Bishop's Interview: Forming our consciences before casting votes
Editor: Election season is rolling around quickly and there are many topics that we as Catholics and as faithful citizens need to consider before we cast our votes. What are some of the hot topics before us in our country?
Bishop Vásquez: I will get to the hot topics, but first I want to explain this very helpful resource the U.S. bishops have distributed for the last several years. The document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility” was written by the Catholic bishops of the U.S. to share Catholic teaching on the role of faith and conscience in political life. It calls Catholics to form their consciences in the light of their Catholic faith and to bring our moral principles to the debate and decisions about candidates and issues. As the document states in its introduction: “It does not offer a voter’s guide, scorecard on issues, or direction on how to vote. It applies Catholic moral principles to a range of important issues …”
There are certain issues that are currently before our country that we need to consider when voting this year. One of those issues is obviously the economy. The economic crisis has devastated many lives over the last several years; there has also been increasing unemployment, poverty and hunger throughout the U.S. Also, our national deficits have increased substantially, which is not good for our future generations.
Lately Pope Francis has heightened our awareness of the poor in our community. He has reminded us numerous times that we must put the needs of the poor before our own. “Our needs, while legitimate, will never be as urgent as those of the poor who do not have what they need to live,” Pope Francis said at his Sunday audience on Aug. 3. We must remember this and we must raise our voices in defense of the poor as we participate in political life.
Another topic of great concern is our broken immigration system, which has certainly been brought to heightened attention lately. We as bishops have insisted for years that comprehensive measures that promote true respect for the law, protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants and refugees, recognize their contributions to our nation, keep families together, and advance the common good must be taken to fix our current immigration system. The current humanitarian crisis on our borders is further proof that our immigration system must be overhauled.
Of course the bishops are concerned with life issues, which are always a priority for the church. We must protect the unborn, the elderly, the sick and the most vulnerable in the society. We are called to support laws and policies to protect human life to the maximum degree possible, including constitutional protection for the unborn and legislative efforts to end abortion, euthanasia and the use of the death penalty. We also want to promote a culture of life by supporting laws and programs that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion and by addressing poverty, providing health care, and offering other assistance to pregnant women, children and families in need.
We also continue to fight for religious liberty and we must speak out on the intensifying efforts to redefine marriage. Our faith teaches that marriage is the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman and we must continue to defend that definition of marriage.
Editor: How does the church encourage us to participate in political life?
Bishop Vásquez: The church itself always tells Catholics to be active in our civic responsibilities, especially in voting, which allows us to express our opinions in how our government should be run. We cannot stand by idly and watch things happen.
The church does not tell us how to vote or for whom to vote, nor does the church support a particular party or a certain politician. As the Faithful Citizenship statement says “Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.”
The Catholic Church has a consistent moral framework, which comes from Scripture and church teaching that the faithful can use to assess issues and determine how to vote and how to advocate for or against many issues. However, we must take the time to form our consciences and study church teaching.
Voting is extremely important, but it is only the first step in our participation as faithful citizens. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Texas Catholic Conference provide resources to Catholics to engage in advocacy with our elected officials. Voting is very important and we all need to exercise that right, but continuing to communicate with elected officials is just as important if we are to bring our voices and values to the public square. The Texas Catholic Network is one avenue provided by the Texas Catholic Conference for everyone to know about the issues before our state elected officials. Everyone can sign up at www.txcatholic.org.
Editor: What is the best way to go about forming our consciences while considering these hot topics and our future leaders?
Bishop Vásquez: As I mentioned before, for years now, the U.S. bishops have distributed the “Faithful Citizenship” documents. It is available in printed form in many of our parishes and it is available online at www. usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship. This document continues serves as a guide for all Catholics in forming our consciences. I encourage everyone to read this document and spend time studying what the document says. It is not long, but it is tremendously helpful.
We must also spend time getting to know the candidates and the issues that are facing our country. We must know where the candidates stand on the issues and how they will represent the views of their constituents.
Faithful citizenship is also something that we must take to prayer. When we read “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” one of the topics is about prudence. “Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act decisively. Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace,” the document says. The best way to practice prudence is through prayer.
Editor: Every election year the diocese gets requests for a voter’s guide. Why don’t we as a diocese publish a voter’s guide?
Bishop Vásquez: Voters’ guides can be very erroneous. That is to say they only show particular issues without taking other issues in context. They are too simple and voter’s guides do not take social teaching into account. There are numerous issues that require examination, balance, weight and we have to study those issues, learn more about our candidates and pray in order to form our consciences properly so that we can make the best decisions to help our country and our state and our local communities.
Editor: What is your prayer for Catholics as we prepare to cast our ballots?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer, first of all, is that all Catholics who are eligible to vote will read “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility.” As I said before, it is available in print and online at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship. This particular document is very brief and is very concise about the particular issues that are currently facing our country.
My prayer is also that every Catholic who can vote will do so. Voting is our civic responsibility. And it is a Catholic responsibility.