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October 1, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 24

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photo: Jay Brown, right, director of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace, makes a point during session Sept. 20 at St. Bridget’s, Richmond. With him is Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, who also spoke.
Jay Brown, right, director of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace, makes a point during session Sept. 20 at St. Bridget’s, Richmond. With him is Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, who also spoke.

Faithful voters urged to pray, study the issues

If any of those who attended the Faithful Citizenship program Sept. 20 at St. Bridget’s School in Richmond thought they would get a clear-cut endorsement of which candidates they should vote for in the upcoming election, they didn’t get it.

The session, conducted jointly by the Virginia Catholic Conference and diocesan Office of Justice and Peace, was intended to help voters seek to study the issues, pray about it and hopefully form their consciences before they enter the voting booth.

While political analysts often talk about “the Catholic vote” which they claim can be a major factor in an election, Jay Brown, director of the Office of Justice and Peace, questioned the idea because all Catholics do not think alike and have a variety of viewpoints on the same issues.

But one point which was made clear is that a Catholic should not vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position which favors an intrinsic evil.

But at the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

Some present at the Richmond meeting indicated that they felt the U.S. Catholic bishops should show support to a candidate they felt gave a pro-life stance on abortion.

“The bishops will not tell us who to vote for or who to vote against,” Mr. Caruso said. “They will tell you the framework on how to form your conscience and guide your decisions.”

Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Caruso emphasized that the U.S. Bishops faithful citizenship statement (“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”) is not intended to be a voter’s guide or even primarily about voting, but rather a document intended to help citizens form their consciences for the much broader work of faithful citizenship, which involves praying, continually learning about principles and issues and advocating — in addition to voting.

In solidarity with this statement, the Virginia Catholic Conference cites seven key themes in its printed resource passed out to those in the audience. They are:

  1. The right to life and the dignity of the human person
    Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Such attacks include abortion, euthanasia or mercy killing, human cloning, and embryonic stem cell research.
  2. Call to family, community and participation
    The family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the fundamental unit of society. This sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children must not be redefined.
  3. Rights and responsibilities
    Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right which makes all other rights possible.
  4. Option for the poor and vulnerable
    Those who are in greatest need deserve preferential concern. A moral test for society is how we treat the weakest among us — the unborn, those with disabilities or terminal illness, the poor and marginalized.
  5. Dignity of work and the rights of workers
    Economic justice calls for decent work at fair, living wages, a chance for legal status for immigrant workers, ownership, enterprise investment, participation in unions and other forms of economic activity.
  6. Solidarity
    We are one human family. Our Catholic commitment to solidarity requires that we pursue justice, eliminate racism, end human trafficking, protect human rights, seek peace and avoid the use of force except as a last resort.
  7. Caring for God’s creation
    We are called to care for the earth which has been entrusted to us.

While some in the audience still seemed to want clear-cut answers from the Church on how to vote, Mr. Caruso said it is the responsibility of each concerned voter to work hard at forming his or her conscience.

“The Church is going to give us the framework,” he said. “Then we’re going to have to do the hard work to study all the issues and form our consciences.”

Mr. Caruso recommended that voters read the U.S. Bishops’ statement (www.faithfulcitizenship.org), particularly concentrating on paragraphs 34-38). He also advised them to watch for a pre-election letter by Virginia’s two Catholic bishops that will be published in The Catholic Virginian in the Oct. 29 issue.

Not all issues have equal moral weight, Mr. Caruso said.

All present were urged to be people of hope and participate in the political process. Mr. Caruso acknowledged that some voters can easily feel a sense of despair, but should not give in to it.

“We’re called to be people of hope,” he said, adding that with hope, people can more easily proclaim their faith and evangelize.

(Another session on the Faithful Citizenship message with the above speakers will be held at Holy Cross Church in Lynchburg, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m.)

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