Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
Now that the Democratic and Republican conventions are over and the hoopla, balloons and confetti have been packed away, the 2012 presidential election will be pursued in earnest.
There are groups not necessarily associated with the candidate’s election organization that will produce attack ads. These ads will disparage a person’s religion, marriage, family and even question a candidate’s sense of allegiance to America. One might wonder why a candidate would choose to subject himself to such vitriolic criticism. Hopefully, it is because he is committed to serve the common good.
Whatever happened to the statesman, the person who put the interests of the nation above partisanship? I am hard pressed to name a statesman in today’s political climate. It seems now that the only time there is a sense of unity among our elected representatives is when the entire nation is under attack and even then, it lasts for only a brief period. The strategy in our modern elections is to win at all costs.
There are many important issues in this election and there will be members of our faithful who will demand that we, as a church, publicly support a particular candidate. They may have sound reasons for doing so. However, the church is issue-oriented in the arena of politics.
The church challenges every one of her members to participate in the political process; it’s our obligation as citizens. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Participation is the voluntary and generous engagement of a person in the social interchange. It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. The obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person (1913).”
Many groups have encouraged political candidates to demonstrate a civility in exchanging the discourse of ideas and policies. Civility is expressing a respectful attitude toward one’s opponent. It avoids “ad hominem” arguments which seek to attack the person rather than dialogue and question the presentation of ideas. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the Wisconsin Council of Churches and my predecessor, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, have all called for civil discourse in this highly charged political environment.
I mention civility again, even after all these various statements have been issued, because I envision that the politically charged atmosphere will only become more volatile. We are Christian and that means we have respect for the dignity of individuals even when they do not respect themselves.
There is little doubt in my mind that this election presents serious issues. The economy and the more than $16 trillion debt are unimaginable. How can we ever overcome this burden to our economic health and what does this mean not only for the present society but for our children and their children?
Jobs – 8.1 percent of our population is unemployed and that is not even taking into consideration those who have dropped out of the work force or those who are categorized as underemployed. National security and our continued vigilance against terrorists who might wreak havoc on our nation’s wellbeing also remains an important issue.
Yet, even with these major issues facing us, the questions which we as Catholics must also consider are the questions that affect the dignity of each person. Each year, more than 1.3 million children are aborted in this culture of legalized abortions; that’s roughly more than 63 million lives aborted since 1973. There is a growing tendency in our country toward euthanasia as more pressure is placed upon individuals, their families and medical groups to directly end the lives of the sick and suffering, thereby exercising cost saving measures.
Marriage between a man and a woman is the foundational basis for our society. It’s scriptural and natural. Any attempt to redefine marriage is an attack on the family, the basic unit of our society.
Especially during these difficult economic times, the poor among us suffer even more. We need, as a society, to pay attention to the plight of the poor.
Even with our current struggles we are a nation that has been blessed and there should be none among us who lack food or shelter. Immigration needs to be addressed. There are many undocumented people in our country. Without assessing blame, we should seek a just and compassionate solution to those undocumented families who live and work in our communities.
As a church, we are confronted with a challenge from elements within our society that would seek to deny our religious freedom. Some have enacted policies that would require the church to violate its teachings and for individuals of faith to violate their conscience. The First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees all of us the right to religious freedom.
The government does not have a right to define who we are as church. We must continue to resist those who seek to limit our ability to practice our faith without punishment.
As Catholics, we approach the November elections informing ourselves about the critical nature of the issues, studying the teachings of the church and assessing the positions of the candidates as they reflect a responsibility to the common good. We do so with a sense of civility and because we are Christians.
In light of upcoming elections, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Wisconsin Catholic Conference have put together several resources to help Catholics reflect on their duties as faithful citizens. Vist our page to stay informed!
Read more of Archbishop Listecki's writings on Faithful Citizenship by clicking "Voting and You: Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki"
(This column first appeared in the Sept. 20, 2012 issue of the Catholic Herald)