Opening Comments - Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians

June 15, 2004

I want to begin by acknowledging how sensitive and complex this present discussion is and how some of our friends in the media are trying to misuse it. We all pray for wisdom in carrying out our often difficult roles as teachers and pastors and servants of our people. There are so many considerations we all try to keep in mind. As we ponder and meditate and ask what the Lord would do, we can all come up with somewhat different answers, depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. As I introduce this discussion, I do it very humbly, realizing that I do not have all the answers and I hope I learn from you, dear brothers, what is the best way we should walk. What we present is our best advice, which may or may not fit your circumstances or what your heart tells you. We do it as we pray for unity, but as we recognize the possible diversity in pastoral practice which is the essential right of every diocesan bishop.

As I told the Administrative Committee last September, when we first discussed my varium on relationships between Catholic politicians and Catholic bishops, I was looking for help – as Archbishop in our nation's Capital – not for service on another task force. Once again, I've learned that "no good deed goes unpunished" and there are "no simple answers."

We face a difficult challenge and an important task in addressing the question of how to deal with Catholics in public life who do not reflect the Church's teaching in their votes and public actions. We are called to be moral teachers, caring pastors and effective leaders at a vital moment. We need clarity, wisdom and prudence as we strive for unity. We must reflect the truth of the Gospel, the teaching of the Church, and the traditions and practices of our community of faith.

This is not about one candidate, election, or campaign, but about how we as bishops faithfully carry out our roles as teachers, pastors and leaders in the Catholic community.

This afternoon is a time for our Task Force to report on our work, especially the careful consultations you asked us to undertake. It is also a time for discussion and dialogue among pastors and brothers. It is a time to offer some initial advice in the short term for those who have requested it. In the longer term, we pledge to continue our work on this complex and urgent challenge to produce guidance for the future. The longer, more formal report hopefully will be ready by our plenary session in November, as originally promised.

On behalf of your Task Force, let me open this session by offering some initial reflections as a framework for our discussion. We're in this together. Every bishop is struggling with how we best defend human life and dignity. Every bishop has to respond to the call of his own conscience and circumstances. We are all committed to proclaiming the Gospel of Life and the call to Faithful Citizenship.

We are also all deeply disturbed and offended by politicians who claim to be Catholic who vote in contradiction to Catholic teaching, fundamentally on the defense of unborn life, but also on other threats to human life and dignity. As Bishop Ricard reported to us in November, some Catholic legislators choose their party over their faith, and ideology over Catholic teaching. There is too often a common pattern of ignoring the values of our faith and pursuing a political agenda divorced from fundamental moral principles. When Catholics deny fundamental moral principles which come from natural law itself or insist their faith has no role in their public choices, we as bishops are challenged to find more effective ways to make sure that their choices in public life should reflect the deepest moral convictions.

We all are seeking better ways to evangelize and to inform and shape the conscience of our Catholic people –including public officials and voters. We have important resources to draw on – the moral and social teaching of our Church, the prophetic example of our Holy Father and the statements of our Conference (such as Faithful Citizenship and Living the Gospel of Life).

We all share an unwavering commitment to the fundamental principles of our faith. The questions before us are, what are the best ways, the most effective ways, to teach the truth about human life and human dignity, about justice and peace, and to persuade all people to embrace Faithful Citizenship and the Gospel of Life in their private and public lives.

We cannot underestimate the forces we face. Our society permits a million abortions a year and neglects religious perspectives on war and poverty. Too many call for a separation of faith from life, of moral principles from public action. This fundamentally challenges who we are as Catholics and what we believe about the life and dignity of every person and the common good.

In the face of all this, my request that our Conference think through this challenge together seems even more important than when I first made it. This is an important moment and a time for us to listen and learn from one another and that is what this afternoon's session is about.

Here's how we plan to proceed:
  • Archbishop Levada as chair of the Doctrine Committee will offer some brief initial reflections on Catholic teaching on public life and the role of bishops.

  • Cardinal Keeler will give a brief summary of some of the things we have learned from our consultations with bishops, episcopal conferences, moral theologians, canonists, and state Catholic Conference directors.

  • I will then offer some reflections for discussion based on the work of the Task Force. All this should take less than an hour which will leave significant time for questions, discussion and dialogue.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians
Bishops' Spring Meeting
Denver, CO