55 Pro-choice and pro-life Roman Catholic Democrats in the US House of Representatives banded together today and issued a remarkable joint statement on how their faith commonly influences their roles as elected officials:
As Catholic Democrats in Congress, we are proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition -- a tradition that promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net to those individuals in society who are most in need. As legislators, in the U.S. House of Representatives, we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being. We believe that government has moral purpose.
We are committed to making real the basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the poor and disadvantaged, protecting the most vulnerable among us, and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country. That commitment is fulfilled in different ways by legislators but includes: reducing the rising rates of poverty; increasing access to education for all; pressing for increased access to health care; and taking seriously the decision to go to war. Each of these issues challenges our obligations as Catholics to community and helping those in need.
We envision a world in which every child belongs to a loving family and agree with the Catholic Church about the value of human life and the undesirability of abortion - we do not celebrate its practice. Each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term. We believe this includes promoting alternatives to abortion, such as adoption, and improving access to children's healthcare and child care, as well as policies that encourage paternal and maternal responsibility.
In all these issues, we seek the Church's guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience. In recognizing the Church's role in providing moral leadership, we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas. Yet we believe we can speak to the fundamental issues that unite us as Catholics and lend our voices to changing the political debate -- a debate that often fails to reflect and encompass the depth and complexity of these issues.
As legislators, we are charged with preserving the Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom for all Americans. In doing so, we guarantee our right to live our own lives as Catholics, but also foster an America with a rich diversity of faiths. We believe the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties.
As Catholic Democrats who embrace the vocation and mission of the laity as expressed by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici, we believe that the Church is the "people of God," called to be a moral force in the broadest sense. We believe the Church as a community is called to be in the vanguard of creating a more just America and world. And as such, we have a claim on the Church's bearing as it does on ours.
Click here to visit Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro's website for a complete list of the endorsers of this statement.
E. J. Dionne Jr. writes today in The Washington Post:
The statement is only six paragraphs, which gives it clarity and focus. After a paragraph on Catholic social teaching about the obligations to "the poor and disadvantaged," the writers get to the hard issue, insisting that "each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term."
What's significant is that this is not a statement from pro-choice Catholics trying to "reframe" the abortion question. The signatories include some of the staunchest opponents of abortion in the House, including Reps. Bart Stupak, Dale Kildee, Tim Holden, James Oberstar and James Langevin.
In other words, Democrats on both sides of the abortion question worry that it is crowding out all other concerns. And in very polite language, the Catholic Democrats suggest that their bishops allow them some room to disagree....
With any luck, this statement will provoke two debates, one outside the Catholic Church and one inside.
One of the troubling aspects of 2004 was the extent to which partisan politics invaded the churches and seemed to enlist them as part of the Republicans' electoral apparatus. But there is a difference between defending the legitimate right of churches to speak up on public questions and the hyperpoliticization of the church itself.
For Catholics with moderate or liberal leanings, the argument from some bishops that they could vote only for staunch foes of abortion posed a wretched dilemma. It seemed to demand that such voters cast their ballots for conservative or right-wing candidates with whom they might disagree on every other question -- social justice, war and peace, or the death penalty. All are areas where liberals are often closer to the church's view. "Our faith does and should affect how we deal with issues," DeLauro said. "But we're rebelling against the idea of a one-issue church."
Those that did endorse this letter should be applauded. I hope that Republican Roman Catholics in Congress will join in fighting for the principles in the statement. Too many Republicans have tried to misuse religion for partisan political gain. All Americans should say no to this kind of shameful behavior.
Related Post: Not All Roman Catholics Are The Same
(Thanks to Catholics for Faithful Citizenship for sending along this information)