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The Catholic New World

John Carr: “This is about persuading people to share and act on our values. We’re trying to change hearts and minds, to change the culture to respect life and pursue justice and peace.”

Catholic New World photos/David V. Kamba

A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today’s Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.


September 26, 2004
‘Faithful citizenship’ an obligation for Catholics

Voters around the United States are confronted nearly everywhere they turn with political messages as the country moves towards the Nov. 2 election in one of the most starkly divided partisan atmospheres in memory.

But Catholics are called to make their political decisions based not on party labels, but on Christian values of human life and dignity, as the bishops make clear in their document “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.”

John Carr, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops secretary for Social Development and World Peace was to be in the Archdiocese of Chicago at the end of September, speaking on “Acting on Our Convictions: Catholics and the Political Process” at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Dominican Priory Campus, 7200 Division, River Forest. He spoke by telephone with staff writer Michelle Martin.


The Catholic New World: What makes a faithful citizen?

John Carr: In some ways, one of the most counter-cultural things the Catholic Church teaches is not that human life is precious or that the poor should come first. It’s that politics is a good thing. The bishops teach that citizenship is a virtue, and that political participation is a moral obligation.

We believe that public life is enriched, not threatened, when people look at their choices, including their political choices, through their deepest convictions. After all, politics is about life and death, war and peace, who moves ahead and who gets left behind, and our faith gives us a different way of looking at these choices.

For believers it’s not “the economy, stupid.” This election is about more than our own pocketbooks. For us, the question is not, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Our question is, “Are we better off? Are the unborn protected? Are the poor lifted up? Are the elderly cared for and the hungry fed?”


TCNW: How can Catholic voters weigh so many different issues?

JC: I come from a mixed marriage. Both my parents were Catholic, but my mom was a committed Republican and my dad is a die-hard Democrat. I learned at an early age that we can express our values in different ways.

This is not an easy time to be a Catholic voter; sometimes we can feel politically homeless. But that requires more involvement, not less, more participation, not sitting on the sidelines. The Scriptures call us to be the salt of the earth, to be the leaven in society. We can’t just wring our hands and complain. More Catholics, more faithful Catholics, need to get involved and run for office so we have better choices.


TCNW: What do you do in an election where you can’t find a good choice?

JC: Politics is not about one election or one campaign. Citizenship is an everyday task. We need to vote our values and then continue to try and persuade whoever is elected to respect human life and dignity.


TCNW: So Catholics need to make their voices heard between elections as well?

JC: And to understand it’s not about just counting votes on the first Tuesday in November. This is about persuading people to share and act on our values. We’re trying to change hearts and minds, to change the culture to respect life and pursue justice and peace. That’s not a task for the next six weeks; that’s the task of a lifetime.


TCNW: How does your office do that in Washington?

JC: We spend much of our time encouraging ordinary Catholics to see that faithful citizenship is part of what it means to be a good Catholic. We can’t leave our values outside the voting booth, and we can’t forget about our principles as we engage in public debate.

At times like this, it’s important that our faith shape our politics and not our politics shape our faith.


TCNW: What can parishes and their people do to encourage faithful citizenship?

JC: They can share our message—we have lots of wonderful materials available—they can pass out information, they can encourage people by how we pray and how our pastors preach, how we educate the young people and how we form the rest of us. They ought to listen to pastors like Cardinal George, who is articulating the church teaching clearly and consistently.

Parishes can do voter registration or non-partisan voter education. Parishes need to call all of us to be active and involved and informed so that we can be the leaven for society.


TCNW: What does it say about our effectiveness as leaven that neither of the major presidential candidates returned their questionnaires to the bishops’ conference?

JC: I think it says that they found it to be a very difficult questionnaire to answer, because it’s not predictable. Our questions, our values, are not politically correct for either party. They don’t fit the categories of Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.

The sad thing about this campaign is we’re talking about a war that happened 35 years ago and not one that’s going on today. We’re not talking about unborn children. We’re not talking about poor children. We have to use our voices and our votes to get back to the fundamental issues of human life and dignity.

Because of what we believe, we’re not free to forget about unborn children because of a Supreme Court decision or ignore the needs of immigrants because they don’t vote or to forget about children in poverty because a welfare bill has passed.

To read “Faithful Citizenship,” visit www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship.



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