Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

As we all know, there has been a great deal of attention paid to the role of Catholics in political life during the last few months. This has presented both challenges and controversy for our community of faith. It has also generated more discussion than perhaps ever before about what it means to be a Catholic and a citizen of the United States, a believer and a voter. More than any time I can remember, over the past few months bishops, pastors, and parishioners across the country have been wrestling with how our faith should shape our decisions in public life. This has been a very good thing.

But it has not always been easy. The media or partisan forces sometimes tried to pit one bishop against another. I look around the room and see bishops who have been unfairly attacked as partisan, others who have been called cowards. Some have been accused of being “single issue,” indifferent to the poor or unconcerned about war. Others have been called unconcerned about the destruction of unborn human life, but pre-occupied by poverty or war. That is not who we are. We are united in our defense of life and the dignity of the human person—the two great causes of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II--and we have continued to work together to preach the “Gospel of Life” in all its dimensions. Calling our people to “Faithful Citizenship” has not been easy, but it has been both necessary and important.

We believe our common statement, overwhelmingly adopted in Denver, and the report of the Task Force continue to serve our Conference well. As we expressed in Denver, bishops can come to different prudential and pastoral judgments on how to apply our teaching to public policy. Our task is to help our Conference move forward, reflecting our unity in our teaching and respecting diversity in pastoral practice in a spirit of collegiality.

Now that the election is over, we have an important opportunity to come together around our common commitment to protect human life and dignity and advance the common good. As Catholics, we all have a preeminent obligation to protect the lives of unborn children, to oppose euthanasia, and to defend marriage. Our tradition also clearly calls us to stand up for those who are poor and to promote justice and peace. These are not options for us, but obligations of our faith. In the coming months, we must all work together to advance all these values. We do not believe that our commitment to human life and dignity and our pursuit of justice and peace are competing causes. While we do not believe that all issues have equal moral claims, we will work to protect those whose lives are destroyed by abortion and those who are dying of hunger, we will strive to protect human life from the moment of conception until the moment God calls us home and we will strive to pursue peace. We will work for human life and dignity, for justice and peace. This is who we are and what we believe.

As a Conference, we take our responsibility to teach about the role of Catholics in political life very seriously. To help us carry out this work, we have been blessed to have a very active and diverse Task Force made up of the chairs of all of the policy committees and the Doctrine Committee. Our work has been enriched by the participation of Cardinal George, Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Wuerl, as well as consultation with canonists, moral theologians, State Catholic Conference Directors, other Episcopal Conferences and extensive dialogue with the Holy See. The Holy See has been both sympathetic and supportive of our efforts. They publicly expressed the view that our efforts were “very much in harmony” with their principles.

So now, on behalf of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, I would like to outline several steps that will be taken in our Conference during the coming months to fulfill the commitments we made in Denver.

  1. The Committee on Doctrine, with assistance from the Committee on Pastoral Practices, has agreed to take up the matter of Church teaching on the proper disposition to receive Holy Communion, not only for politicians, but for all of us.
  2. There will be continuing consultation on the complex theological and canonical aspects of these matters within our Conference and with the Holy See.
  3. The Task Force is developing resources and tools to help the bishops follow through on the commitments we made, namely:
    1. We must keep our pledge to “teach more clearly.” The Task Force is developing a “Reader on Catholics in Public Life” with excerpts from Papal, Conciliar and USCCB statements on the responsibilities of Catholics in public life. This “reader” would be made available to bishops to be used as the basis for teaching, dialogue and persuasion.
    2. We pledged to do more “to persuade” all people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended, and to help Catholics act on our principles in public life. To help us do this, we will share with each other examples of how bishops have undertaken efforts to engage, persuade, and mobilize the Catholic community.
    3. We made a commitment to maintain communication with public officials who make decisions every day that touch issues of human life and dignity. We will continue to reach out to leaders in public life to explain our principles and to dialogue with them.
    4. We affirmed that the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should “not honor” those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. The Task Force plans to consult with leaders in Catholic education, Catholic health care, and Catholic social services to discuss how we can together best carry out this guidance.
We welcome and affirm the discussion of the “culture of life” in the campaign, and the focus on “moral values” in the exit polls. We can only hope that this will lead to real action to protect unborn children, defend marriage, protect the lives and dignity of all those who are poor and vulnerable and promote peace in a violent world. The treatment of the “least of these,” beginning with unborn children and including all those who suffer in our nation and world, are at the heart of our mission in public life.

Together, we have much more work to do to teach, engage, and persuade. I thank the Task Force for their hard work and I thank God for our bishops and for their guidance and commitment to this common mission.


Report by
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick