Bishop Ricken

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The Most Rev. David L. Ricken is the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship – Part 2

By Bishop David Ricken | October 10, 2016

In my experience as a pastor and as a bishop, I have found that many people love Jesus and strive to be a good person, but they struggle with one (or several) aspects of church teaching, especially regarding the moral life. When a pastor or bishop speaks about morality, sometimes they are told to “mind your own business” or “you have no right to tell me how to live my life.” Yet, Pope Francis reminds each of us in Evangelii Gaudium that “The church’s pastors . . . have the right to offer opinions in all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being” (182).

In our journey as Disciples on the Way, I want to focus my efforts during this presidential election season on discussing the moral life as it pertains to how particular issues are treated by candidates and public officials. The way each of us lives his or her life affects the family, the church, society and the common good.

In discussions on the moral life, I find that some individuals do not understand the distinctions that exist between and among clusters of issues. In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops comment on two major temptations that can block our ability to promote and defend human life and dignity:

The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many.  It must always be opposed, (no. 28).

Here the bishops are clearly stating that protection of life and the dignity of the human person are foundational to the consideration of all else. Without these, especially the protection of human life, all other treatments of the human person become relative and circumstantial.

The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. The current and projected extent of environmental degradation has become a moral crisis, especially because it poses a risk to humanity in the future and threatens the lives of poor and vulnerable human persons here and now. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, pornography, redefining civil marriage, compromising religious liberty, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns, which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider church teaching on these issues. Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore, (no. 29).

Catholics are not and cannot be single-issue voters, but at the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that not every issue carries the same moral weight. Parents with more than one child understand this distinction because they know that each child has his/her own personality, strengths and weaknesses: yet every child is deserving of a full portion of their love.

During these early days of fall, and given that our children and grandchildren of school age are back to school, each of us must do our homework. Whether that means studying math, science, history, or the issues facing our country and each candidates position on them, both national and local. We must all take the time to do our research and homework.

Nov. 8 will be here before we know it, and now is the time to form our consciences and help shape the moral character of our communities and society, so that our children and grandchildren can continue to live in a country that is so abundantly blessed.

May God continue to bless you and your families!

Part I: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

Part III: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

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