It is no accident that the seat of power of the Catholic Church in the U.S. rests in Washington DC, the seat of political power in the country. Similarly, the early church settled in Rome… the seat of power of the world at that time in history.

Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, tells us that the Church exists to conform the world to itself, not to conform to the world. The conformance of which Chesterton speaks is something that is done not through coercion at the point of a gun or edge of a sword. Rather it is something that one chooses or freely embraces through the exercise of reason and the action of the Holy Spirit. 
 
In a pluralistic society like the U.S., all faiths, all faiths have an equal right to express their beliefs, inculcate them in their believers, and attempt to convince the world that their way is something worthwhile, something worth conforming to.  In religious circles this is called evangelization.  This free exercise of religious is one of the foundational principals of our country and is enshrined in our first amendment to the Constitution. The migration by the Pilgrims to the New World was, and still is, the most eloquent expression of the value of this right endowed by God.
 
It is precisely within this context that the Catholic Church operates. And, like any other religion, or “ism”, e.g. secularism, paganism, materialism, it competes in the market place of ideas and attempts to influence the contemporary culture. That brings me to the hierarchy and specifically the bishops of the United States and their role in the upcoming election: they, the Catholic Bishops, will determine its outcome.
 
What the Catholic Bishops will not do and should not do is to endorse a specific candidate.  The won’t do this because that is not their role. Moreover, they can’t do this because doing so would result in a loss of their tax exempt status.
 
What the Bishops can do and should do is to forcefully teach and educate the Catholic faithful about the Church’s values, philosophies and moral imperatives that will guide the faithful on how they should vote. And, they should instruct their priests to do the same.
 
One might argue that this has already been done, with the promulgation last fall of the Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship document by USCCB.  However, a document which allows anyone to find a justification for their vote, for almost any candidate, cannot be described as providing guidance. 
 
Those who believe in the paramount importance of the right to life have easily found ample backing for their vote for a pro-life candidate that might be for the death penalty or the war.  On the other side, Catholics who are concerned about social justice issues such as opposition to the war, health care, just wages, affordable housing have also been able to justify their vote for candidates that support abortion, euthanasia, and same sex marriage and a host of other positions inimical to the Church’s teachings.

Guidance implies a steering, or navigation or direction towards something.  The USCCB’s document is more like a roundabout that takes your around a circle, and allows you to exit at any number of places, go down your own path, in your own direction, and  arriving at a final destination of your own choosing.  That is not guidance – – and the Bishops MUST do more than this. 

There are a significant number of Catholic who have already decided for whom they will vote in November, and it is doubtful the Bishops will change these minds. However, there is a middle group of swing voters, who will listen to and be influenced by the Bishops, their priest and the Church. 
 
The results of the last 12 presidential elections have been determined by a Catholic swing vote, and there is no evidence to suggest that this election season will be any different. Therefore, stating that the Catholic Bishops will determine the outcome of the 08 elections is not a leap of faith… it is grounded in fact. 
 
Will the Bishops, either collectively or individually, take firm action and issue clearer guidance to the faithful about HOW not WHOM they should vote? That is the real question.  As Catholics we have a right to receive such guidance and the Bishops have a duty to provide it.  To do less than this is to send us back to the moral roundabout of equivocation and mixed messages. 
 
The problem is quite simple.  Whether two, three or more candidates are running for office, all will likely have deficiencies when measuring up to Catholic moral teaching. However one, by definition, must measure up better or closer to Catholic ideals than the others. If that candidate is not obvious, and there seems to be a split or division among Catholics voters, then the Bishops need to provide MORE advice and guidance. Clearly this is the case in 08’.
 
It is true that law influences morality and morality influences law.  And it is further true that the individual elected President, through their actions and policies, will have a large impact on the culture, morays and yes morality of the country. If bishops are our spiritual and moral advisors, don’t they have an obligation to provide us with something more than equivocation, to enable us to make the best decision possible?  It really boils down to the fact that voting has a moral component, and morality is NOT something that is decided by popular opinion or individuals with malformed consciences.  Morality is defined by objective truth… and objective truth can be measured and known. 

What’s a Bishop to do?  That’s the real question.  Whether the country likes it or not, what the Catholic Bishops do or don’t do will determine the next president of the United States.  As Catholics we are not asking for much in requesting more guidance. We are simply asking Catholic Bishops to do their job.

James Todd is the founder of Pewsitter, a Catholic news portal.  It contains Catholic related news from around the world with a focus on the U.S.  You can find this site at http://www.pewsitter.com, your online Catholic new source for the  3rd millennium.

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