October 3, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Forming our consciences as we prepare to vote is a challenge

Soon we will vote for those who will lead our nation and state.

As past experience has proven, our pastors and parish leaders are being asked by concerned and committed parishioners to engage directly in politics.

The participation of faithful Catholics in the political process is praiseworthy. Faithful citizenship is a virtue and an obligation.

Like our pastors, I am also urged by individuals to publicly endorse particular candidates and their respective political parties. I would like to.

While some cannot understand why Church leaders are not more vocal and explicit in sharing views regarding candidates and their positions, there are both ecclesial and legal reasons for the Church’s established position of nonpartisanship, difficult as that is.

Our pastoral role, as described by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is “to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight in the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly” (Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est,” #28).

On the civil legal side, the Church must follow civil laws and regulations that govern tax-exempt organizations. Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits “participation in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate.”

This applies not only to Churches, but also to all tax-exempt organizations. Advocacy and education regarding issues, legislation and formation of conscience are permitted; actions that have the effect of supporting or opposing candidates for election are not permitted.

I hope you are aware that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published a helpful document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility.”

The conference has also published a summary one-page document which I believe has been made available in many of our parishes. If you have not seen it, you can find it on the USCCB Web site at www.faithfulcitizenship.org. Our Indiana Catholic Conference has also published a brochure, “Guidelines for Pastors and Parishes on Lobbying and Electioneering.”

I have reminded our parish leaders that it is important to keep in mind that

well-meaning parishioners may want parishes to provide space and means for voter education materials that, while claiming nonpartisan objectivity status, have a clear bias for a candidate or party. A judgment about whether published materials are appropriate for voter education in accord with Catholic teaching and our policies requires prudent discernment.

It is a major disappointment to me that the application of IRS requirements is not interpreted fairly for all Churches and other tax-exempt organizations. Why is it OK for political candidates to campaign from some pulpits while not from Catholic pulpits?

It is permissible and responsible to speak out about grave issues in our national and local culture. In fact, if we are to form our consciences so that we approach the ballot box responsibly, it is important to advert to particular moral issues that are not arbitrary for any political party or candidate running for election.

On the forefront are issues pertaining to the dignity of human life. Among these, the premier priority is the protection of the unborn from the moment of conception.

This protection is not negotiable under any circumstance. Nor is the protection of the elderly and the dying. Euthanasia is not negotiable. Embryonic stem-cell research is unacceptable because of the inevitability of aborting real human life in the process. The principle involved is this: We can’t do wrong in order to do good; the purpose does not justify the means. Stem-cell research involving the use of adult cells is morally acceptable.

Approaches to the resolution of the complex situation regarding immigration must respect the human dignity of our foreign sisters and brothers. Some folks don’t want to hear it, but the search for solutions must be fair.

The morality of war is a complex issue. War is never a solution to human conflict; however, there may be a responsible judgment that at stake is the protection of the innocent of society; as such, war can be justified under truly rare circumstances.

The Church’s position on the death penalty is also controversial. Only in the rarest of circumstances is capital punishment necessary for the protection of the innocent. Revenge is not a justifiable reason, nor does it bring solace to those whose loved one has been murdered.

Often overlooked in political discourse is our concern for the poor among us. It is a serious moral issue.

Responsible citizenship and political leadership calls for a proactive search to provide opportunities for gainful employment, health care and a just treatment by our society, especially by those of us who embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The formation of our consciences as we prepare to vote is a challenge. Prayer is an important context for our preparation. So is prayer for the candidates. †

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