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September 16, 2004 Edition

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Faithful citizens: Series educates Catholics during elections and beyond

photo of John Huebscher
Eye on the 

John Huebscher 

Helping Catholics discern how to live out their vocation to be "faithful citizens" is an ongoing activity of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC).

We try to utilize those times and events that inspire special interest in public affairs as "teachable moments" to do this.

The period between Labor Day and the November election is one such time. To that end, we have provided a six-part series around the moral priorities for public life identified in Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.

Four priorities

These four priorities, addressed in a recent column, are: protecting human life, promoting family life, pursuing social justice, and practicing global solidarity. (The series will be published in the Catholic Herald starting this week on Page 7 [print edition]; it can also be found at www.wisconsincatholic.org/election/Elect04.htm)

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In the series, the discussion of each priority includes reference to public policy issues related to that priority. Readers are invited to evaluate their position on those issues - and the candidates' positions - in light of how they foster or undermine the priorities identified by the bishops in Faithful Citizenship.

While we offer this series in the election season, enticing people to vote for specific candidates is not what the series is about. Our focus on priorities and issues is in keeping with the mission of the Church in its teaching function to critique the culture and society. It is for Catholics as laymen and laywomen to transform the culture, utilizing channels and techniques of the secular political process, as they deem appropriate.

Ongoing responsibility

Moreover, both critiquing and transforming society are ongoing activities that go well beyond any election cycle. That is one reason why the U.S. bishops issue Faithful Citizenship in the year prior to the presidential election.

They name their call to political responsibility "Faithful Citizenship" as opposed to "Faithful Voting" because citizenship is a year-round responsibility. Voters go home after casting their ballot. Faithful citizens stay in the village square for the hard work that precedes and follows each Election Day.

This is also why the series addresses a broad range of issues. For the value of Faithful Citizenship is that it acquaints Catholics with the breadth of questions implicated by the moral priorities of the bishops. This broader view reinforces the work done by the USCCB and the WCC over the four years between presidential elections.

Catholic contribution

Of course not all issues are equal in importance or moral gravity. But the fact that some issues are less important than others does not mean the church has nothing to say about them.

The moral priorities and related issues identified in the series have been addressed over the years in papal encyclicals, Vatican Council documents, statements of national and state bishops' conferences, and other places. It is those documents - in their entirety - that define the bishops' public policy agenda. They also identify more completely the areas in which Catholics are called to transform society.

Nor are public policy debates limited to five or six moral questions. We citizens and those we elect will debate and decide many other issues, including those addressed by Catholic social teaching. Faithful Citizenship, by framing its moral priorities and issues as it does, reflects the fullness of the Catholic contribution to these questions in a way that more concentrated approaches may not.

Finally, the series is not meant to be anyone's only source of information. Rather, it should encourage citizens to learn more, ask additional questions, and engage in a deeper reflection as they take their faith into the public debates.

John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

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