Faithful Citizenship

In civic life all people of good will are challenged to make decisions on political issues with consideration of the ethical implications. Each person’s decision making process will have a framework, either grounded in maintaining a balance of interests and power or one grounded by an understanding of what is right and good. Society is better served when the framework of the decision making process begins with moral principles for guidance. Catholic social teaching is such a framework, indicating a moral obligation flowing from baptism for Catholics, and offering a challenge for all people of good will.

Catholic social teaching is framed around seven key themes:

1. The right to life and the dignity of the human person: because human life is sacred it is to be protected and, with human dignity, is foundational to the other themes. 

2. Call to family, community, and participation: marriage defined as between a woman and a man, family sustainable wages, parental right to choose education, and safe media are sample issues.  The principle of subsidiarity informs the restraint of larger institutions, preferring the most local effective level to meet needs, protect dignity, and advance the common good.

3. Rights and responsibilities: basic requirements such as food and shelter, education, employment, health care, housing, and freedom of religion – public and private - respect human dignity, and suggest corresponding responsibilities to one another and the larger society. 

4. Preferential option for the poor and vulnerable: this reframes the political question from “how am I doing” to “how do we treat those most in need.” 

5. Dignity of work and the rights of workers: the economy is meant to serve people (not people the economy) and should ensure just wages, the right to work and organize, economic freedom and initiative - for the well-being of all. 

6. Solidarity with the human family: that the U.S. has a proper role in global issues of human and religious rights, poverty, and regional conflicts stems from the connection shared by all people as a single human family.  

7. Care for creation: respecting and protecting all of creation is a moral obligation for future generations.

A short primer of these principles, applied to current issues, can be found (beginning in paragraph 40) in “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” (CFCFC) published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2007, and available on

The greatest difficulty can be applying the framework to make a decision. The first part of CFCFC elaborates on the role of the Church in helping make the decision. It is acknowledged that the ordering of society and the state is the proper role of politics. Pope Benedict XVI teaches in the encyclical “God is Love”:   “The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into authentic requirements of justice as well greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest….The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” 

The Church has a crucial role, but the decision is the responsibility of the faithful citizen who is challenged to first form conscience (prayerfully studying scripture and the teaching of the Church), and then exercise prudence (knowing what is the true good in a circumstance and the right way to achieve it). Many issues that may be considered social issues on the political landscape are in fact moral issues for Catholics and the requirement to both do good and avoid evil is a moral obligation guiding the choice. When the issues need to be weighed it is important to remember that they are not morally equivalent. Some things are intrinsically evil, and must always be opposed; abortion and euthanasia are fundamental current examples.  However, this moral distinction gives no one a pass to ignore the other issues. Living out our baptismal call in our civic responsibilities doesn’t end with casting a vote. In fact, the heart of the process to impact the moral issues will need ongoing participation in community programs and legislative agendas.  

For additional guidance on making moral choices in preparing to vote please refer to paragraphs 31 through 39 in CFCFC. 

Some final notes:

In an address to members of the European Parliament (March 2006), Pope Benedict XVI described non-negotiable principles for the Church’s public policy concerns:

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:

* protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;

* recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family--as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage--and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;

* the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.

In his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II said:

"It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop."

In their statement, Living the Gospel of Life, the Bishops of the United States said:

"Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages of life. But being 'right' in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. "

pdf Click here (217 KB)  for Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship in outline form with bullet points.