Life ethic guides Catholic vote - Catholic Courier

Life ethic guides Catholic vote

Prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Kathy Gallagher saw an Internet cartoon in which George W. Bush and John Kerry were depicted at a restaurant while the pope waited on them.

Bush ordered the “anti-abortion steak” but, to his displeasure, found it was only served with the “avoid-war salad.” The cartoon, which appeared on the Web site of a group known as the Catholic Voting Project, stated, “If you’re going to pick and choose, at least try to learn the full menu.”

“It really got the point across,” said Gallagher, who serves as director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.

That point is the challenge of identifying strong political candidates who adhere completely to Catholic principles. Many of those priorities are expressed by the consistent life ethic, which calls Catholics to affirm life from conception until natural death by renouncing abortion, capital punishment, unjust war, euthanasia, violence and economic injustice. In 2004, for instance, voters weighed Bush’s opposition to abortion against his support of the death penalty and what many consider an unjust war in Iraq. Kerry, meanwhile, fell just short of becoming only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, but as a supporter of abortion rights.

With a new president to be elected in 2008, the diocesan Public Policy Committee has named “faithful citizenship” as an educational priority for the upcoming year. This priority is based on a document of the same name issued every four years by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prior to each presidential election. The document summarizes church teachings on public life as well as key moral issues, including all components of the CLE. (The most recent “Faithful Citizenship” statement, issued in 2004, can be found by visiting www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship.)

“How can we keep our nation from turning to violence to solve some of its most difficult problems — abortion to deal with difficult pregnancies; the death penalty to combat crime; euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of age, illness, and disability; and war to address international disputes?” the 2004 bishops’ document asked.

Father Brian Cool, chair of the diocesan Public Policy Committee, noted that dignity of the unborn human being is his committee’s other educational priority for 2007-08 (care for the environment is the group’s chief advocacy issue). He said the CLE should be seriously weighed by all voters, especially when existing governmental policies are causing many to die from abortion, hunger and lack of universal health care, to name a few examples.

“‘Thou shalt not kill’ — are these not a form of killing?” he asked.

An unwavering stance

Jann Armantrout, life-issues coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities, said “Faithful Citizenship” reminds Catholics that “we’re called to speak the truth, and the truth will bear itself out. “

The bishops’ statement “calls us to stretch ourselves and think of all the ways human life is enhanced and undermined. It is such a good document for people in our parishes to see,” said Kathleen Dubel, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Chemung County.

Since politicians and voters may well place greater personal emphasis on some components of the CLE and less on others, Gallagher said that “it’s an enormous challenge to take the principles of the consistent life ethic into the voting booth with you. It’s very difficult, but that’s what our church asks us to do.”

Father Cool noted that candidates also may feel torn: “As much as we want them to, it doesn’t surprise me that Catholic politicians aren’t able to be totally for Catholic positions.” Armantrout observed that because so many of the CLE’s components are deemed politically incorrect, it’s tough for a politician to fully back the ethic and get elected to public office.

“(The ethic) has something to offend everybody,” she remarked.

However, Armantrout added that “just because we have a diverse culture does not mean we need to exclude a Catholic perspective because it is based on religion.”

“Faithful Citizenship” states that adherence to Catholic teachings goes beyond “party affiliation, endorsing or opposing candidates, or mere self-interest.” Dubel said she instead examines the candidates’ overall integrity, saying that “there isn’t the perfect consistent life ethic candidate and it’s not a perfect world. But I think there’s an appeal to someone who’s real.”



Ongoing involvement needed

Diocesan public-policy advocates emphasized that Catholics have the right and responsibility to engage in upholding moral issues not just before a presidential election, but also this coming Nov. 6. In fact, Dubel noted that faithful citizenship can and should be practiced all year long as well as on Election Day.

“Once you’ve cast your ballot, that’s not the end of it. You need to be engaged in writing to the president and whomever you put into the House of Representatives, saying they’re with us in some areas but not in others. We have to be educating them and telling them where we stand,” Dubel said.

Father Cool ventured that if the existing candidates don’t fit the needs of Catholics, perhaps “that’s a call for Catholic people to participate and become leaders.” The “Faithful Citizenship” document adds that this objective can be realized by running for office; working within political parties and campaigns; and/or joining legislative networks and community organizations.

One such group is the diocesan Public Policy Committee, which promotes its priorities throughout the year by meeting with political leaders in various parts of the diocese; traveling to Albany for the state Catholic Conference’s Public Policy Day; and holding candidates’ forums and faithful-citizenship nights at parishes. On a statewide level, Gallagher encouraged more people to join the Catholic Advocacy Network, which has a membership of more than 50,000. Through this initiative, the state Catholic conference helps participants send electronic correspondence to legislators about important bills.

Father Cool added that it’s vital to stay active on the political scene, even if one is disillusioned with the list of candidates or if a preferred candidate fails to get elected.

“Simply because you don’t get your way doesn’t mean you stop being involved,” he said, adding that if Catholics aren’t making their voices heard, “you can be sure that others are.”

Armantrout added that failing to voice CLE priorities might even lead to a massive loss of life comparable to Germany and Russia during World War II.

On the other hand, “once politicians know Catholics care enough to vote their values, then the faithful will have the opportunity to make a difference,” Gallagher said.

Father Cool added that Catholics may take for granted the power they hold simply by being able to vote.

“If we don’t agree with (politicians) based on the set of principles and criteria that we live by, then we need to seek new representation. That is what’s great about democracy,” he said.

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