Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Common Good

Most Americans do not begrudge the Catholic Church her teachings on abortion, contraception and the sanctity of marriage. They understand that one is free to belong to the Church or not, to accept her teachings or not.

What many Americans do begrudge - some Catholics included - is the Church’s public advocacy for these issues and her attempts to influence legislation. For instance, Americans may recognize that the Church has a right to teach that marriage should be only between a man and a woman, but they do not recognize the Church’s right to speak out publicly about it, work to influence legislation on marriage or help to challenge such laws in court. According to most Americans, and some Catholics, people of faith should have no voice when these issues are debated and legislation on them is enacted.

If the issues at stake were eating meat on Fridays in Lent or attending Mass on Sunday, I would be in total agreement with most Americans. These are teachings which are binding only on Catholics and should not be imposed on the rest of society through legislation.

However, when the issues are freedom of religion, providing for the poor, protecting innocent human life and defending the sanctity of marriage, we are talking about goods that are common to all people. All people - Catholic or not - have a stake in whether the right to freedom of worship is respected. Each person, no matter his or her sexual orientation, has a stake in whether the law supports marriages and families or weakens them. These are common goods we all share. As good citizens, Catholics must be engaged in promoting the common good by working for solutions to society’s ills.

Furthermore, when injustices are being committed, it is the duty of all people, including people of faith, to speak out. When the taking of innocent human life is codified in law or societal structures are in place which undermine the dignity of human persons, the Church has a duty to oppose such laws and structures. We as a Church understand that we must use our moral authority, built up over centuries of service to the poor and needy, to advocate for those who do not have a voice.

Over the years, through centuries of reflection, the Church has built up a moral teaching covering every facet of human life and experience that is remarkably consistent. As a Church, we have a responsibility to share that treasure not just with other Catholics but with all of society. The Church, therefore, has a duty not only to spread the gospel but to work for the common good. That means speaking the truth even about matters that do not involve dogma.

Furthermore,one does not lose one’s citizenship by being Catholic. Catholics, including clergy, pay taxes on their income like everyone else. We have a right and a duty to contribute to the common good no matter what issue is being discussed and what values are at stake.

Our faith as well as our civic duty demands it of us

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