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BISHOPS-POLITICS Oct-18-2007 (820 words) xxxn

Bishops' document to offer new guidance on Catholics' political role

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Rejecting a political climate based on "powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites and media hype," the U.S. bishops call Catholics to "a different kind of political engagement" in a document to be voted on during their fall general meeting Nov. 12-15 in Baltimore.

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," they said.

The 37-page "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility From the Catholic Bishops of the United States" was developed by seven committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and must be approved by two-thirds of the USCCB membership.

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 racism, torture, genocide and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war."

The bishops warn against "two temptations in public life (that) can distort the church's defense of human life and dignity."

"The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity," they say. "The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is ... not just one issue among many."

But it is also wrong to misuse "these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity," the draft document says.

Although there might be "principled debate" about the best approach on issues such as health care, racism, unjust war, the death penalty and immigration, "this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore church teaching on these important issues," the bishops say.

The draft 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, a Catholic and the leading Republican candidate for president, because of Giuliani's support for abortion.

The document says that "those who knowingly, willingly and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil."

"If a Catholic were to vote for a candidate who supports a policy involving intrinsic evil, such as abortion, precisely because of that position, the Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil," it adds. "In some cases, if a Catholic who fully accepts fundamental principles such as the right to life were to vote for a candidate despite the candidate's opposing position but because of other proportionate reasons, their vote would be considered 'remote material cooperation' and can be permitted only if there are indeed proportionate reasons."

All Catholics "have a responsibility to discern carefully which public policies are morally sound," the draft document says.

"Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended," it adds.

The draft will be presented to the bishops on behalf of seven committees -- domestic policy, international policy, pro-life activities, communications, doctrine, education and migration.


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