Parishes receive materials on faithful citizenship, politics
Voter registration drives authorized
In advance of the Nov. 6 general election, the diocese has sent materials to all pastors on faithful citizenship and political activities, and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is partnering with the Knights of Columbus to conduct voter registration drives in parishes in early September.
"We wished to share with pastors resources for them and their staffs as they seek to form consciences in this election year," said Helene Paharik, director of the Department for Human Dignity, who will become diocesan associate general secretary Sept. 1. "This line from a 'Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life' provides our rationale: 'The church does not wish to exercise political power or to eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions. Instead it intends -- as its proper function -- to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good.'
"This is an awesome responsibility. Especially when we are so bombarded with political messages it is difficult to find the truth about the candidates and their position on the issues, let along the eternal truth of God's revealed wisdom. We desired to provide tools to assist parish leaders in their task of forming consciences, which can be done in a variety of ways."
Among the information sent to the pastors were: the Political Action Guidelines of the Diocese of Pittsburgh; a bulletin insert on faithful citizenship; and a parish resource guide that includes prayers, lesson plans and bulletin articles to foster faithful citizenship.
"Our nation faces political challenges that demand urgent moral choices. We are a culture built on families, where some now question the value of marriage and family life," Paharik said. "We pride ourselves on supporting human rights, but we fail even to protect the fundamental right to life, especially for unborn children. We proclaim that we are the land of the free, but our first and most cherished liberty, religious freedom, is being undermined. We are a nation at war, with all of its human costs; a country often divided by race and ethnicity; a nation of immigrants struggling with immigration. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty. We are a land of opportunity where millions are under-employed. We are part of a global community confronting increasing sectarian violence, terrorism and the continued exploitation of vulnerable persons."
It is critical to understand that these moral issues do not have the same moral weight, Paharik said.
"Think about it," she said. "Even in our secular legal system, we have the scales of justice. If I steal a pack of gum from the corner store, that is a violation of the law. It is morally wrong to take what is not mine. If I murder someone, that too is a violation. However, it is much, much egregious. It makes sense then that the penalty for murder is much greater than the penalty for theft. This is true for our Catholic moral teaching.
"The church's moral teaching rooted in Scripture and our Catholic teaching helps us understand the issues. The role of the church is to form consciences for faithful citizenship. It is not to tell us for whom to vote or which party to join. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each person and his or her properly formed conscience."
The materials also outline restrictions regarding political activities that pastors and the faithful should know about, especially when it comes to doing so on church grounds.
During election years, many websites and blogs pop up with "Catholic" in their title, Paharik said.
"For official church teaching, I encourage Catholics to utilize the PCC website (www.pacatholic.org), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website (www.usccb.org) and the diocesan website (www.diopitt.org)," she said.
Bishop David Zubik has joined the bishops of Pennsylvania in authorizing the Knights of Columbus, in collaboration with the PCC, to conduct a voter registration drive, Paharik said.
"This drive is completely nonpartisan -- no candidates or issues are to be mentioned," she said. "This drive is solely about helping one another to fulfill one's civic duty to be a faithful citizen. Knights have been instructed not to proceed without their pastor's permission. The Knights of Columbus have received training from the PCC so as to comply with all civil laws and church policies regarding voter registration. New registrations for the upcoming general election must be submitted by Tuesday, Oct. 9."
The PCC also has prepared a bulletin insert approved by the state's bishops for Catholics to "know the positions of the presidential candidates," Paharik said.
"The PCC has conducted an extensive survey of the candidates asking their opinion on all the issues of concern for the church," she said. "It is a very useful tool in our formation of conscience. We cannot ignore fundamental moral concerns. We cannot condone intrinsic evils. Nor can we focus on just one or two issues. That may sound contradictory -- but we are called to avoid evil and to do good -- to protect human life and promote the common good."
There is a simple three-step process we use to describe how we can become faithful citizens, Paharik said.
"No. 1, pray," she said. "Spend time in adoration. Say a novena for our country. Say a rosary alone or with your family. Pray for the grace to engage in respectful civil discourse. Pray never to demonize people. Pray for prudence. Conscience formation is not just about engaging our mind, but reflecting in our heart and nurturing our spirit. Prayer enables us to see the world through eyes of faith and not judge the faith through the eyes of the world.
"No. 2, learn. What is your media diet? Are you accessing reliable sources? Read authoritative church teaching on the issues, seeking to understand both the evils we are to avoid and the good we are called to do. Study the voting records of the candidates. Review the official party platform and policy statements by the candidates.
"No. 3, live. Live your faith. Practice being a faithful citizen. Be a good neighbor. Love and care for those near to your family as well as those who may be far from you -- in geography, in life experiences. Affirm life, marriage, religious liberty. Protect the most vulnerable. Forgive those who offend. Foster peace in your home and in our world. Never seek a violent solution."
The materials sent to the pastors also are available at www.diopitt.org under "faithful citizenship."