Mass. bishops release joint statement on election

Continuing their long-standing, election-year tradition, the bishops of the four dioceses of Massachusetts have released a joint statement underscoring issues of particular importance to Catholics and urging the faithful to fulfill their “civic responsibility” by exercising their right to vote.

The statement stresses the importance of the right to life, protection of the poor, protection of marriage and family, the importance of health care and housing and the obligation of the United States to use moral restraint in its efforts to defend the security of the nation.

The statement, dated Oct. 29, was signed by Boston Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley, Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman, Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell and Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus.

The bishops of Massachusetts have released a joint statement in each presidential election year since 1976, according to Gerald D’Avolio, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public-policy arm of the Church in the commonwealth.

D’Avolio, who began working for MCC in 1975, said the statement usually addresses life issues along with housing, poverty and protection of the most vulnerable in society. Sometimes the bishops have addressed “just wages” and the impact of the United States on the rest of the world, he added.

In this statement, the first issued since Sept. 11, 2001, the bishops acknowledged that “U.S. policy must be directed to the security of this nation and its people.”

But, in an apparent reference to the ongoing U.S. war on terror, bishops said, “even in defense of life and nation, moral restraint on our objectives and our methods is obligatory. The U.S. role in the world is unique in terms of power, and its sense of obligation must extend beyond our own security and welfare.”

The election statement has two purposes — to encourage Catholics to vote and to help them understand the issues within the context of Church teaching, D’Avolio said.

“The civic responsibility of the right to vote creates a moral obligation to exercise this right as citizens,” the statement said. “It also creates an obligation to participate in the electoral process with a well-formed conscience.”

Catholics must use their consciences and Catholic values to determine how to vote, but the statement is “really an encouragement to vote” because the bishops are concerned that “Catholics won’t go to the polls,” D’Avolio said.

Former Ambassador to the Vatican and Boston mayor Raymond L. Flynn has been working to address that concern for the last few months.

In June, Flynn, heading the organization Catholic Citizenship, was asked by the bishops to launch a new, nonpartisan public-policy education campaign for Catholics throughout the state.

Flynn has traveled around the state and encouraged Catholics to become more actively involved in the civic life of their community and Church by holding registration drives.

Flynn released a statement on Oct. 25 urging Catholics to take their values to the polls:

“We need men of competence and integrity who understand and support the traditional values of our nation: God, Country, and Family,” Flynn said in the statement. “When our elected officials mention promoting ‘traditional values’ or a ‘culture of life,’ they are accused of ‘injecting their personal faith’ into public office and ridiculed.”

Flynn also maintained that Catholics are able to make a difference in this election:

“We represent the largest voting bloc with over 67 million Catholics (or 25 percent) in America and 3 million (or 50 percent) in Massachusetts,” he said. “Here, we have registered thousands and distributed over 80,000 voter guides this past weekend at parishes throughout the state. Our voter guides will be distributed again this coming weekend and are available online [] as well. At the request of the bishops, we will continue our efforts to educate Catholics on public policy and ensure that we are all involved in the political process.”