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Prelates, Politicians and the Public Square

7/26/2004 - 5:00 AM PST

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Bishops Speaking Out in Many Countries

MADRID, Spain, JULY 26, 2004 (Zenit) - The debate in the United States about pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving Communion has grabbed headlines around the world. Less-publicized are the pronouncements made in past months by Catholic bishops in other countries who have drawn attention to the importance of moral principles in politics.

On Tuesday the Executive Committee of the Spanish bishops' conference released a note dated July 15 concerning the government's proposal to legalize marriages between homosexuals.

After explaining some reasons why homosexual unions should not be given this recognition, the note invited Catholics to work within the democratic system to ensure that Spain's laws defend true marriage, that is, between a man and a woman. The bishops also reminded Catholics of the 2003 note by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which says that Catholic parliamentarians have the moral duty to publicly oppose any attempts to legalize homosexual unions.

In fact, in the wake of the Socialist Party's victory in the national elections last March, the stage is set for a rise in Church-state tensions. In addition to plans to legalize marriage between homosexuals, the new government hopes to change the law governing artificial fecundation and the teaching of religion in public schools.

In an address at the Spanish episcopate's meeting May 3-7, Cardinal Antonio Rouco of Madrid declared his respect for a state that is neutral in religious matters and for the legitimate autonomy of civil authorities. At the same time the president of the bishops' conference explained that the Church does not plan to remain silent. He said it will offer what it sees as a contribution to the common good by emitting moral judgments on matters relating to politics.

Substance over form

In Italy, two key prelates recently called for a greater Christian presence in politics. Interviewed by the Repubblica newspaper on July 13, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa declared that politicians cannot relegate their faith to the private sphere.

Cardinal Bertone said that, in an ever-more secularized society, the word of God must be announced in its fullness and in its radical demands. Christian truth, he contended, must not be "amputated" so as to meet halfway the weaknesses of humanity.

Then, last Wednesday, the Repubblica interviewed Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan. Asked if he would be favorable to starting up another Christian political party to replace the disbanded Christian Democrats, the archbishop said he was unconcerned whether a specifically Christian party existed or not. A far more serious problem, he explained, is the absence of Christian values among Catholics active in political life. We need to more attentive to the substance than to the form in which Christian values are made present in politics, he observed.

At the continental level, the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community published a statement on May 10 regarding the elections for the European Parliament, which were held in June.

In their document the bishops laid out a number of areas that Catholics should look at when deciding who to vote for. Among these was the matter of respecting life. Even though the European Parliament does not legislate on issues such as abortion or euthanasia, the statement asked voters consider what types of scientific research the parliament would fund.

The bishops noted that European Union legislation has an indirect but significant impact on family life, and they drew attention to the need to support the family founded on marriage as the basic unit of society. Other points dealt with included education and youth, safeguarding the environment, welcoming immigrants, achieving justice for the poor and ensuring greater honesty in public life.

Vote with responsibility

In Mexico, in a statement issued March 25, the country's bishops called upon citizens to vote responsibly in the local and state elections, which were held in early July. They called upon voters to undertake a "serious moral evaluation" of the candidates and party platforms.

The faithful, explained the document, are free to determine who they vote for. Yet, the parties and candidates they choose should be in accord with the principles of natural law, and committed to serving the common good. For this reason, the Church has a mission to help form the conscience of Christian voters, ensuring it is guided by the ethical principles of social doctrine.

The bishops also addressed the responsibilities of Catholic politicians. They have a "moral duty" to be faithful to evangelical principles and to maintain their commitment to the Catholic faith. Therefore, they should not support ...

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