Bishop's Interview: Faithful, responsible citizenship is a virtue

Editor: Bishop, we are down to just a few weeks before it is time to cast our votes in the national election. How can we best decide which candidates to support?
Bishop Vásquez:
Our faith calls us to live as active members of our society. The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do. Fundamentally, this is a call to evangelization. Therefore, it is essential that all Catholics take seriously our responsibility as citizens to elect good and wise leaders. 
We need to be informed about what each particular candidate believes and proposes as policy. As Catholics, we then must evaluate their stance with what the church teaches and represents. Do these candidates’ views agree with the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church on preserving life, protecting the most vulnerable, taking care of the poor and respecting the dignity of each human person? 
In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. This is why the bishops urge adult Catholics to read “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility” –– this is a teaching document that serves as a guide to those who take their civic duties seriously. As we are near to the election, this is the time to form one’s conscience.
Editor: It is always at this time when the diocese is asked for a voter’s guide. What is your response to this question?
Bishop Vásquez:
In the Diocese of Austin I have asked our parishes to use the Faithful Citizenship document as our guide to prepare for the upcoming elections. The church is respectful of every human person; therefore, we are not in the business of telling people how to vote and for whom to vote. The church is instead focused on forming good, solid Catholics to make well-informed decisions as they vote and participate in all aspects of faithful citizenship. Therefore, I encourage all Catholics to read this document in prayerful reflection to understand the fundamental dignity of every human life.
Editor: What does it mean to form our conscience?
Bishop Vásquez: Catholics are to form their consciences in line with human reason and the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines conscience as “man’s most secret core and his sanctuary.” Our conscience is where we listen not only to what we think is best, but it is also where we listen to the voice of God. In our conscience, God plants the natural law within us so we know to murder is wrong, to steal is wrong, to protect life is good, and to defend those who are suffering is good. Forming our conscience is about making sound, moral decisions. 
We should keep in mind the conscience can be influenced by internal and external forces. The internal influencers are based on the preferences of the individual –– what I like and don’t like, but we also know that preferences are not always the best. External influencers also have to be weighed: family, friends, the media, the way our society believes and teaches things; what is right, what is wrong. 
Regardless of those internal and external factors, as we listen to God, and as we inform our consciences on the teachings of the church through prayer and study, then we will indeed seek to make good decisions.
Editor: We have responsibility as faithful citizens to bring our faith into the public square. How can we do that?
Bishop Vásquez:
Catholics are called to bring their faith and religious views into the public square. In the past, some have been frightened into silence because they have been accused of imposing their morality on others. However, our faith should indeed have an influence on how we live our lives in the public square. Catholics should not be embarrassed about our beliefs. An authentic faith will influence one’s entire life, including our political and social responsibilities. 
Yet we must respect the religious freedom and civil liberties of all people. The church does not seek to impose its doctrine on others in the public square. Indeed the church seeks to bring our views to the public square so that together we can propose meaningful solutions to promote the common good. As Catholics we are faithfully bound to work for the common good in society. We cannot stand by and allow injustice to take place. Activity in the public square involves communicating our beliefs and teachings with our elected officials and doing our best to influence those in the society who make decisions and laws that will govern all people in a just and fair way.
The Faithful Citizenship document states, “Forming their consciences in accord with Catholic teaching, Catholic lay women and men can become actively involved: running for office; working within political parties; communicating their concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, community organizations, and other efforts to apply authentic moral teaching in the public square. Even those who cannot vote have the right to have their voices heard on issues that affect their lives and the common good.” (16)
Editor: As we prepare for the next election, what is your prayer for our country?
Bishop Vásquez:
I pray that all Catholics and eligible voters will see their right to exercise their vote as a privilege and a responsibility. We are responsible to shape the society to become just and good for all. Let us inform ourselves about the issues in light of the church’s social teachings. I also pray that candidates, members of different political parties and ordinary people will have civil and respectful dialogue about the important issues facing our country. And after the elections are finished, I pray that we will all seek to unite our country and work for the common good.

Visit http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/ to read the Faithful Citizenship document.