Commentary: Faithful Citizenship: Catholics have a stake in politics


The world’s a mess, isn’t it? Wars, terror, poverty and more. And the U.S. is not immune, with conflicts over religious liberty and secularism, the growing chasm between rich and poor, a struggling economy and assaults on life. Not quite the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but close.

Then there’s politics, that electoral circus in which, every few years, we select those who promise to lead us out of these woes. Or perhaps lead us into new woes.

Because increasingly, today’s problems and even proposed solutions challenge Gospel beliefs and rattle the conscience of the faithful.

The most recent crisis, though hardly the only one, centers on government efforts to require that almost all health insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, all of which violate church teaching.

Commentary by Tom Sheridan

Society’s growing secularization is changing how the church works. In some states, the moral conflict over same-sex unions forced the church out of the adoption ministry.

Some see this as a deliberate attack on faith. Others acknowledge it as a governmental overreaction to our multicultural society.

Calculated or not, these political efforts are squeezing church hierarchy and everyday Catholics into uncomfortable positions. More than 110 bishops have challenged the new insurance rule of the Obama administration, calling it unconstitutional. Some have promised not to comply with the rule.

This is hardly the first time government has challenged faith. After 9/11, Iraq was invaded despite pleas by Pope John Paul II and U.S. bishops who maintained that the invasion was unjust and unnecessary.

Meeting with some U.S. bishops during their “ad limina” visits recently, Pope Benedict XVI warned that recent “cultural trends … would curtail the proclamation of (moral) truths.” He encouraged the bishops and laity to counter this failure of society.

At other times in other places, disagreeing with and defying authorities could mean imprisonment or worse. But U.S.

society also gives us access to politics. That’s one way Catholics and other faiths must work to keep God in the public square.

That opportunity carries with it the moral obligation to vote, but also, the bishops remind, to vote wisely. To that end, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offers the document “Faithful Citizenship” (

Updated and offered every four years for more than three decades, the document doesn’t propose a Catholic alliance with a particular candidate or party, despite current events, neither Republicans nor Democrats have a lock on Gospel values. “Faithful Citizenship” presents a moral framework based in tradition and Scripture.

The document’s revised introduction stresses vital points for Catholics: Abortion “and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick or unwanted”; conscience threats to Catholic ministries in health care, education and social services; “the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman”; increased “national and global unemployment, poverty and hunger”; the broken immigration system; moral and justice concerns raised by war, terror and violence.

All are important and necessary.

But can we change things? Certainly. In an October talk at Fordham University in New York, Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University said Catholics “should never become captive to any single party. Every four years, we’re the swing voters who decide elections and we should treasure that.”

Even so, there is a danger. A democratic society may succeed in removing God from official life, but should not, and cannot, remove God from the lips of the faithful.

Still, here’s a sad but undeniable truth: Prophets aren’t always heeded. The scriptural lesson is not about success. Only perseverance.

Tom Sheridan is a former editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.