educational
environment—especially for those most at risk—are available to students and
teachers in public schools, these services should be available to students
and teachers in private and religious schools as well.
Our schools and our society in general must address the growing "culture
of violence." We need to promote a greater sense of moral
responsibility, to advocate a reduction in violence in the media, to support
gun safety measures and reasonable restrictions on access to assault weapons
and hand guns, and to oppose the use of the death penalty. We also
believe a Catholic ethic of responsibility, rehabilitation, and restoration
can become the foundation for the necessary reform of our broken criminal
Our society must also continue to combat discrimination based on sex,
race, ethnicity, disabling condition, or age. Discrimination constitutes a
grave injustice and an affront to human dignity. It must be aggressively
resisted. Where the effects of past discrimination persist, society has the
obligation to take positive steps to overcome the legacy of injustice. We
support judiciously administered affirmative action programs as tools
to overcome discrimination and its continuing effects.
In the words of Pope John Paul II, care for the Earth and for the
environment is a "moral issue."31 We support policies that
protect the land, water, and the air we share. Reasonable and effective
initiatives are required for energy conservation and the development of
alternate, renewable, and clean-energy resources. We encourage citizens and
public officials to seriously address global climate change, focusing on
prudence, the common good, and the option for the poor, particularly its
impact on developing nations. The United States should lead the developed
nations in contributing to the sustainable development of poorer nations and
greater justice in sharing the burden of environmental neglect and recovery.
September 11 has given us a new sense of vulnerability. However, we must be
careful not to define our security primarily in military terms. Our nation
must join with others in addressing policies and problems that provide
fertile ground in which terrorism can thrive. No injustice legitimizes the
horror we have experienced. But a more just world will be a more peaceful
In a world where one-fifth of the population survives on less than one
dollar per day, where some twenty countries are involved in major armed
conflict, and where poverty, corruption, and repressive regimes bring untold
suffering to millions of people, we simply cannot remain indifferent. As a
wealthy and powerful nation, the United States has the capacity and the
responsibility to address this scandal of poverty and underdevelopment.
As a principal force in globalization, we have a responsibility to
humanize globalization, and to spread its benefits to all, especially
the world's poorest, while addressing its negative consequences. As the
world's sole superpower, the United States also has an unprecedented
opportunity to work in partnership with others to build a system of
cooperative security that will lead to a more united and more just world.
United States should take a leading role in helping to alleviate
global poverty through a comprehensive development agenda, including
substantially increased development aid for the poorest countries, more
equitable trade policies, and continuing efforts to relieve the crushing
burdens of debt and disease.
concerted efforts to ensure the promotion of religious liberty
and other basic human rights should be an integral part of U.S. foreign
It is a
moral imperative that the United States work to reverse the spread of
nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and to reduce its own
reliance on weapons of mass destruction by pursuing progressive nuclear
disarmament. It also should reduce its own predominant role in the
conventional arms trade.
United States should provide more consistent political and financial
support for appropriate United Nations programs, other
international bodies, and international law, so that these
institutions may become more effective, responsible, and responsive
agents for addressing global problems.
must be afforded to all refugees who hold a well-founded fear of
persecution in their homelands. Our country should support protection
for persons fleeing persecution through safe haven in other
countries, including the United States, especially for unaccompanied
children, single women, women heads of families, and religious
United States should adopt a more generous immigration and refugee
policy based on providing temporary or permanent safe haven for
those in need; protecting immigrant workers from exploitation; promoting
family reunification; safeguarding the right of all peoples to return to
their homelands; ensuring that public benefits and a fair and efficient
process for obtaining citizenship are available to immigrants; extending
to immigrants the full protection of U.S. law; offering a generous
legalization program to undocumented immigrants, and addressing the root
causes of migration.
country should be a leader--in collaboration with the international
community--in addressing regional conflicts in the Middle East,
the Balkans, the Congo, Sudan, Colombia, and West Africa. Leadership on
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an especially urgent
priority. The United States should actively pursue comprehensive
negotiations leading to a just and peaceful resolution of this conflict
that respects the legitimate claims and aspirations of both Israelis and
Palestinians, ensuring security for Israel, a viable state for
Palestinians, and peace in the region. The United States, working with
the international community, must also make the sustained commitment
necessary to help bring stability, democracy, freedom, and prosperity to
Iraq and Afghanistan.
peace, combating poverty and despair, and protecting freedom and human
rights are not only moral imperatives; they are wise national priorities.
Given its enormous power and influence in world affairs, the United States
has a special responsibility to ensure that it is a force for justice and
peace beyond its borders. "Liberty and justice for all" is not only a
profound national pledge; it is a worthy goal for any our nation in its role
as world leader.
hope these reflections will contribute to a renewed political vitality in
our land. We urge all Catholics to register, vote, and become more involved
in public life, to protect human life and dignity, and to advance the common
The 2004 elections and the policy choices we will face in the future pose
significant challenges for our Church. As an institution, we are called to
be political but not partisan.
The Church cannot be a chaplain for any one party or cheerleader for any
candidate. Our cause is the protection of the weak and vulnerable and
defense of human life and dignity, not a particular party or candidate.
The Church is called to be principled but not ideological. We cannot
compromise our basic values or teaching, but we should be open to different
ways to advance them.
We are called to be clear but also civil. A Church that advocates
justice and charity must practice these virtues in public life. We should be
clear about our principles and priorities, without impugning motives or
The Church is called to be engaged but not used. We welcome dialogue
with political leaders and candidates, seeking to engage and persuade public
officials. But we must be sure that events and "photo-ops" are not
substitutes for work on policies that reflect our values.
The call to faithful citizenship raises a fundamental question for all of
us. What does it mean to be a Catholic living in the United States in the
year 2004 and beyond? As Catholics, the election and the policy
choices that follow it call us to recommit ourselves to carry the values of
the Gospel and church teaching into the public square. As citizens and
residents of the United States, we have the duty to participate now and
in the future in the debates and choices over the values, vision, and
leaders that will guide our nation.
This dual calling of faith and citizenship is at the heart of what it means
to be a Catholic in the United States. Faithful citizenship calls us to seek
"a place at the table" of life for all God's children in the elections of
2004 and beyond.
Major Catholic Statements on Public Life and Moral Issues
following documents from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
explore in greater detail the public policy issues discussed in
To obtain copies, call 1-800-235-8722 or go to
A Matter of the Heart: A Statement on the Thirtieth Anniversary of Roe v.
Wade, 2002 Living the Gospel of Life, 1998 Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection,
1995 Resolution on Abortion, 1989 Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Reaffirmation, 1985 Documentation on the Right to Life and
Abortion, 1974, 1976, 1981 Statement on Iraq, 2002 A Pastoral Message: Living with Faith and Hope After September 11,
2001 Sowing the Weapons of War, 1995 The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993 A Report on the Challenge of Peace and Policy Developments 1983-1888,
1989 The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, 1983 Welcome and Justice for Persons with Disabilities, 1999 Nutrition and Hydration: Moral and Pastoral Reflections, 1992 NCCB Administrative Committee Statement on Euthanasia, 1991 Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops
on Persons with Disabilities, 1989, 1984 A Good Friday Appeal to End the Death
Penalty, 1999 Confronting a Culture of Violence, 1995 U.S. Bishops' Statement on Capital Punishment, 1980 Community and Crime, 1978
Family Life A Family Guide to Using the Media,
1999 Renewing the Mind of the Media, 1998 Statements and testimony by the USCC Department of Communications before
Congress and the Federal Communications Commission Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges
and Directions, 1998 Principles for Educational Reform in the United States, 1995 In Support of Catholic Elementary and
Secondary Schools, 1990 Value and Virtue: Moral Education in the Public School, 1988 Sharing the Light of Faith; National Catechetical Directory, 1979 To Teach As Jesus Did,
1972 When I Call for Help,
2002 A Family Perspective in Church and Society, 1998 Always Our Children, 1997 Statement on Same-Sex Marriage, 1996 Walk in the Light, 1995 Follow the Way of Love, 1993 Putting Children and Families First, 1992
Social Justice Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, 2003 A Place at the Table: A Catholic
Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God's
Children, 2002 Global Climate Change, 2001 Responsibility, Rehabilitation, Restoration:
A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,
2000 A Commitment to All Generations: Social
Security and the Common Good, 1999 In all Things Charity, 1999 Ethical and Religious Directives for
Catholic Health Care Services, 1995 One Family Under God, 1995 Confronting a Culture of Violence, 1995 Moral Principles and Policy Priorities for Welfare Reform, 1995 The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993 A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform, 1993 Renewing
the Earth, 1992 Putting Children and Families First, 1992 New Slavery, New Freedom: A Pastoral Message on Substance Abuse, 1990 Brothers and Sisters to Us,
1989 Food Policy in a Hungry World, 1989 Called to Compassion and Responsibility: A
Response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis, 1989 Homelessness and Housing, 1988 Economic Justice for All, 1986
Global Solidarity A Call to Solidarity with Africa,
2001 A Jubilee Call for Debt Forgiveness,
1999 Called to Global Solidarity,
1998 Sowing the Weapons of War, 1995 One Family Under God, 1995 The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993 War in the Balkans: Moral Challenges, Policy Choices, 1993
Statements on South Africa, 1993, 1994 Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity,
1992 The New Moment in Eastern and Central Europe, March 1990 The
Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, 1993 Toward Peace in the Middle East, 1989 Relieving Third World Debt, 1989 USCC Statement on Central America, 1987
1975, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed a
reflection on "faithful citizenship" in advance of each presidential
election. This statement continues that tradition. It summarizes
Catholic teaching on public life and on key moral issues. These
reflections build on past political responsibility statements and
integrate themes from a recent statement on Catholics in public life
from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as themes
from several recent bishops' statements, including Living the Gospel
of Life and A Place at the Table. To provide additional
information on Catholic teaching on these matters, major Catholic
statements on public life and moral issues are listed at the conclusion
of these reflections.
Cf. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to
Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God's Children
(Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002).
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the
participation of Catholics in political life
(November 24, 2002), no. 1.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American
Catholics (Washington, D.C.: United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998), no. 34.
30:19-20, Mt 25:40-45, Mt 5:3-12.
Catholic community has a presence in virtually every part of the nation,
including almost 20,000 parishes, 8,600 schools, 237 colleges and
universities, 1,062 hospitals and health care facilities, and 3, 044
social service agencies. The Catholic community is the largest
non-governmental provider of education, health care, and human services
in the United States.
13:33, Mt 5:13-16.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the
participation of Catholics in political life,
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life,
Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the
participation of Catholics in political life,
Resources designed to help parishes and dioceses share the message of
faithful citizenship and develop non-partisan voter registration,
education, and advocacy programs are available from the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information, call 800-235-8722
or go to
Catholic social teaching is a rich tradition that is rooted in the
Scriptures and the lived experience of the people of God. It has been
developed in the writings of church leaders through the ages, and has
most recently been articulated through a tradition of modern papal,
conciliar, and episcopal documents. For a more thorough discussion of
the themes identified here and their roots, see the
Catechism of the Catholic Church
(Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1994),
Sharing Catholic Social Teaching:
Challenges and Directions (Washington,
D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998), the USCCB web
and the Vatican web site (www.vatican.va).
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the
participation of Catholics in political life,
1:21-23; Jer 5:28.
Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (January 6,
2001), no. 49.
Paul II, On Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis)
(Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1987),
Paul II, World Day of Peace Message, (January 1, 1972).
Paul II, Angelus (February 23, 2003), no. 1.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the
participation of Catholics in political life,
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life,
Paul II, Homily in St. Louis (January 27, 1999).
Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility (January
1, 1990), no. 15.
four years since 1976, the Administrative Committee of the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement on the
responsibilities of Catholics to society. The purpose of the statement is to
communicate the Church’s teaching that every Catholic is called to an active
and faith-filled citizenship, based upon a properly informed conscience, in
which each disciple of Christ publicly witnesses to the Church’s commitment
to human life and dignity with special preference for the poor and the
vulnerable. Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic
Call to Political Responsibility was
developed under the leadership of the Committees on Domestic and
International Policy, with the Committee on Priorities and Plans, in
collaboration with many other USCCB committees and offices. It was reviewed
and approved in September 2003 by the Administrative Committee and is
authorized for publication by the undersigned.
William P. Fay
Excerpts from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Psalms
Copyright 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc.,
Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
2003 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc., Washington, DC. All
rights reserved. This work may be photocopied and distributed without
States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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