Individual Conscience In Moral Decision Matters At Core of Catholic Tradition
Earlier this week, in their response to vice presidential nominee Senator Joseph Biden’s recent comments about abortion, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops missed the mark on political discourse in the United States.
On “Meet the Press” last weekend, Senator Biden stated that it is “inappropriate in a pluralistic society” to impose his religious views on “everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout” than he is. Senator Biden’s comments reflect that he is following his conscience—a requirement of church teaching. They also reflect that he holds in high esteem the Catholic teaching that requires respect for other people’s decisions.
Individual conscience in matters of moral decision making is at the core of the Catholic tradition—and the public policy views of Catholics in the United States reflect this tradition. Catholics, like people of other faiths, believe that abortion should be legal and support its availability. Like the majority of Catholics nationwide, Senator Biden also supports policies that help ensure affordable contraception, safe and legal abortions, comprehensive sexuality education and affordable health care for all people in this country.
Senator Biden is to be commended for recognizing the proper place for personal religious conviction in the political arena. As a Catholic, he has a responsibility to inform his conscience and decisions with church teaching; as a policy maker, he has a responsibility to his constituents and to the people of many religious faiths and no faith that make up the foundation of America.
It is telling that on the eve of the final Congressional session of 2008, the secretariat of pro-life activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a series of print ads outlining the bishops’ opposition to embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. The ad “campaign” was launched as Congress returns for its final session and the two political parties gear up for a tight presidential campaign and many congressional races. This leaves no doubt as to the bishops’ priorities in this election year.
The bishops have once again chosen to place themselves at the center of the political discussion on abortion. While the bishops continue in their attempt to make reproductive rights the single national issue that Catholic should vote on, Catholic voters themselves place much greater priority on the basic bread-and-butter issues that most affect our country—the economy, war and health care.
Protection of religious freedom is mandatory and guaranteed in our pluralistic society. Thankfully, there are Catholics in public life, such as Senator Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who want to inform their actions by their faith, their conscience and the voices of their constituents. They want to protect the freedoms of all Americans, from every faith group and no faith group. They know that by letting conscience and voters guide them—and not bending to the dictates of the Catholic bishops—they will best serve all Americans.
This entry originally appeared on 14 September 2008 on The Hill’s Congress Blog.