The archbishop of Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston weighs in on the election

Cardinal DiNardo has published three different meesages to his flock concerning the upcomng elections…

July 18, 2008
August 22, 2008
September 12, 2008

First Message:
A Shepherd’s Message

By Daniel Cardinal DiNardo

This is the first of several articles on the Bishops’ Document: “Faithful Citizenship.”

For more than thirty years, the Bishops of the United States have issued a series of statements on political responsibility; the statements are published every four years in the year before the major national elections. Last November a new statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” was approved and published. Its thirty-six pages set forth the fundamental moral principles of Catholic Social Teaching. The text also proposes some applications of the same Catholic Social Teaching relevant to current realities in our own country, a country blessed with a great history of religious freedom and of political participation by its citizens.

A distinctive feature of the recent statement is an introductory discussion about “why the Church teaches about issues affecting public policy.” The reason concerns the moral character of society and its importance for the full flourishing of all members of our country. The person of faith is obligated by his or her profession of faith to seek the truth and work for the just and right reality not only in personal matters or with others as individuals, but the person of faith is already implicated in civic and political life by his or her humanity to choose and decide rightly for just public policy. Faith and reason need to blend together in a person of faith so that good and prudent judgments can be made about public life and public policy.

The role of the teaching authority of the Church is to help Catholics form their consciences well; this is a life-long opportunity and this is also a life-long obligation. Conscience is not a “feeling” or a vague desire to do what I want to do. It is the voice of God that echoes in each heart leading a person to discover the truth and do what is good. Conscience “shows up” most in a particular judgment about what a person must do or decide in a concrete case. One is obliged, by one’s very humanity by being made in the image and likeness of God, to follow faithfully what is known to be just and right in each situation that calls for a “moral” act. Participation in public life, including voting, is one dimension of the exercise of moral judgment.

In the formation of conscience the initial desire to do what is true and good needs to be filled with a willingness to be informed by the teaching of Sacred Scripture and by the teaching of our Faith. Further, our reason enters substantially into each question of moral decision by assessing the facts and background information. A person needs to develop the virtue of prudence that allows us to rightly “shake out” means and ends, to deliberate over various alternatives, and with the help of grace and prayer, to make a decision, even a courageous one, that respects the full truth and rightness of a situation.

A well formed conscience is indispensable in making good decisions in the political realm and in the act of voting. In the next article I want to speak about the key themes the Bishops have brought forward as a framework for political decisions in the upcoming elections.

Second Message:
August 22, 2008

A Shepherd’s Message

By Daniel Cardinal DiNardo

This is the second article on the document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” published last November by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As I mentioned in the first article, the bishops have published a similar pamphlet before national elections for the past thirty years. The current document spends more time on the meaning of conscience. It also highlights the crucial role that moral principles play in forming conscience properly so that a person may render good judgments about political and social life. Voting is a very important dimension of the exercise of moral judgment in the public square.

In this column I want to begin a treatment of seven key themes the document proposes about Catholic Social Teaching. The themes are (1) The Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person; (2) Call to Family, Community, and Participation; (3) Rights and responsibilities; (4) Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; (5) Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; (6) Solidarity; and (7) Caring for God’s Creation.

The first key theme proposed by “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” is the right to life and the dignity of the human person. Not only is this theme the first one treated; it is the thread that ties the other themes together. Each human person is indeed a singularity and not just an “individual” in a larger class of creatures. Each human person is made in the image and likeness of God. The life and dignity of the human person are the foundations for a moral and ethical society. From his or her conception until natural death, the human person is sacred; any direct attack on the human person, at whatever stage of development, is never morally acceptable. There are some actions that are so morally flawed that they are never acceptable. In our moral tradition such acts are called “intrinsically evil.” The act of abortion is one such intrinsically evil action; likewise euthanasia is an action that directly assaults a human person. Because these actions directly attack the human person at the most critical stages, the beginning and end of human life, they are of particular concern to our faith and the tradition of our Church’s moral teaching, itself based on both faith and reason. Also included in these actions of direct attack on the human person , actions always to be opposed, are attempts at human cloning, the destruction of human embryos for research, genocide, torture, racism, and the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks. All of these are preeminent threats to human life since they attack the very principle of human life and the good of the human person. It is incumbent upon all of us in our own moral agency to act in the public square to protect human life to the maximum degree when dealing with these issues. This includes, but is not limited to, the working for laws and policies that protect and defend persons at all stages of their development.

Catholic Social teaching also calls us to respect the dignity of the human person, even the guilty human person, by working for the eradication of the death penalty, since there are other ways now to protect society from those who have done great harm without recourse to this action. Catholic Social Teaching also asks us to work for peace and avoid war by finding effective ways to prevent conflicts and solve them by diplomatic means. There is a long and sophisticated tradition of just war teaching in the Catholic Faith and it must be applied carefully in situations of conflict. Nations do have a right to defend life and the common good against acts of terrorism and similar aggression. That duty is also bound by restraint on the means used for the defense and ethical limits on the use of force, a force that should not be indiscriminate or disproportionate to the threat. I would particularly mention here the need for all of us to work for the elimination of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; these involve mass destruction.

In examining the respect owed to the dignity of the human person, all the issues are important, but not all carry the exact moral weight. Part of our formation of conscience is to learn to make distinctions of importance while still respecting the large grid of issues that are placed under this theme. The notion of “direct attack” on the human person is a distinguishing feature in forming our consciences in a proper manner.

The second key theme is the Call to Family, Community and Participation. This theme helps us to understand not only the sacredness of the human person, but also the fact that the human person is social by nature. The full development of the human person presumes and requires his or her relationship with others. This dimension begins with the family and then moves outward in ever widening circles of relationships and friendships with others, in church, schools, community associations, life in work and society, and in the important political associations that are such a mark of freedom in our country. The family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the first and most fundamental unit or building block of society. It allows for the important space of the procreation and nurturing of children. The current situation of marriage and family life in our society is not very healthy; the proposals of some members of our culture to redefine marriage is very unsettling and represents not a defense but a further undermining of the institution of marriage and the protection of the family. Marriage has a genuine end or “finality,” one that operates outside of our sheer human purposes or desires. The blurring of this distinction can result in distortions of the genuine understanding of marriage and family life. A particular distortion at this time is the movement towards same-sex unions which would make our understanding of marriage even vaguer while also changing laws that would protect children and cause great harm to them while seemingly only considering the desires of adults. Protection of marriage and family life is a significant theme in building a genuine common good for society and enters constitutively in our actions in public life, including voting.

In my next article I will treat the remaining themes of our Catholic Social Teaching and in a further article I will treat of difficulties faced by all of us in our judgments on political matters.

Third Message:
September 12, 2008

A Shepherd’s Message

By Daniel Cardinal DiNardo

In two recent columns I have been treating and commenting upon a document issued by all the Bishops of the United States last November. It is entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and like its predecessor documents the past thirty years, it analyzes the moral and social teachings of the Church relative to our national elections every four years. The present document includes an enlarged section on the formation of conscience, a matter I analyzed in my first column. The document then proposes seven major themes of the Church’s Social Doctrine that should enter constitutively in our deliberations for voting. Since I already examined the themes of the human person and the role of family and community, I will use this column to examine the five remaining themes.

Theme Three gathers a number of issues under “Rights and Responsibilities.” The fundamental right to life of each human person is the root for all other rights and responsibilities. Within this theme the document analyzes various rights of access to those realities necessary for human decency. Some of these realities are the rights to food and for decent shelter and the right to education. It is within such rights that the document also addresses health care and employment. Affordable and accessible health care, most especially for children born and unborn and for the growing number of uninsured persons are becoming increasing national priorities; these are fundamental moral-social concerns for they affect an essential safeguard for human life. Within this theme the document also highlights the right to exercise religious freedom publicly and privately and the right to the free expression of religious beliefs. With all such rights come corresponding duties and responsibilities, a distinctive aspect of Catholic Social Teaching where individual rights are always related to solidarity and the common good.

Theme Four, “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable,” targets a growing emphasis in Catholic Social teaching. Within the general concern for the common good, the Scriptures and our Faith tradition have always emphasized the responsibility of society for the poor and the vulnerable. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of those who are oppressed by poverty and explains that the Church has always manifested a preferential love for them. It is an essential aspect of the Church and her teaching. In the public square the test for a more just society is the way that society treats the most vulnerable in its midst, particularly as the disparities between poor and rich become more pronounced. There are certainly a variety of approaches of how this theme and its concerns might be implemented in our society and in our political decisions; it is still important, however, for us to remember the narrative of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 25, and the response that each of us and our society at large give to the “least among us.”

Theme Five, “Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers,” spells out the role of our faith in dealing with the economy. Work is more than a piece of the economy or a way to make a living. Work also involves our participation in God’s creation. Both employers and employees have rights and responsibilities as they help to enact the common good and the well-being of all in our social life. The importance of just wages and humane working conditions, of adequate benefits and the role of security in old age, of private property and economic initiative are outlined in this theme. It is also under this theme that the role of immigrants and immigration reform are profiled against our present system and the need for a more comprehensive reform is proposed.

The Sixth theme, that of “Solidarity,” emphasizes our human togetherness as one human family. Whatever our differences we are sisters and brothers and need to be reminded that we are “our brother’s keepers.” Our solidarity invites us to welcome the stranger and to be more mindful of global cooperation in peace-making. The world is marred today by great violence and conflict. Our political choices in addressing public policy on matters of justice and peace underscore our commitment to human life and solidarity.

The final theme in the Bishops’ document addresses the question of care for all of God’s creation. We are placed on this earth as stewards of all the goods and beauty God has showered upon this earth. Stewardship for the earth is a duty of faith, a sign of solidarity for all peoples, present and future, and an invitation to live in simplicity of life and spirit so as to manifest God’s glory. In this care for creation, we are allowed to share in the work of Divine Providence.

These themes provide a genuine moral framework for public policy decisions in our voting. As each theme is spelled out more specifically, as I mentioned in an earlier article, whether by the teaching authority of the Church or by individuals, the virtue of prudence is essential in making proper decisions, in weighing the priorities morally, of distinguishing real necessities from accidentals. The moral principles do not fit into ideologies of left and right; nor are they partisan or sectarian. They reflect fundamental moral teachings that apply to our public and social life.

In the next column I want to deal with some issues that involve principles that can never be violated when we make decisions about voting and about candidates.