Bishop's Interview: Responding to the call of Faithful Citizenship
Editor: Bishop, Texas’ Open Carry Law has been on the minds of many in recent months. In the diocese can a person openly carry a gun into one of our parishes?
Bishop Vásquez: I looked at this question and consulted with our legal counsel and with other dioceses. We provided our pastors and priests with an understanding of the law and gave pastors the discretion to assess their parish situation. We feel the pastors can determine the best course of action for their particular parish. Therefore, if a pastor wants to announce or have signs stating very clearly that people are not to openly carry handguns into the church, then they can do that.
The Diocese of Austin has had no issues or problems, and up to now, we have not received any complaints that someone is openly carrying in our churches. I believe people are generally respectful when they enter our churches. They know the church is a house of worship where God is encountered and a place where families are present and people feel secure and welcome.
Editor: Another thing that is in the forefront of people’s minds is the upcoming presidential election. How can we form our consciences now for the November election?
Bishop Vásquez: The U.S. bishops, at our meeting last November, reviewed and updated the Faithful Citizenship document, which was first released in 2007. In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, we urge our pastors, lay and religious faithful, and all people of good will to use the document to help form their consciences; to teach those entrusted to their care; to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue; and to shape political choices in the coming election in light of Catholic teaching. The most recent updates were made to include teachings from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
It’s important for Catholics to read this document to be informed on the issues. We want them to know as much as possible about what the church teaches about a particular topic and to understand why. Anyone serious about making formal decisions about politics should pray and study to form their consciences. It is not enough to decide for whom we will vote for president by only listening to the debates. We cannot just ask questions about a particular party or issue; we must ask questions about how each person is going to serve and how they are going to respond to concerns of the people in our country.
Of course, the church does not support any political party, nor does she support a certain candidate. The church addresses issues, not personalities. Having been around for more than 2,000 years, the church cannot align herself to a particular political ideology. The Kingdom of God is what is pre-eminent. As the Forming Our Consciences for Faithful Citizenship states, “Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one 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 the vulnerable” (14).
Editor: How does the church encourage us to participate in political life?
Bishop Vásquez: The church says it is our civic duty and responsibility to participate in political life at all levels. In 2013, Pope Francis said, “We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern.”
Everyone who is able to vote should vote. We should be informed and form our consciences every time we prepare to cast our ballot. We have the freedom to express what direction we believe our country should take, and that is part of the democratic process. More importantly, it’s part of us belonging to a greater society. We as Christians have a responsibility to create a society that cares for all people. The bishops have stated clearly that we would be failing our responsibility as Catholics if we did not take the time to vote and participate in our civic process.
Editor: What are the top principles for us as Catholics?
Bishop Vásquez: The most important principle is always the dignity of the human person and how is it being preserved, particularly for the most vulnerable. As it says in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “The political realities of our nation present us with opportunities and challenges. We are a nation founded on ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ but the right to life itself is not fully protected, especially for unborn children, the terminally ill, and the elderly, the most vulnerable members of the American family” (2). We are called to defend the unborn, the weak, our elderly, the poor and the suffering.
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship goes through such issues as the dignity of human life, promoting peace, marriage and family life, religious freedom, economic justice, immigration as well as many others. In the document, our attention is called to issues with significant moral dimensions that should be carefully considered in each campaign and as policy decisions are made in the years to come. Again, I encourage everyone to read the document to learn more about the issues and Catholic teaching regarding those issues.
Editor: To make it clear the diocese will not offer a voter’s guide, correct?
Bishop Vásquez: That is correct. We do not issue voter guides because they are imperfect. Voter guides tend to lean one way or the other or they only take into account one issue. As a church, we want to look at the whole understanding of a person’s position from many aspects. This is why the bishops have issued the Faithful Citizenship document.
Editor: What is your prayer for our country as we prepare to elect a new leader?
Bishop Vásquez: I pray that God will move in the hearts and minds of our people, particularly those who are eligible to vote so that we can make a prayerful and informed decision about our future leaders. We have important decisions to make as to whom will be president of this country as well as other elected officials. I pray we will form our consciences so that we choose the best persons to serve the common good and to care for all people while keeping in mind the dignity of the human person, which is always the priority for us.