PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, DEC. 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Catholic voters going to the polls next year must first assess what is the most urgent issue facing the United States.
So says Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, who shared with ZENIT his thoughts on the responsibility of Catholic voters as outlined in the U.S. episcopate’s recent statement, “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.”
Bishop Wuerl stressed that the primary issue the nation faces is the question of who has authority over human life, and that every Catholic’s duty is to choose candidates who support human life as the sovereign gift of God.
He also noted issues that Catholics often overlook when voting. Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.
Q: What are the top issues Catholics need to consider when choosing a candidate?
Bishop Wuerl: To answer this question one must first assess what is the primary or most urgent issue facing the nation.
A hundred and fifty years ago it would have been slavery. Despite all kinds of arguments in favor of slavery, it simply would have been wrong to vote for people who insisted on maintaining the institution of slavery. Among a host of arguments in favor of slavery, many took the position that a slaveholder had a right to make a personal choice. Others argued for the need to allow slavery in order to secure economic prosperity.
Regardless of the argument brought forth, it simply would not have been right to condone or justify voting for politicians who supported slavery or even those who said they were opposed to slavery personally but wished to guarantee the right of everyone to make their own choice.
Over 50 years ago in another part of the world, legislation reduced a whole class of people — Jews — to second-class citizenship. This view led to the justification for concentration camps. Were a voter given a choice, one could never justify voting to support such a regime.
Today, the primary issue that our nation faces is the question of who has authority over human life. For millennia we have always understood that human life is a gift from God. We are stewards of that gift, not sovereigns over it.
Now there is an entirely different viewpoint that enjoys enormous media support. This view maintains that we, human beings, are the true sovereigns of human life and that we can simply take a human life whenever we believe a person is burdensome or inconvenient to us.
Abortion in the United States is the single most egregious affront to the basic dignity of life. With the death toll well over 40 million, it stands alongside slavery and genocide as shameful examples of legal but immoral activities.
One hundred years from now I believe people will look back on this generation and wonder how it was possible that we deluded ourselves into thinking — and then enshrining in the law of the land — the principle that the right to life is arbitrary and is protected only for those whose lives are deemed worthy. History will not look kindly upon a society that embraced the concept that if a person’s life is inconvenient to you, you can simply kill him or her.
Just as we wonder how it had been possible for people to keep human beings as slaves, as chattel, so future generations will look back and wonder how we could so cavalierly kill our unborn children.
In choosing a candidate the primary issue should be whether the candidate recognizes and supports human life as the sovereign gift of God and responds accordingly.
Q: What are some important issues that Catholic voters often overlook?
Bishop Wuerl: When we speak of Catholic voters I think we have to make an important distinction.
My understanding is that there is data to support that Catholics who regularly attend Sunday Mass and who participate in the life of the Church tend to embrace and support the Church’s social justice teaching. They also tend to be pro-life and typically support the concept that we need far more freedom and justice when it comes to the equitable distribution of the cost of the education of children.
On the other hand there are a substantial number of people who consider themselves to be Catholics but who receive almost all of their information about the teaching of the Church through the public media. In other words, their view and understanding of what the Church teaches and proclaims is filtered and often faulty. This group of Catholics tends to respond to issues much like any segment of the general populous. They simply are not well informed on what the Church teaches and why it does so.
The challenge for the Church is to get its views and positions and the rationale that supports them to the public in an unfiltered manner. Very often when the Catholic position is clearly and accurately presented, its innate attractiveness and truthfulness becomes both apparent and, therefore, convincing.
Some of the issues that are often misunderstood as much as overlooked are: the Church’s teaching on the continuity and dignity of life from conception to natural death; the obligations of the natural moral order governing the generation and termination of human life; the definition of marriage; and the right of all persons to have access to a share of the goods of the earth.
For over 100 years, the Church has articulated a corpus of social doctrine based on Gospel principles. This enlightened doctrine has historically helped to mold and formulate legislation and public policy in areas of health care, labor and human relations, social assistance and the proper balance of human rights within the common good.
The foundations of this doctrine are as solid and applicable today as ever and it is the responsibility of all Catholics to apply that doctrine to their actions as faithful citizens.
The Church’s social doctrine invites us to be grateful for the vitality of the prophetic voices who speak for the unborn, the poor, the homeless, the victims of racism and sexism, the elderly and those who face physical and mental challenges.
That same teaching challenges us so that we might see our world as God’s handiwork that calls for our care and our stewardship. The goods of the earth are not without limits, nor can they be squandered without regard for future generations.
At the same time, the Church in her social doctrine calls us to reflect on and affirm the vocation of the laity in the world of business, education, labor, medicine and politics as transforming agents of society. Especially important today is the vocation of the politician who is called to represent us in the task of building a good and just society.
What is often overlooked is the reasoning that supports the Church’s social doctrine. For example, the Church’s teaching on the inherent sacredness of every human life is rooted in the reality that the dignity of the human person does not derive from any achievement, accomplishment, productivity or external talent or attribute.
We are created in the image and likeness of God and are called to a divine destiny that transcends earthly life. An understanding of that unalterable reality necessitates an acceptance that every human from the moment of conception until natural death is to be cherished and considered worthy of reverence and respect.
It is for this reason that the Church defends so intensely the dignity of persons against all forms of slavery, exploitation, manipulation and domination, whether these are inflicted in the field of politics, economics, medicine and science, or whether they are derived from cultural or ideological demands.
Flowing from the God-given dignity of the human person are certain inherent rights that must be protected and defended. Of particular importance is the right to religious liberty. This touches the transcendent core of the person, the spirit, and reveals a point of reference and becomes the measure of the other fundamental rights. Our own Declaration of Independence recognizes the rights — rooted in nature and nature’s God — of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.