A crowd of young adults gathered at Welch’s Ale House in Fort Wayne Jan. 28 to listen to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades speak on the topic of religion and politics. The bishop’s presentation was the first in the Theology on Tap “Call and Response” lecture series organized by the Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry.
Throughout the discussion, Bishop Rhoades emphasized the responsibility Catholics have to stay informed on a broad spectrum of political issues and participate in civic duties like voting.
“In our Catholic tradition,” he said, “the Church has a right and an obligation to bring moral truth to political life.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides a useful framework for evaluating political candidates in a teaching document called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” Bishop Rhoades contributed revisions to the document’s introductory note in 2011 and its most recent version in 2019 to address specific issues and challenges brought about during preceding presidential elections.
He explained that making good political and social choices in light of Catholic social teaching requires two things — a well-formed conscience and exercising the virtue of prudence. Citing the document, he shared that forming conscience means embracing goodness and truth, along with a willingness to seek the truth by studying sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church. This should always be followed by an examination of key facts about various choices and prayer to discern the will of God.
By using a well-formed conscience, we are then able to exercise prudence, defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the virtue that enables us to “discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it,” he said. The bishop emphasized how exercising prudence often requires courage to act in defense of moral principles for building a society of justice and peace.
Political and societal issues should then be evaluated based on the four principles of Catholic social doctrine: the common good, the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity and solidarity.
Referring to the Catechism’s definition of “common good,” Bishop Rhoades defined it as the “sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” He continued by saying that when Catholics vote, they should ask themselves which candidate they believe will best serve the common good, both in America and globally. And they should to keep in mind their transcendent goal of attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good.
Human dignity is a second principle of Catholic social teaching.
“Abortion is a high priority,” Bishop Rhoades explained, “but we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty, and immigration.”
At this point, Bishop Rhoades warned against two extreme points of view, also highlighted in the FCFC document, that can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity. These are moral equivalence, or treating all issues with the same importance, and dismissing or ignoring other serious threats and placing greater emphasis on only a few.
Subsidiarity, meaning larger institutions in society should not interfere with smaller or local institutions unless human dignity is at risk, and solidarity, a determination to commit oneself to the common good of all, rounded out the remaining principles of Catholic social teaching highlighted by the bishop.
“Considering the full spectrum of social teaching, we don’t find many candidates who share our convictions on important issues,” he acknowledged.
“Even if you feel politically homeless, it’s important to stay involved and vote. Not all issues are created equal, but all important issues should be considered in voting decisions. One should also consider the candidates’ integrity and character.”
Two Theology on Tap winter series are taking place, one in Fort Wayne and one in South Bend. For more information on either one visit http://www.diocesefwsb.org/tot.
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