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Review of USCCB's "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship"

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship


With this being a mid-term election year, I thought it would be best to start with the U.S. bishops' "elections document", Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

The cover/title page of the U.S.C.C.B.'s "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" document
U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops

While the intention of this book may be to help Catholics better discern how they should vote in elections, the material is neither concise nor clear nor timeless.

First, the lack of conciseness. At 26 pages long (not including appendices), this is not a quick, little "voter's guide for Catholics". Although it isn't intended to be a voter's guide (it says so in the Introductory Note), that is the main reason people will pick this up in the first place. While a bait-and-switch tactic might be a useful way to get Catholics to learn more about their faith (e.g., Compass/Crown ministries gets people through their finances, but they end up doing a Bible study), its contents would be need to be unambiguous to do so successfully.

This brings us to point #2: the lack of clarity. At many times, this booklet seems to be "speaking out of both sides of its mouth." While trying to be non-partisan, it raises issues that are clearly partisan in the United States (the intended audience). It tries to say that certain issues must never be compromised, but fails to list those explicitly. It also suggests that some topics must not be forgotten while not compromising on the other points, leading to confusion as to whether you should vote for anybody at all!

Finally, for a Church document, it is nowhere near the standard of papal encyclicals for timelessness. Vatican documents like the writings from the Council of Trent (from the 16th century) or Rerum Novarum (from the 19th century) are as relevant now (or even more so!) as they were when first written. This USCCB document is a sad shadow of such writings, attempting to sound authoritative for all time while making references to contemporary issues like "the war in Iraq". (Honestly, in just 20 years from now, one might be asking "which war in Iraq?" Even now, just 2 years after this latest revision of the document, Iraq is no longer a campaign issue.)

A good recommendation I can make for the proper understanding of this book would be to read another guide as well, like Catholic Update Guide to Faithful Citizenship (look for upcoming review to be posted soon).

Better yet, do what I did: get a group of people together to study it (there will be another study that starts in late February of 2014 at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Winter Park), one section at a time, to discuss its contents - paying special attention to where it references other documents like those of then-Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), e.g., "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life". Reading the referenced material - in context - will yield a much better understanding of this muddy, "made by committee" hodge-podge of authentic Catholic beliefs co-mingled with modernist social justice musings.

I cannot recommend this booklet without an informed, orthodox guide. With a guide, it can deepen your understanding of the faith. Without such help, it can only serve to confuse you more (which is sad at this critical point in our nation's history).

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