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Eye on the

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinMay 21, 2004 Issue 

U.S. Bishops approach political issues as humanity experts

Every day, Catholics in the U.S. have a broad array of experience in serving others

By John Huebscher

photo of John Huebscher
John Huebscher

In his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, ("On Social Concern"), Pope John Paul observes that the church is "an expert in humanity."

This expertise is the accumulated wisdom and insights nurtured over two millennium of ministry to human beings of all stations in life. It is this wisdom borne of our faith history that the bishops of the U.S. have in mind when they identify "everyday experience" as one of the three assets Catholics bring to the public life of our nation.

As the USCCB document, Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility, reminds us, every day Catholics in the United States live out a broad array of experience of service to other people in need.

Catholic educators teach in schools and universities. Other Catholics care for the sick, shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, and assist needy families. Still others welcome refugees, minister to those in jail and prison and reach out to others marginalized by chance and circumstance.

Our experience of direct service and ministry allows us to see the human faces one cannot see by looking at position papers. We see the flesh and blood that cannot be conveyed by statistics and reports. For us, the issues are not abstract and theoretical. They touch the fabric of every day life.

Those who approach policy as members of an occupation tend to view policies in light of how they affect their work place. Those who define policies in terms of their impact on an economic group will tend to assess issues in light of how they touch their pocketbook. Those who define things in partisan terms will assess issues in light of their impact on vote totals and election outcomes.

The faithful citizen, on the other hand, assesses issues and policies with a broader vision, framed by the collective Catholic experience of ministry to those in need.

For example, where most citizens weigh questions of public safety as a parent and homeowner, the faithful citizen is also informed by the insights of those who heal victims, perform prison ministry, and teach values.

Or, many will assess economic questions through the prism of a business owner who takes risks in order to create wealth or that of a worker who earns his pay by meeting another person's expectations. A Catholic will measure those same issues in light of their impact on employer and worker alike. The faithful citizen will consider, as well, the Church's vision that weighs economic activity in light of its impact on the human person and its effect on the person's role in fostering God's creative design.

Finally, a faithful citizen is not discouraged by failure. Rather he or she takes to heart the words of the Holy Father that "Anyone wishing to renounce the difficult yet noble task of improving the lot of man - because the struggle is difficult and that constant effort is required, or simply because of the experience of defeat and the need to begin again, that person would be betraying the will of the Creator" (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #30).

The tempered wisdom of such an "expert in humanity" is yet another asset for those seeking something better than politics as usual.

(Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops.)

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