Pittsburgh Prelate Outlines Importance
of the Common Good
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, 18 DEC. 2003 (ZENIT).
Pittsburgh Bishop Donald
Wuerl wants Catholic voters to refocus on the vision of the common good in
the presidential election next year.
That's why he and the other members of the U.S. bishops' conference
released in October "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political
Responsibility" a document that implores Catholics to take the demands
of their faith and the needs of others seriously in 2004.
Bishop Wuerl shared with ZENIT the inspiration behind the prelates' appeal
for Catholic voters to support public policy that will benefit all, seek a
political party that fits the Catholic moral framework and get involved in
Q: The bishops insist that "politics in this election year and beyond
should be about an old idea with new power the common good." What is the
"common good," exactly?
Bishop Wuerl: We speak of the common good as the recognition that we are
not just individuals but part of a wider community. As such, our rights
must be considered in relationship with the rights of everyone else. Our
legitimate goals and desires must be realized in the context of the
aspirations of others.
The common good is the result of balancing the basic rights and
responsibilities of every person so that we may find a way to live
together in interdependence, harmony and peace.
Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in his masterful encyclical letter "Sollicitudo
Rei Socialis," celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's
encyclical "Populorum Progressio," on the development of peoples, wrote in
section No. 38 that the common good to which we are called to commit
ourselves is "the good of all and of each individual, because we are all
really responsible for all."
In his equally insightful encyclical "Centesimus Annus," on the 100th
anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum," on capital and labor, Pope
John Paul II describes the common good as "not simply the sum total of
particular interests; rather it involves an assessment and integration of
those interests on the basis of a balanced hierarchy of values;
ultimately, it demands a correct understanding of the dignity and the
rights of the person."
In recent years, we have lost an important element of the vision of the
common good and its ability to call us beyond ourselves. This is true in a
great part of the world today, but unfortunately is all too evident in our
own country. So much of our focus today as presented by politicians,
judges, intellectuals, teachers, media commentators and opinion makers is
solely on individual rights.
While it is important to recognize individual rights, we cannot do so at
the expense of the balance that must be achieved between individual rights
and the rights of everyone living together in community. If we think of
the balance as a scale, then we need to weigh equally individual rights
and the rights of the whole community.
We have traffic laws not because an individual does not have a right to
drive from one point to the other as quickly as possible but because
without some regulation of the rights of individuals there would be chaos,
not to say catastrophe, on the highways. By common consensus we agree to
stop when the light is red and to allow other traffic to move while the
light is green.
We relinquish to some extent the exercise of an individual right so that
the rights of all might be exercised in harmony and peace.
It is fair to describe the so-called American mind-set as arguably more
individual than communal, more competitive than cooperative, and,
generally, more self-focused than other-directed. We should not be
surprised by this condition.
Several generations have had their views formed by an information and
entertainment industry that has promoted and fostered the prominence of
individual rights in music, television, movies and every form of
electronic and print media.
If we were to examine our legal system, our court processes, our public
education and in no small part our political processes, we would quickly
realize that many vested interests, pressure groups and lobbyists have
lost the focus and vision of the common good. Today too many see the world
in a very limited perspective.
Responsible citizenship calls us to step beyond the immediacy of our own
needs so that we can work together for the satisfaction of the needs of
everyone in a manner that acknowledges the dignity of each person. Perhaps
an example might help.
For many decades now we have lamented the condition of public education in
too many parts of our country but particularly in the large urban centers.
Yet so many of the parties who control the levers of power in the roles of
union leaders, school boards and politicians seem to have looked away from
the only reason we have schools for the quality education of our
In all of the national debate over choice in the funding of education you
almost never hear anything about the effectiveness of our educational
efforts for our children. The only way we know how poorly our children are
doing is from personal experience or independent studies of the
educational system that all too frequently yield shockingly inadequate
The common good demands that all the participants in the educational
enterprise work together for the benefit of our children. So, too, in all
endeavors, the common good requires that we function as a community not
just as individuals.
What the Church calls us to, and I believe it is part of the basis for
"Faithful Citizenship, A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility," is
the recognition that there is a right order of things. There is a natural
moral law. We are created with an inherent human dignity.
At the same time we are social beings. We cannot truly flourish in
isolation from one another. Thus we need to balance our personal rights so
that all of us can live together in unity and peace.
Q: The bishops said that a Catholic moral framework doesn't easily fit
with the platform of any political party. But the bishops are concerned
mainly with family and life issues. Will that lead most Catholic voters
toward one particular party?
Bishop Wuerl: Given the diverse background, history and socioeconomic
condition of Catholics throughout this land and the fact that no political
party platform adequately reflects Catholic teaching, it is doubtful
whether Catholic voters as a bloc, if such a thing exists, would tend
towards either one of the two major political parties today.
An interesting concept was recently raised among talk show programs. The
question was: "Is it time to form a third political party that focuses on
moral values particularly one that embraces a combination of pro-life
and pro-social justice issues?"
The argument went something like this. In Europe there is a range of
political parties in countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
These are all democratic lands, and yet those who see moral issues at the
core of the political process can effectively exercise their voice through
the concerted effort of a small third or fourth party that is necessary to
form a coalition government.
While our political tradition does not lend itself to such an approach, it
seems that within our two major political parties today there should be
space for an articulate Catholic voice that speaks to a consistent ethic
involving life, family and economic development.
Q: Why don't more practicing Catholics get involved in political life?
Bishop Wuerl: Historically and this has been verified over and over
again by study after study anti-Catholicism has been and continues to be
a part of the fabric of the United States. It is an ugly and dirty thread.
It runs through the fabric because the Catholic Church has consistently
taken stands that are rooted in moral reality and are sometimes not
popular or politically expedient.
However, because these stands are deep-seated in conviction, they are not
subject to the type of political pressure that can force another
organization or religious group to modify its position.
In a hierarchical Church whose teaching is rooted in Revelation, it is
simply impossible to change that teaching to agree with the political
correctness of the hour. Thus a Catholic politician is going to be suspect
at best and under enormous pressure to bend faith convictions to the
political needs of his or her party.
Some Catholic politicians have stood up to the pressure and have in fact
enunciated the values consistent with the faith they profess. However, the
positions of other Catholic politicians are not always consistent with the
faith they claim to profess.
I hope that more and more young women and men today will see the dire need
to interject values, particularly family and human life values, into our
political system and society and thus step forward. This is not a Catholic
issue. This is a human issue. Family and human life are not Catholic
doctrines. They are basic human realities.
I remember speaking with a young aspirant to political life who asked why
the Church did not address political issues more directly. I pointed out
to him that it is the task of bishops to proclaim the teaching of Christ
and the principles that underlie Christian living. It is the task of
politicians to translate those principles into action.
His response was, "You have the easier part." I do not dispute his view.
That may be the reason why we do not have as many practicing Catholics in
politics as we should.
Nonetheless, many Catholic politicians actively practice their faith and
are a great testimony to their own personal integrity and to the good they
can accomplish within the political process.... ZE03121725
Tells What Top Political Issues Catholics Should Consider
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, 19 DEC. 2003 (ZENIT).
voters going to the polls next year must first assess what is the most
urgent issue facing the United States.
So says Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, who shared with ZENIT his
thoughts on the responsibility of Catholic voters as outlined in the U.S.
episcopate's recent statement, "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to
Bishop Wuerl stressed that the primary issue the nation faces is the
question of who has authority over human life, and that every Catholic's
duty is to choose candidates who support human life as the sovereign gift
He also noted issues that Catholics often overlook when voting....
Q: What are the top issues Catholics need to consider when choosing a
Bishop Wuerl: To answer this question one must first assess what is the
primary or most urgent issue facing the nation.
A hundred and fifty years ago it would have been slavery. Despite all
kinds of arguments in favor of slavery, it simply would have been wrong to
vote for people who insisted on maintaining the institution of slavery.
Among a host of arguments in favor of slavery, many took the position that
a slaveholder had a right to make a personal choice. Others argued for the
need to allow slavery in order to secure economic prosperity.
Regardless of the argument brought forth, it simply would not have been
right to condone or justify voting for politicians who supported slavery
or even those who said they were opposed to slavery personally but wished
to guarantee the right of everyone to make their own choice.
Over 50 years ago in another part of the world, legislation reduced a
whole class of people Jews to second-class citizenship. This view led
to the justification for concentration camps. Were a voter given a choice,
one could never justify voting to support such a regime.
Today, the primary issue that our nation faces is the question of who has
authority over human life. For millennia we have always understood that
human life is a gift from God. We are stewards of that gift, not
sovereigns over it.
Now there is an entirely different viewpoint that enjoys enormous media
support. This view maintains that we, human beings, are the true
sovereigns of human life and that we can simply take a human life whenever
we believe a person is burdensome or inconvenient to us.
Abortion in the United States is the single most egregious affront to the
basic dignity of life. With the death toll well over 40 million, it stands
alongside slavery and genocide as shameful examples of legal but immoral
One hundred years from now I believe people will look back on this
generation and wonder how it was possible that we deluded ourselves into
thinking and then enshrining in the law of the land the principle that
the right to life is arbitrary and is protected only for those whose lives
are deemed worthy. History will not look kindly upon a society that
embraced the concept that if a person's life is inconvenient to you, you
can simply kill him or her.
Just as we wonder how it had been possible for people to keep human beings
as slaves, as chattel, so future generations will look back and wonder how
we could so cavalierly kill our unborn children.
In choosing a candidate the primary issue should be whether the candidate
recognizes and supports human life as the sovereign gift of God and
Q: What are some important issues that Catholic voters often overlook?
Bishop Wuerl: When we speak of Catholic voters I think we have to make an
My understanding is that there is data to support that Catholics who
regularly attend Sunday Mass and who participate in the life of the Church
tend to embrace and support the Church's social justice teaching. They
also tend to be pro-life and typically support the concept that we need
far more freedom and justice when it comes to the equitable distribution
of the cost of the education of children.
On the other hand there are a substantial number of people who consider
themselves to be Catholics but who receive almost all of their information
about the teaching of the Church through the public media. In other words,
their view and understanding of what the Church teaches and proclaims is
filtered and often faulty. This group of Catholics tends to respond to
issues much like any segment of the general populous. They simply are not
well informed on what the Church teaches and why it does so.
The challenge for the Church is to get its views and positions and the
rationale that supports them to the public in an unfiltered manner. Very
often when the Catholic position is clearly and accurately presented, its
innate attractiveness and truthfulness becomes both apparent and,
Some of the issues that are often misunderstood as much as overlooked are:
the Church's teaching on the continuity and dignity of life from
conception to natural death; the obligations of the natural moral order
governing the generation and termination of human life; the definition of
marriage; and the right of all persons to have access to a share of the
goods of the earth.
For over 100 years, the Church has articulated a corpus of social doctrine
based on Gospel principles. This enlightened doctrine has historically
helped to mold and formulate legislation and public policy in areas of
health care, labor and human relations, social assistance and the proper
balance of human rights within the common good.
The foundations of this doctrine are as solid and applicable today as ever
and it is the responsibility of all Catholics to apply that doctrine to
their actions as faithful citizens.
The Church's social doctrine invites us to be grateful for the vitality of
the prophetic voices who speak for the unborn, the poor, the homeless, the
victims of racism and sexism, the elderly and those who face physical and
That same teaching challenges us so that we might see our world as God's
handiwork that calls for our care and our stewardship. The goods of the
earth are not without limits, nor can they be squandered without regard
for future generations.
At the same time, the Church in her social doctrine calls us to reflect on
and affirm the vocation of the laity in the world of business, education,
labor, medicine and politics as transforming agents of society. Especially
important today is the vocation of the politician who is called to
represent us in the task of building a good and just society.
What is often overlooked is the reasoning that supports the Church's
social doctrine. For example, the Church's teaching on the inherent
sacredness of every human life is rooted in the reality that the dignity
of the human person does not derive from any achievement, accomplishment,
productivity or external talent or attribute.
We are created in the image and likeness of God and are called to a divine
destiny that transcends earthly life. An understanding of that unalterable
reality necessitates an acceptance that every human from the moment of
conception until natural death is to be cherished and considered worthy of
reverence and respect.
It is for this reason that the Church defends so intensely the dignity of
persons against all forms of slavery, exploitation, manipulation and
domination, whether these are inflicted in the field of politics,
economics, medicine and science, or whether they are derived from cultural
or ideological demands.
Flowing from the God-given dignity of the human person are certain
inherent rights that must be protected and defended. Of particular
importance is the right to religious liberty. This touches the
transcendent core of the person, the spirit, and reveals a point of
reference and becomes the measure of the other fundamental rights. Our own
Declaration of Independence recognizes the rights rooted in nature and
nature's God of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. ZE03121924