The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship


The Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria, New York where I am a parishioner shares the United States bishop’s reflection “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” It serves as a primer on how a Catholic must vote in the US election. What is below is an abridged version of the document. The complete text can be read in

The US bishops make clear that they don’t tell Catholics how to vote. They said the responsibility to make political choices rest on the voter. The bishops’ advice is ever more valuable as America charts its future.

Why Does the Church Teach About Issues Affecting Public Policy?

The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith, a part of the mission given to by Jesus Christ. As people of both faith and reason, Catholics are called to bring truth to political life and to practice Christ’s commandment to “love one another.”

Who in the Church Should Participate in Political Life?

Catholics need to act on the Church’s moral principles and become more involved: running for office, working within political parties, and communicating concerns to elected officials. Even those who cannot vote should raise their voices on matters that affect their lives and the common good.

How Does the Church Help Catholics to Address Political and Social Questions?

A Well-Formed Conscience: We Catholics have a lifelong obligation to form our consciences in accord with human reason, enlightened by the teaching of Christ as it comes to us through the Church.

The Virtue of Prudence: Prudence enables us to” discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” As Catholics seek to advance the common good, we must carefully discern which public polices are morally sound. A good end does not justify an immoral means.

Doing Good and Avoiding Evil: There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always be rejected and never supported. A preeminent example is the intentional taking of human life through abortion. It is always morally wrong to destroy innocent human beings. A legal system that allows the right to life to be violated on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.

Similarly, direct threats to the dignity of human life such as euthanasia, human cloning, and destructive research on human embryos are also intrinsically evil and must be opposed. Other assaults on human life and dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, may the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.

The use of death penalty, hunger, lack of health care or housing, human trafficking, the human and moral costs of war, and the unjust immigration polices are some of the serious moral issues that challenge our consciences. And require us to act.

Making Moral Choices: Difficult political decisions require a well-formed conscience aided by prudence. The exercise of conscience begins with always opposing polices that violate human life or weaken its protection. “Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good (USCCB, Catholics in Political Life).

What does the Church Say about Catholic teaching in the Public Square?
The consistent ethic of life is committed to defend human life and other human rights, from conception until natural death. Catholic voters should use Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues and should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens “to see beyond party politics.”

The Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person

Human life is sacred. Within our society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed.

Call to Family, Community, and Participation

The family, based on marriage between man and woman, is the fundamental unit of society. This sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children must not be redefined, undermined, or neglected.

Rights and Responsibility

Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities—to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

A moral test for society is how we treat the weakest among us—the unborn, those dealing with disabilities or terminal illness, the poor and marginalized.

Dignity of Work and the Right of Workers

Economic justice calls for decent work at fair, living wages, opportunities for legal status for immigrant workers, and the opportunity for all people to work together for the common good through their work, ownership, enterprise, investment, participation in unions, and other forms of economic activity.


We are one human family, whatever our national, social, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences.

Caring for God’s Creation

Care for the earth is a duty of our Catholic faith. We are called to be stewards of the environment for now and the future.


In the light of Catholic teaching, as bishops, we repeat our call for renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak, and the pursuit of the common good. This kind of political participation reflects the social teaching of our Church and the best tradition of our nation. Source & Photo Credit: =0=

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