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Norbert Bufka

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What is a Faithful Citizen?



Since 1975, the United States Conference of Catholic bishops (USCCB) has been issuing a document every four years to help Catholic citizens be responsible voters. It is called Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship. It can be downloaded here:

 . This document can be very helpful in making a choice for President and other offices, if read completely and carefully.  

The bishops point out very clearly that the Church supports life from conception to natural death  while in their introductory letter they state, “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority.”  

They state in #25 that “the erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life.” The bishops make it clear that the right to life includes the need for food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, meaningful work, and necessary social services.” In #91, they write,   “We focus on what protects or threatens the dignity of every human life.” “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support.” (#42)  

The Bishops go on to say, “Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. (#17) The most important teachings of the Church in conscience formation are “the four basic principles of Catholic social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity.“ These teachings will help the voter evaluate a candidate’s views and a party’s platform, the bishops write.  The goal in all cases is to “build a better world.” (#5) Catholic voters should use Catholic social teaching to examine candidates' positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates' integrity.#41


After having done all this serious study and reflection, a voter’s conclusion might well be one of confusion rather than clarity. The bishops are aware of this and so write, “the conscientious voter may decide not to vote, or  “after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance … a morally flawed position and” more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.” (#36)


Keep in mind that priests and bishops who endorse or condemn a specific candidate are vilating the intent of Canon 287, although it has not been widely enforced.

I must challenge two statements in this document. The bishops label some actions (abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, gay marriage, and destructive use of embryos.) as “intrinsically evil”, They use this phrase ten times, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not identify any actions using this phrase.  I question the motive for using such language.

.  Pope Francis shared his perspective on life issues in his letter on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate,” No. 101: “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm, and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.“ Some bishops  proposed this language be inserted in the document, but the majority rejected its inclusion.


The second statement that must be examined is that conscience must conform to Catholic teaching.

In the formation of conscience, the Catechism teaches that a person is to reflect on the Scriptures, kneel before the Cross, be aided by the Holy Spirit and others,  “and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church”. (#1785, emphasis mine) It does not say one’s conscience must conform to Catholic teaching. I, Norbert, believe that freedom to explore moral questions enriches the Church’s teaching, not threatens it.


Review of moral teaching (Norb)

The bishops very clearly talk of many moral issues as I indicated in my brief overview. They also emphasized that some values are more important than others and some cannot be violated by voting for someone who supports moral evil. this makes one complicit in that evil, they write.

The Bishops tell us to use the four fundamental social doctrines of the Church to evaluate a candidate. These have both an individual and corporate or systemic dimension.

The inherent dignity of the human person is rooted in Genesis 1:31 where God says that all creation is good. That goodness must be respected. Killing a person is an obvious example of breaching this respect. The Church deems an embryo is a person and so must be respected and protected.  An abortion is an individual decision, not a systemic one.  Yet the Bishops have for decades treated it as a systemic decision.  No government is telling or commanding anyone to have an abortion.

State executions are also killing a person. These deaths are not individual decisions but the government, which is acting on behalf of all citizens. It is a systemic decision, not a personal one.

Policies regarding access to health care, education, clean environment, and even access to socials ervices are both systemic and personal. When the system denies access to health care or bars children from a good education as in segregated schools, the decision is no longer personal but systemic.

Systemic values are higher than personal values and so must influence our thinking in regard to voting for or against a particular candidate.

The Bishops tell us that “The common good is ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily’" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1906).

"Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good", they remind us in #90.

The principle of subsidiarity, they tell us in #48,means that local institutions, like the family or city, is the preferred group to deal with issues but the larger institution must step in whenthe local is unable to handle it.



What the bishops failed to address is the constitutional crisis that President Trump is creating by casting doubt on our voting process and very openly wanting to be dictator of the country for life. Trump has said he will not allow a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election.  This is a far larger life issue than any discussed by the Bishops.

The bishops also did not address the danger of global climate change which threatens all life in the world, also a far more serious life issue than any addressed by the bishops. Trump denies the climate change issue and removed the United States from the Paris Accords.

The document was published before the pandemic so that issue is not discussed at all but is a very relevant and serious life issue, which Trump has badly mismanaged.  The most telling example is his own contraction of the disease and exposing many others because he refused to follow the guidelines of the CDc.


Now it is time for a decision. Donald Trump has never expressed any interest in the lives lost by the pandemic, killed by police, or died in war.  In fact, he calls those killed in war “losers”. At the debate” on September 29, he refused to denounce white supremacists and fueled the fear of a fraudulent election.

He supports a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which would mean the loss of insurance for 20 million people.

He has locked immigrants in cages, separated children from their parents. He bullies and belittles those who disagree with him. He blames everything that is wrong on others, especially people of color.

A life issue which doesn’t get much media coverage is execution of criminals by the fedral and some state governments. There were no federal executions between 1963 and 2001. There were three in 2001-2003 Under George W. Bush.  There wre none from 2003 until July 2020when the Trump administration started executions again. Seven have been executed since July my opinion, government executions are premeditated murder and to use the Bishops’ language, are intrinsically evil. 

On the other hand, Joe Biden’s statements during the “debate” show he has integrity, honesty, and concern for the common good of all people.   He is guided by the social teaching of the Church.  He will also address the challenges of voting rights, the pandemic,  racism, and global climate change.  In addition, he has 47 yers of public service and knows how government works and believes n our democratic institutions.  he is pro-choice on abortion but he does not support abortion. He rather supports programs and policies which would help pregnant women so they don’t feel the need to get an abortion.

Now it is your decision. Who has the better pro-life position in keeping with the teaching of the catholic Church?


Thank you for reading the entire essay. Feel free to pass it on. You may be interested in my latest book, Crisis in the Catholic Church: What It Is and a Path to Recovery. It discusses the very deep division in the Church that is caused by the rampant clericalism, which was much of the culture that allowed clergy to sexually abuse children. Another book that may interest you is Being Catholic Becoming Faithful. In this I begin with a long discussion of faith followed by different aspects of Catholicism. Both are in the Faith Journey category on my website


Norbert Bufka has a Master of Pastoral Studies degree and is the author of more than  20 books, nine of which are faith oriented ( 


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