BALTIMORE - Revisions in the U.S. bishops' quadrennial
document on political responsibility draw on the teachings of
Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and take into account
developments in U.S. foreign and domestic policy over the
past four years.
The document, revised by a working group of bishops comprised
of the chairmen of several committees whose work is affected
by public policy, will be voted on Nov. 17, the second day of
public sessions during the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops' fall general assembly.
For passage, the document requires two-thirds of voting
bishops to support it. The bishops had set aside 45 minutes
to discuss the document before the vote.
The revised document is longer than its predecessors of 2007
and 2011, which garnered much public attention during the two
previous presidential election years. The working group has
been working on the revision since March 2014.
The document reflects on long-held concerns related to
abortion and the needs of poor people. It also references
emerging issues related to court decisions on same-sex
marriage, public policies that impact religious freedom and a
rising concern for the environment as climate change affects
more people around the world.
Notably, the document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful
Citizenship," draws on the words of Pope Benedict's 2009
encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth") and
Pope Francis' "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel")
and "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home."
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, vice
president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the
revision includes at least 25 quotations from Pope Francis.
The bishops have issued a statement offering guidance to
Catholic voters every four years for nearly four decades.
In the latest version, the bishop reiterate in a shortened
introductory note that the document is meant to offer "our
guidance for Catholics in the exercise of their rights and
duties as participants in our democracy."
"We urge our pastors, lay and religious faithful, and all
people of good will to use this statement to help form their
consciences; to teach those entrusted in their care; to
contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue; and to
shape political choice in the coming election," the document
The bishops call on Catholics to the document "prayerfully
and in its totality."
"It is a serious mistake - and one that recurs with
regrettable frequency - to use only selected parts of the
church's teaching to advance partisan political interests or
validate ideological biases," the introductory note said.
"All of us are called to be servants to the whole truth in
authentic love, and it is our fervent hope and prayer that
this document will provide aid to all those seeking to heed
The document describes Catholics serving in public life,
whether in elective office or in another setting, as having a
"heroic commitment." The document also reminds Catholics that
because they have been entrusted with "special responsibility
for the common good, they must "commit themselves to the
pursuit of the virtues, especially courage, justice,
temperance" in promoting human dignity.
A section in the document specifically cites the Cathechism
of the Catholic Church and the importance of keeping in mind
a preferential option for the poor. It cites housing and
access to adequate food and nutrition as crucial concerns to
Another passage echoes the repeated calls of Pope Francis
that economic systems must work for the benefit of people
rather than simply for the accumulation of wealth.
The document adds references to concerns stemming from
Catholic social teaching related to in vitro fertilization,
the indiscriminate use of drones for violent purposes, human
trafficking, the use of torture and the death penalty.
The bishops express concern for the potential that society
may becoming indifferent to war because of the rising number
of conflicts around the world that impact the lives of
millions of people. They also point to the rise in attacks on
Christians worldwide, citing recent statements in homilies
from Pope Francis.
"Further, we support policies and actions that protect
refugees of war and violence, at home and abroad, and all
people suffering religious persecution throughout the world,
many of whom are our fellow Christians," the document said.
The document includes a more detailed explanation of church
teaching on marriage and that it can exist only as the union
of one man and one woman. It expresses concern that "the
institution of marriage is undermined by the ideology of
'gender' that dismisses sexual difference and the
complementarity of the sexes and falsely presents 'gender' as
nothing more than a social construct or psychological
reality, which a person may choose at variance with his or
her biological reality."
Religious freedom is identified as a top concern by the
bishops in a new paragraph of the document, which notes that
religious freedom "generally enjoys strong protection in our
law and culture, but those protections are now in doubt." It
calls on Catholics to ensure that protections of religious
practice and those that affect worship, including tax
exemptions for religious institutions, remain in place.
The document reiterates the bishops' call for comprehensive
immigration reform, the importance of preserving Catholic
education and protecting the earth from exploitation and