CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING
The Basis of Church Involvement in the Public Square
The Church’s participation in public policy initiatives is rooted in the principles of “Catholic social teaching.” This body of teaching has been developed over centuries, but has become particularly defined over the last century. It represents the Church’s perspective on applying the Gospel to the practical affairs of the public square.
The U.S. Bishops have identified seven major themes of Catholic social teaching
1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
Human life is sacred and the dignity of the human person is the fundamental human right on which all other rights are based. In our society, human life is under direct attack, most principally through abortion. However, human life is also under direct attrack through assisted suicide, euthanasia, human trafficking, and widespread violence. There are numerous other ways in which human life is under indirect attack as well (e.g., embryonic stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, pornography, racism, unrestrained capitalism, etc.). All human lives must be protected by law and by individuals.
2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
The human person is social by nature. All of our public and economic policies have an effect on individual human persons, and their ability to live and grow in community. Marriage and the family are the foundation by which society grows and flourishes. The authentic definition of marriage must be supported and strengthened, not undermined or redefined. The family must also be upheld and revered as the building block of society.
3. Rights and Responsibilities
Human dignity can only be ensured if basic rights are protected, responsibilities are met, and people exercise respect for one another. Fundamental rights like the right to life and the right to religious freedom must always be recognized and defended.
4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
We have an obligation as a society to take special care of the poor and vulnerable among us. All our public policies must be evaluated by how they impact “the least among us” (Mt. 15:31-46). The interests of the poor and vulnerable must be given special priority.
5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
The human person should be the centerpiece of all economic policies. People are more important than money and other material commodities or objects. Labor and economic policies must focus on the development of all people. The right to work, the right to own and use property, and the right to organize into associations must all be respected.
The unity of the human family transcends national, ideological, or ethnic boundaries. We have an obligation to stand united with our brothers and sisters around the world, and to constantly strive for peace and justice. We must particularly work to establish a just order in society, where murder and violence are unthinkable.
7. Care for God’s Creation
God has entrusted humanity to be stewards of creation. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in harmony with all of God’s creation. “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole” (Pope Benedict, Caritas in Veritate 48).
WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
- Converse with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc.
- Host information sessions at your parish
- Share posts on social media
- Call, email, and meet with your elected officials at their local office
- Invite your elected officials to your parish events
- Look up your representatives here
- Participate in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
- Take part in lobbying trips to Albany, NY on behalf of Catholic groups
- Attend our events in your area
- Download the prayer to St. Thomas More here
HELP ADVANCE OUR CATHOLIC VALUES
Follow the New York State Catholic Conference
- Join the Catholic Action Network
- View our legislative agenda here in New York State
- Action alerts on our legislative priorities
- Status report on pending legislation
- Find your federal and state representatives
Documents on Participation in the Public Square
- Vatican Doctrinal Note on the Participation of Catholics in Public Life
- U.S. Bishops Statement on Catholics in Political Life
Other Advocacy Organizations
- Alliance Defending Freedom
legal defense of life, marriage, and religious liberty
- Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
legal activism in defense of religious freedom
- Bioethics Defense Fund
advocacy and legal action defending life
- Catholic League
watchdog group for religious and civil rights
- Catholic Near East Welfare Association
a papal agency supporting persecuted groups in the Middle East
- Catholic Rural Life
applying Catholic teachings to agriculture and the stewardship of creation
- Justice for Immigrants
education and advocacy on immigration
- National Catholic Bioethics Center
analysis of bioethics and morality from a Catholic perspective
- National Center on Sexual Exploitation
combating pornography and sexual exploitation
- New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide
alliance dedicated to preventing the legalization of assisted suicide
- New Yorkers for Life
coalition united in protecting life from beginning to natural end
*Please note that our listing of these organizations does not constitute an endorsement, but is rather offered for informational purposes. These sites are not associated with the Archdiocese of New York and we are not responsible for their policies, the views they express, the products and services they offer, or the content of their materials or websites.
The Network was established by the Bishops of New York State to provide Catholics with a modern, easy, and effective way to contact their state representatives about issues of concern to the Church. It uses the convenience of email to alert you of important issues that are before the NYS Legislature, and lets you lobby your legislators from your own computer or mobile device, with just a few clicks. While the emphasis is on New York State issues, there are also action alerts relating to important federal issues.
To join the Network, click here.
For federal representatives, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends some excellent email alert networks:
- The USCCB Action Center, which covers a broad range of issues of concern to the Church
- The Human Life Action Center, which focuses on pro-life issues
FORMING CONSCIENCES FOR FAITHFUL CITIZENSHIP
The Church equips its members to address political questions by helping them develop well-formed consciences. “Conscience” is a practical judgment that we make about the quality of a moral act, based on our knowledge and reason, aided by grace (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1777-78). Our conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we feel like doing. Instead, it is our moral compass for judging right from wrong.
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is a document by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that guides the faithful on how to make responsible voting choices.
READ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship here
1. How do I start forming my conscience?
Start by being open to the truth and desiring to do what is right. Follow the proper guides: Sacred Scripture, the authoritative teachings of the Church, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the wise counsel of others. The U.S. Bishops have also published a useful article on conscience formation.
2. How should I evaluate candidates?
Does the candidate promote human life and dignity? Is he/she committed to justice and peace? Does the candidate possess integrity? What is his/her agenda? How are the candidate’s policies in light of Catholic social teaching?
3. Are there any “non-negotiable” issues on which we cannot compromise?
Catholics must always oppose grave and intrinsic evils such as abortion, euthanasia, terrorism, torture, etc. The right to life and the dignity of the human person must always take priority.
“Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care… But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life” (U.S. Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life).
“The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all” (New York State Bishops).
4. Can I ever vote for a pro-abortion candidate?
In the vast majority of cases, Catholics cannot vote for a pro-abortion candidate in good conscience. Voting in this way would only be permissible “for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (Faithful Citizenship 35).
5. What happens if all the candidates are pro-abortion?
In this unfortunate circumstance, Catholics can vote for the candidate who is less likely to push an evil agenda, more likely to pursue other good goals, and more likely limit damage. Catholics can also choose not for vote or they can write in a better candidate (Faithful Citizenship 36).
RESOURCES FOR VOTER EDUCATION AT PARISHES
It is essential that voter education efforts at parishes are non-partisan, but instead are dedicated to presenting Church teaching to the faithful, so that they can form a good Catholic conscience.
- Voter education flyer: “Forming a Good Catholic Conscience for Voting”
- Bulletin blurbs on voting responsibly
- Bulletin insert that summarizes Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
GUIDELINES FOR POLITICAL ACTIVITY BY CATHOLIC ORGANIZATIONS
There are legal limits on the kinds of political activity that can be carried out by religious organizations. In general, religious organizations and their representatives have the right, protected by the First Amendment, to speak out about issues and matters of public policy, and to seek to influence legislation. We encourage Catholics to vigorously exercise their freedom of speech and to bring their Catholic values into the public square.
However, our organizations may not engage in any way in any kind of partisan activity. We cannot endorse candidates or political parties, contribute funds or resources to candidates or parties, or allow the distribution of any partisan literature on Church property. The New York State Catholic Conference has guidelines that will help Catholic institutions in applying these rules.
Please note that “voter guides” (i.e., documents that compare candidate positions on issues) from outside groups are not to be distributed by parishes in the Archdiocese. Such guides may not fairly represent the issues of interest to the Church and may involve the Church in forbidden partisan political activity.
Register to vote here.
For information about the candidates in the upcoming federal, state, and local elections, click here and fill in your address.
Praying for our nation and for the candidates is a crucial aspect of faithful citizenship!