Election 2020: ‘Shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith’

Kelly Mescher Collins/The Catholic Mirror, Des Moines
Pro-life leaders and supporters attend a rally at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines March 2.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger


Election Day is less than eight weeks away and while the Catholic Church’s leaders do not endorse or oppose candidates, they do offer resources to help the faithful make decisions based on a properly formed conscience.

This week, the Iowa Catholic Con­ference (ICC), the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops, released a new resource “Faithful Citizenship for Iowa Catholics — 2020.” It contains a message from Iowa’s bishops, bullet points on a properly formed conscience, a list of legislative principles and information on how to vote, and a link to the “Civilize It” campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The flyer, in English and Spanish, is available on the ICC website (iowacath­olicconference.org), Facebook and other social media.

Related reading: Things to consider when choosing a candidate


The U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” includes a new introductory letter this year. The 53-page document is available on the USCCB website (usccb.org) in English and Spanish.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula highlights these lines from the introductory letter of Faithful Citizenship as a key takeaway for the faithful: “As Catholics, we bring the richness of our faith to the public square. We draw from both faith and reason as we seek to affirm the dignity of the human person and the common good of all…. Everyone living in this country is called to participate in public life…. For all Catholics, including those seeking public office, our participation in political parties or other groups to which we may belong should be influenced by our faith, not the other way around.”

Related reading: Iowa bishops say this election cycle is ‘distinguished by threats

As a companion to Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops created a series of five brief videos related to the four basic principles of Catholic social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. View the videos — most are no longer than two minutes each and one is just over 6 minutes — on the USCCB website (https://tinyurl.com/ y4fkltym).

“The church’s participation in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith,” USCCB President Archbishop Jose Gomez says in the first video. Later, he said, “We are not aligned with any party but we shine the light of faith to influence the parties to which we may belong as well as to elected officials and thus in our communities.”

Related reading: Forming Our Consciences

Additionally, the USCCB launched a “Civilize It” campaign to bridge the gap of divisiveness in our country. The campaign consists of three key elements: civility, clarity and compassion. Bishop Zinkula said the USCCB, of which he is a member, launched the yearlong initiative last year “to invite Catholics to model civility, love for neighbor, and respectful dialogue. ‘Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate’ asks Catholics to pledge civility, clarity and compassion in their families, communities and parishes, and to call on others to do the same,” Bishop Zinkula said.

Catholics take a pledge to practice:

• Civility, by recognizing the human dignity of those with whom I disagree, treat others with respect, and rise above attacks when directed at me.

• Clarity, by rooting my political viewpoints in the Gospel and a well-formed conscience, which involves prayer, conversation, study and listening. I will stand up for my convictions and speak out when I witness language that disparages others’ dignity, while also listening and seeking to understand others’ experiences.

• Compassion, by encountering others with a tone and posture, which affirms that I honor the dignity of others and invites others to do the same. I will presume others’ best intentions and listen to their stories with empathy. I will strive to understand before seeking to be understood.

ICC’s role in the public square

Tom Chapman, executive director of the ICC, spoke about Faithful Citizenship for Iowa Catholics during a Sept. 3 Lunch and Learn video conference organized by the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office.

As the public policy voice and lobbying agency for the bishops of Iowa, the ICC’s mission is “to help people form their conscience and take action in the political arena and that includes encouraging people to vote,” Chapman said. “We get to talk about religion and politics all of the time. One thing we do not do is support or oppose candidates for office.”

He covered “the basics of forming consciences in light of some principles that are important to our Catholic faith. As we do that, I will be asking you to put aside your political party and put on your identity as a Catholic and as a member of the body of Christ. We’re going to talk today as Catholics, not Democrats or Republicans,” Chapman told his audience

The faithful’s obligation to participate in political life “comes from Scripture, where basically we have two responsibilities — to love God and to love our neighbor. Everything depends on that. As Catholics, we receive the Word and the body of Christ and then we’re supposed to go out and live as Eucharist in the world. This is not an option. If we are to do justice, part of that is going to have to be in the political arena.”

Communication ramps up

In these final weeks before Election Day, Bishop Zinkula sees campaign-related questions and concerns ramp up in his office. “People have very strong opinions, on both sides of the table. I encourage them to view the candidates and issues through a Catholic lens.”

How to vote

Iowa’s voting laws have changed. If you are registered to vote, you will receive a document in the mail allowing you to request an absentee ballot. Follow all instructions carefully so your vote can be counted. You can also vote in person. Visit the Iowa Secretary of State’s website at voterready.iowa.gov to:

• Make sure you are registered to vote

• Request an absentee ballot

• Find out your polling place

Ask your candidates where they stand on issues of concern. A list of candidates with contact information is available at sos.iowa.gov.

Join the Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network to keep updated on issues in Iowa by receiving newsletters and action alerts from the Iowa Catholic Conference. Sign up at www.iowacatholicconference.org.

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