Part 4: Life, Peace, Marriage, and Religious Freedom

The following is part four of a seven-part series summarizing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, a document originally issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2015. Part three addressed the complexities that often arise in assessing a candidate’s position. The following article addresses specific policy issues adopted by the USCCB, including human life, promoting peace, marriage and family life, and religious freedom. 

Some of the policy issues the USCCB have adopted involve principles that we must never abandon, such as the right to life and the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Other policy issues reflect the bishops’ best judgment regarding how to apply Catholic principles to specific policy issues. “No summary could fully reflect the depth and details of the positions taken through the work of the [USCCB]. While people of good will may sometimes choose different ways to apply and act on some of our principles, Catholics cannot … simply dismiss the Church's guidance or policy directions that flow from these principles” (63).

Human Life

The USCCB stresses the following: “Abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good ...” (Evangelium VitaeLiving the Gospel of Life). Moreover, upholding the dignity of the human person always includes opposing efforts to clone human beings, destroying human embryos for research, genocide, torture, terrorism, and the intentional targeting of noncombatants in war. 

The USCCB supports laws that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion. These policies ought to include assisting pregnant women, children, and families, as well as addressing poverty and healthcare. The USCCB also advocates for greater assistance for the sick and dying through health care for all, compassionate palliative care, and hospice care. Respect for human dignity includes supporting efforts to address hunger, disease, poverty, and violence. 

Regarding the death penalty, the Church used to accept the death penalty for particularly egregious crimes “when there was a serious continuing threat to society and no alternative was available” (67). Now that we have “other ways to protect society that are more respectful of human life” (67) the USCCB supports efforts to completely end the use of the death penalty.

Promoting Peace

Catholics must work to avoid war and to promote peace. “War is never a reflection of what ought to be but a sign that something more true to human dignity has failed. The Catholic tradition recognizes the legitimacy of just war teaching when defending the innocent in the face of grave evil” (68). 

Nations need to defend human life against terrorism and the targeting of religious people including Christians. Pope Francis said that there are “more martyrs in the Church today than there were in the first centuries” (Homily, June 30, 2014). The Church supports the proportionate and discriminate use of military force, but has raised fundamental concerns about preventive use of military force. The Church honors our nation's armed forces, but also recognizes the moral right to conscientious objection to war in general. 

The United States ought to pursue nuclear disarmament and reduce its predominant role in the global arms trade. The use of torture must always be rejected. The USCCB supports “policies and actions that protect refugees of war and violence, at home and abroad, and all people suffering religious persecution throughout the world, many of whom are our fellow Christians" (69). 

Marriage and Family Life

As the basic cell of human society, the family needs to be a top priority. This includes defending marriage as the exclusive commitment between a man and a woman. We ought to reject gender ideology, which dismisses the complementarity of the sexes and falsely presents gender as a social construct.

Wages ought to be sufficient to support families. Public assistance should be available to help poor families, but eventual financial autonomy ought to be the goal. 

We need to value and protect children, who have the right to grow up with a father and a mother “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity" (Address on the Complementarity Between Man and Woman, Nov. 17, 2014). The Church opposes “contraceptive and abortion mandates in public programs and health plans, which endanger rights of conscience and can interfere with parents' right to guide the moral formation of their children” (71). 

Religious Freedom

The USCCB vigorously supports religious liberty. This means that “no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits" (Dignitatis Humanae, Of the Dignity of the Human Person). Though our nation has historically protected religious freedom, the Church has lately been in danger of losing its tax exemption because of her teachings on marriage. “Catholics have a particular duty to make sure that protections like these do not weaken but instead grow in strength” (72). 

In part five of this series, we will discuss the preferential option for the poor, health care, migration, Catholic education, and promoting justice. 

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