Catholics have a responsibility to become faithful citizens
Dear Friends in Christ, The 2004 general election is weeks away. The Catholic Church in the United States has never endorsed political parties or candidates, and does not do so now. Nonetheless, as your pastors and bishops we remind you of your responsibility as faithful citizens to learn about the issues and candidates, to form your conscience according to the Church's magisterium, and to vote. We ask you to vote as faithful Catholics who must be a leaven in the world and transform our culture in Jesus Christ.
The decisions we make when we vote must be an expression of our faith, much more than an exercise of party affiliation or of mere self-interest. The Second Vatican Council reminded us of this in its "Constitution on the Church in the Modern World." There we read, "One of the graver errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith we profess and the practice of [our] daily lives. As far back as the Old Testament the prophets denounced this scandal, and in the New Testament Christ Himself with greater forced threatened it with severe punishment. Let there be, then, no such pernicious opposition between professional and social activity on the one hand and religious life on the other. The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties toward his neighbor, neglects God Himself, and endangers his eternal salvation" ("Gaudium et Spes," n. 43).
The perception, at times, that there are no perfect candidates makes it that much more important to evaluate the moral weight of some issues in comparison to others. First and foremost on any prioritized list of issues the Church has affirmed the protection of innocent human life. "The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," n. 2273). The horrific holocaust of abortion has violently taken the life of more than 40 million human beings in the United States alone since January of 1973.
Today new threats to human life and human dignity are represented in the abuse of scientific research which is poised, in some quarters, to manufacture human life through cloning and harvest human embryonic stem cells in a way that destroys the new person at his or her beginning. The good purposes this research hopes to attain can never justify the falsifying of God's plan for bringing human life into the world, nor the utilitarian killing of that life in the laboratory. The understandable desire for jobs and civic progress can never justify this attack on human life.
Life is also particularly at risk for the disabled, the chronically and terminally ill and injured. We renew our determination to assist and support those who find themselves in such desperate circumstances, and we firmly and vigorously reject any efforts to legalize euthanasia, so called mercy killing, or assisted suicide, which already has found a foothold in our culture. We can "never intentionally kill, or collude in the killing of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem" ("Living the Gospel of Life," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, n. 20).
Laws that seek to redefine marriage undermine the family - the most basic unit of our society. They violate both the natural law and the law of God who instituted marriage as a union between a man and a woman. "All Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions" ("Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," July 31, 2003, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, nos. 5, 10).
The Catholic Church, true to the Gospel, promotes a consistent ethic of life which protects human life and promotes human dignity from the inception of life to its final moment. Our efforts must never fail to proclaim that "all citizens and all governments must work for the avoidance of war." We acknowledge that those entrusted with the common good have a responsibility to provide for the national defense. They may do so only when "all peace efforts have failed," and the "the strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force [have been met after] rigorous consideration" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," n. 2308-2309).
In addition, the scandal of capital punishment has been exposed with clarity and urgency by our Holy Father Pope John Paul II, who reminds us that the circumstances in which it is "an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," n. 2267).
Catholics must accept an eager and insistent role of advocacy in addressing racism, poverty, hunger, employment, housing and health care, education, immigration and the good stewardship of the environment, as well as fair and equitable tax legislation to support sound policies on these issues.
As your pastors in this Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, we stand united with the U. S. bishops as they have written, in solidarity with the pope's great encyclical on the Gospel of Life, that "Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues [racism, poverty, hunger, etc.] as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages of life." But it must be understood clearly: "Being 'right' in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding the attacks on innocent human life" ("Living the Gospel of Life," USCCB. n. 22). Life is the most fundamental right. Without it there can be no liberty, no justice, no pursuit of happiness.
Direct attacks on innocent life gravely offend the natural law as well as God's law. They are intrinsic evils and are always wrong. The question of the personal responsibility of Catholic politicians who maintain a permissive stand on abortion, euthanasia, and illicit embryonic research has been frequently - and rightly - discussed in these past months. Each Catholic voter must similarly examine his or her own participation in these grave evils when they go to the polls. We are the ones, after all, who vote these elected officials into power, or we do not.
Our annual October observance of "Respect Life Month" is something we must live faithfully at all times. In light of this weighty reality, we offer this teaching as your bishops entrusted with the burden and the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.
Please pray for us as we do constantly for you. With you we ask the intercession of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States, for our beloved country. Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom and fortitude we need in choosing those who will represent and lead us in our national, state, and local governments!
October 7, 2004, the memorial
of Our Lady of the Rosary
Most Reverend Raymond J. Boland
Bishop of Kansas City-
Most Reverend Robert W. Finn
Coadjutor Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph