Statement on Responsibilities of
Catholics in Public Life (March 10, 2006)
States Bishops' Conference members)
A recent public statement by 55 Catholic and Democratic members of the
House of Representatives offers an opportunity to address several
important points about the responsibilities of Catholics in public life.
We welcome this and other efforts that seek to examine how Catholic
legislators bring together their faith and their policy choices. As the
Catholic bishops of the United States said in our June 2004 statement,
"Catholics in Political Life": "We need to do more to persuade all
people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended.
This requires more effective dialogue and engagement with all public
officials, especially Catholic public officials. We welcome
conversation initiated by political leaders themselves."
Therefore, we welcome the representatives' recognition that Catholics
in public life must act seriously and responsibly on many important
moral issues. Our faith has an integral unity that calls Catholics to
defend human life and human dignity whenever they are threatened. A
priority for the poor, the protection of family life, the pursuit of
justice and the promotion of peace are fundamental priorities of the
Catholic moral tradition which cannot be ignored or neglected. We
encourage and will continue to work with those in both parties who seek
to act on these essential principles in defense of the poor and
At the same time, we also need to reaffirm the Catholic Church's
constant teaching that abortion is a grave violation of the most
fundamental human right -- the right to life that is inherent in all
human beings, and that grounds every other right we possess.
Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation on the vocation and mission
of the laity, "Christifideles Laici," which the representatives'
statement cites, declares: "The inviolability of the person which is a
reflection of the absolute inviolability of God finds its primary and
fundamental _expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all,
the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights --
for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to
culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic
and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights,
is not defended with maximum determination……. The human being is
entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception
until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick,
whole or handicapped, rich or poor" (38).
While it is always necessary to work to reduce the number of abortions
by providing alternatives and help to vulnerable parents and children,
Catholic teaching calls all Catholics to work actively to restrain,
restrict and bring to an end the destruction of unborn human life.
As the Church carries out its central responsibility to teach clearly
and to help form consciences, and as Catholic legislators seek to act
in accord with their own consciences, it is essential to remember that
conscience must be consistent with fundamental moral principles. As
members of the Church, all Catholics are obliged to shape our
consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church.
As bishops, we too are bound by our own consciences to teach faithfully
and to recommit ourselves to continued reflection and discussion on how
Catholic faith and public service can work together to promote human
life and dignity and advance the common good. Through dialogue,
especially the irreplaceable dialogue between Catholic political
leaders and their own bishops, we hope to promote a better
understanding of how the Church's teaching on human life and dignity
challenges us all.
Cardinal William Keeler
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Pro Life Activities
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
Chairman, USCCB Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Domestic Policy