Our Moral Duties as Catholic Citizens (Part 1)


With the general election rapidly approaching now is the time for all citizens to prepare to cast our votes a conscientious and informed manner. It is our right and our responsibility. It is not only a civic but a moral duty. Responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation. We Catholics take this responsibility very seriously. Or at least we ought to.

Through our various pastoral statements the Catholic bishops of the United States through the years have repeatedly reaffirmed the Church’s role in public life. We have emphasized our responsibility to participate in shaping the moral and ethical character of the society in which we live. We do not do this in a partisan manner. In fact, Catholics may often feel politically disenfranchised since no political party, and few candidates fully share our comprehensive commitment to the full range of authentic human goods. These commitments begin with the protection of human life and dignity from conception to natural death. They include the promotion and defense of marriage, the preservation of religious liberty and the rights of conscience, as well as a host of other goods such as health care, a just economy and many concerns that bear directly upon human flourishing and the common good. The clergy and laity have important complementary roles in public life. As bishops and priests it is our duty to hand on the Church’s moral and social teaching. It is neither our role nor our intention, to tell Catholics how to vote regarding a particular candidate or office. Rather it is our responsibility as teachers of the faith to assist Catholics in properly forming their consciences so that they may cast their votes in light of fundamental moral principles rooted in the truth as discerned through reason and enlightened by Catholic faith.

Pope Benedict XVI writes in his encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, concerning the specific responsibility of the laity in public life. He says, “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful”. This duty of the laity calls for a serious engagement and real participation in public life. Our faith calls for a political engagement, however, that goes beyond sound bytes, partisan politics and narrow self-interest. Rather Catholics ought to engage in this process based on the moral convictions of a well-formed conscience and focused on promoting the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and vulnerable.

When we Catholics cast our ballots we ought to be guided by moral convictions rooted in both our faith and human reason, not merely by our political affiliation. As Catholics we ought to work to influence and transform the party to which we belong, rather than allow the party to influence us in such a way that we ignore fundamental moral truths, such as the right to life, the nature of marriage, or the dignity of the poor and the immigrant.

Faith and reason are the sources of our moral principles. Faith is never incompatible with human reason. Rather it expands the horizons of reason. Our Catholic faith, as revealed through the Word of God and interpreted by the teaching authority of the Church, gives us a clear vision of what is true and good for each person, for the family and for society. It is the vision that Christ our Teacher has revealed to be in accord with our human nature and destiny as men and women created in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Christ and endowed by God with dignity, rights and responsibilities. (To be continued).