A challenge to us all

These end of the summer weeks the two political parties hold their conventions. The outcome in both parties for their respective nominees is already known. A campaign that in a certain sense began almost the day after the last presidential election results were known will move into high gear and continue that way to the finish.

No Catholic bishop or priest will publicly endorse either candidate. Despite the fact that clergy of other faiths and denominations feel free to invite a specific candidate to speak in their houses of worship and a few actively and explicitly endorse a candidate, the respect for the right of the voter to decide is deep in the traditions of the Catholic Church. As your bishop I regularly issue instructions to our pastors outlining what is permissible and what is not permissible for a priest or deacon or any spokesperson for the Church to say. In general that means that while we do not endorse specific candidates, we are not only free, we are indeed obligated, to speak out on issues and bring to the issues of the day the insights of the principles of Catholic social doctrine.

These principles are not a blueprint for a society. Rather they offer us important values and helpful measuring rods to assess policies and programs, proposals and platforms which should have a major role in determining whom a Catholic would vote for in the upcoming election.

The first important task in this effort to offer a voice informed by Catholic social principles is to urge every Catholic and every American citizen to vote. Voting is the first and most essential foundation stone for participatory democracy. The sad fact is that our country, which is in effect the first modern democracy and the most successful exemplar of democracy, suffers immeasurably from the fact that too many citizens simply do not vote. Schooled at the dining room table by my father who was the history master at Boston Latin School, I would not dare not vote. While my siblings and I disagree with great conviction about politics, that is a family matter that reflects my father’s desire that we be informed and that we vote according to a conscience informed by Catholic principles and love of our country.

But apart from this personal background I am convinced that voting is the first and most fundamental action that can ensure the basic health of any participatory  democracy. To that end for the first — but not the last time — this fall I am asking every Catholic and every citizen of this land to vote and to become informed of the probity of the candidates, the positions they and their parties propose and then decide, with an informed intellect and conscience, who best will represent the legitimate interests and the common good. November 6, 2012 is an important day for our country and for our future.  Please vote.

At the beginning of August, I attended the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus at Anaheim, California. The state deputy of New York is Sal Restivo from our diocese. One highlight of the Supreme Convention is when the Supreme Knight, Mr. Carl Anderson, gives his annual report. No one can listen to that report or read it later without being deeply impressed with the breadth and the depth of the good works of the Knights of Columbus. Unquestionably it is the most impressive fraternal organization of Catholics in the world. There is simply no other benevolent association of Catholics that offers so much to its members, cares so much for the Catholic Church throughout the world, provides so much in support, spiritual, material and financial, to so many aspects of Catholic life and instills in its members the highest values of personal social responsibility for themselves and for society as does this great organization.

Mr. Carl Anderson — and for transparency sake, I admit we have been friends for many years — is an exemplar of the Catholic layman. He is in addition a fine theologian and an astute observer of our culture and our society. I was struck this year by the way he urged all the Knights and their wives and families to become involved in the election. In addition he offered a very valid set of observations about what is at stake in this election year.

He focused much of his address on religious liberty and the challenges we are facing in our land.  “The history of the Catholic Church in the United States is a history of working for religious freedom,” he said. Then turning to some of the major issues, he called attention to some of the current challenges to religious freedom, including the HHS mandate which our diocese is challenging in federal court. Mr. Anderson noted that the HHS mandate would require Catholic employers like the Knights of Columbus to pay for or be complicit with contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.  “Catholic voters have the power to transform politics … Is it not time,” he asked, for Catholic voters to say ‘NO’ to every candidate of every political party who supports such intrinsic evil?

With that as a baseline the Catholic voice would have a coherence that could help create a future for our country where care for every citizen would be expressed within a context of solicitude for a society based on virtue and on the commitment to truth and the common good. Our care for the poor, the marginalized, the yet-born child and the elderly would fit within a vision of a society that eschews what is intrinsically evil and refuses to support programs that seek to help some by harming others.

Mr. Anderson coupled this call with another call to civility as another way to transform politics. To that end the Knights of Columbus have initiated a nationwide Campaign for Civility in America. This is an online petition drive that gives Americans a voice in speaking up for respectful public discourse. More than 25,000 people have already signed on. I urge all of you to sign that petition which I have myself signed. You can find it at Let’s together contribute to making this election one of principles, persuasion and personal commitment to civil discourse now and for our future.