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Catholics have moral obligation to participate in civic life

The election is near and there are only a few more installments in my series on "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship." I should note a Faithful Citizenship Conference will be held Sept. 29 at St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Omaha. It will be an important opportunity for Catholics to gather together and receive some formation and ask questions about the principles of Catholic voting. To find out more, visit and watch for an article in the Sept. 21 Catholic Voice.

This installment is about more specific issues, but from the start I should say that the number one point from the U.S. bishops about Catholic voting is that we have a moral obligation to participate in the civic process. In fact, "participation" is one of the principles of Catholic social teaching.

If you are not registered to vote, go do it now. You can do so at your local county clerk's office. Sometimes parishes have voter registration drives. Or you can even begin the process online by visiting the website for the Nebraska Secretary of State, However you do it, register to vote, and vote your conscience Nov. 6.

The U.S. bishops write about seven key themes for Catholic voting. They are the right to life/dignity of the human person; the call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and caring for God's creation. These themes show that the church is principled but not ideological. We as Catholics don't fit neatly into the box of a particular political party, nor should we.

Under right to life/dignity of the human person, the bishops include abortion, euthanasia and embryonic destructive research, the legality of which always must be opposed.

The bishop's language here is strong. "Catholics must never abandon the moral requirement to seek full protection for all human life from the moment of conception until natural death." They also state that these issues are "not just one issue among many."

Still, the bishops include torture, unjust war, the current use of the death penalty, genocide and racism in this theme. All of these, except the death penalty, are intrinsic evils and must be opposed in all circumstances.

Under family, community and participation, the bishops include the defense of marriage between a man and a woman. They say traditional marriage "should be defended and strengthened, not redefined or undermined by permitting same-sex unions or other distortions of marriage." Pope Benedict XVI has called this issue a "non-negotiable." The bishops also remind us we are part of a community, not mere individuals, and that we need to work together on issues of family and society.

Under rights and responsibilities, the bishops address again the right to life as the "fundamental right that makes all other rights possible." They also speak about religious freedom when they say that "the right to free expression of religious beliefs protects all other rights." This is an important point as our religious rights are being attacked.

I'll finish listing these issues next month, but one can already see the inner consistency in our Catholic principles, a consistency not dependent on political ideology or party platform.

Omar Gutierrez is the manager of the Archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at

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