‘Unprecedented’ consultation brings politics document to bishops

BALTIMORE – The U.S. bishops began consideration Nov. 12 of a document that rejects politics based on “powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites and media hype” and calls instead for “a different kind of political engagement.”

That engagement must be “shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and vulnerable,” the document says.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., introduced “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility From the Catholic Bishops of the United States” on the first day of the bishops’ fall general meeting in Baltimore. Debate and a vote on the document were scheduled for Nov. 14.

Bishop DiMarzio said he spoke not only as chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Policy but as “the leader of an unprecedented, extensive and some would say endless consultation” among seven committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He said the document, which underwent numerous drafts, was “a challenge to politics as usual” and “not a disguised voters’ guide.”

The bishops also are to vote on a shortened version of the text, designed for use as a parish bulletin insert.

In the longer document, the bishops admit that “Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the church’s comprehensive commitment to the dignity of the human person.”

“As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group,” the draft document says. “When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths.”

The draft is part of a series of documents that have been issued before every presidential election for more than 30 years.

But the 2007 version underwent a wider consultation at the committee level and is the first to come before the full body of bishops. In past years, the documents were approved by the Administrative Committee, made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives.

Although the draft document outlines a wide variety of policy positions taken by the bishops on domestic and international issues, it makes clear that not all issues carry equal importance.

“There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor,” the document says, citing in particular abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, stem-cell research involving the destruction of human embryos and “violations of human dignity such as genocide, torture, racism and other unjust discrimination, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war.”

The panel that drafted the document was made up of the chairmen of seven USCCB committees – domestic policy, international policy, pro-life activities, communications, doctrine, education and migration.

The joint committee accepted 26 pages of amendments to the document at the start of the fall meeting and rejected 10 other pages of proposed amendments, Bishop DiMarzio said.

As drafted, the document does not address a topic raised during the 2004 presidential campaign – giving Communion to Catholic politicians who support keeping abortion legal. Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis already has said he would not give Communion to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is, according to recent polls, the leading Republican presidential candidate.

In response to a question, Bishop DiMarzio said the Communion issue would not be addressed because the conference had dealt with it earlier in two other documents and because “Faithful Citizenship” is “directed at Catholic voters, not Catholic politicians.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.