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Faithful Citizenship is the mindful consideration of public policy and voting issues through the lens of the Church’s teaching.

It is also a call to action to become involved with legislative policy and to exercise the right to vote, so as to protect human life, uphold human dignity, and promote the common good.

The Wisconsin Catholic Conference has prepared resources to help Catholics reflect on what it means to be a faithful citizen, based on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.

We invite you to read the 2024 Letter from Wisconsin’s Bishops  + Overview of Catholic Social Teaching (Spanish).

Read the Wisconsin Bishops Letter

For Parishes: Looking to spread the word about Faithful Citizenship in your Flocknote or social media? Click here.

Our Call as Catholic Citizens

Politics, for its part, should always be understood not as an appropriation of power, but as the ‘highest form of charity,’ and thus of service to one’s neighbor within a local or national community. – Pope Francis

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) helps to discern which public policies and politicians best embody a respect for human dignity and the common good. This is especially important at election time. As the U.S. bishops said in November 2023, “On these often complex matters, it is the laity’s responsibility to form their consciences and grow in the virtue of prudence to approach the many and varied issues of the day with the mind of Christ.” To form our consciences, the following questions can help Catholics discern who best embodies the principles of CST.

Where does a candidate stand on:

  • protecting human life from conception to natural death?
  • preserving the state ban on abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and the death penalty?
  • upholding the innate equality, dignity, and complementarity of male and female?
  • protecting marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman?
  • respecting the family and parents as the primary educators of their children?
  • providing resources to vulnerable women and children?
  • protecting religious freedom at home and abroad?
  • eliminating violence, whether by guns, war, terrorism, torture, abuse, or trafficking?
  • assuring basic support for people living in poverty, domestically and internationally?
  • treating all migrants and refugees with dignity and respect?
  • eliminating racism?
  • increasing access to housing, healthcare, and education?
  • upholding the dignity of work and the rights of workers?
  • preserving our environment and natural resources?
  • and all that promotes human dignity and the common good?

CST does not neatly fit into party platforms. Rather, it reflects ethical principles that can unite all people. As faithful Catholics and American citizens, we are all called to participate in public life with the mind of Christ. Learn more from the full USCCB document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (FCFC): English | Spanish

Explore the Issues

Forming Consciences

As the U.S. bishops explain, “the United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination” (FCFC, 11).

As Pope Benedict XVI noted, “The Church is not a political power, nor a political party, but rather a moral reality, a moral force. Inasmuch as politics should be a moral reality, on this track the Church fundamentally has to do with politics” (Interview en route to Mexico, March 23, 2012).

And Pope Francis explains, “The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being…An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics’, the Church ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 182-3). 

As a moral voice in the public square, the Church must remain independent of any political party, faction, or candidate. Within the Church, clergy and laity have different but complementary roles. The charism of the clergy is to preach the Gospel message so that all may form their consciences properly. The charism of the laity is to transform the culture. In the political arena, lay men and women do this by voting, serving in public office, supporting or opposing candidates, forming political parties, educating voters, and developing or influencing public policy between elections. 

Yes, but the key is that the individual conscience must be well-formed. As Pope Francis has written, “We should recognize how in a culture where each person wants to be bearer of his or her own subjective truth, it becomes difficult for citizens to devise a common plan which transcends individual gain and personal ambitions” (Evangelii Gaudium, 61). For Catholics, conscience presupposes some knowledge of a higher moral law. This higher or divine law comes to us from Scripture, Church teaching, and natural law.

The U.S. bishops also explain that “When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts” (FCFC, 14).

As the U.S. bishops explain, the challenges facing our nation are many. However, as their 2023 FCFC Introductory Note points out, the following areas are particularly pressing: “The threat of abortion remains our pre-eminent priority because it directly attacks our most vulnerable and voiceless brothers and sisters and destroys more than a million lives per year in our country alone. Other grave threats to the life and dignity of the human person include euthanasia, gun violence, terrorism, the death penalty, and human trafficking. There is also the redefinition of marriage and gender, threats to religious freedom at home and abroad, lack of justice for the poor, the suffering of migrants and refugees, wars and famines around the world, racism, the need for greater access to healthcare and education, care for our common home, and more. All threaten the dignity of the human person.”

As the U.S. bishops explain, “Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to sub-human living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” (FCFC, 34). 

“There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (FCFC, 35). 

“When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” (FCFC, 36). 

“In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching” (FCFC, 37). 

Life & Dignity of the Human Person

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Of all visible creatures only man is ‘able to know and love his creator.’ He is ‘the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake,’ and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity…Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone” (no. 354, 357).

This dignity is the very basis for all human rights. As Pope Francis explains, “Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights…” (Evangelii Gaudium, 213).

“Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this…This defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development” (Evangelii Gaudium, 213).

As the U.S. bishops explain,“The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights – to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors – basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work – is universally binding on our consciences and may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best ways to respond to these needs” (FCFC, 25). 

“Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the indiscriminate use of drones for violent purposes; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; to oppose human trafficking; and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort after all peaceful means have failed, and to end the use of the death penalty as a means of protecting society from violent crime. We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God. We stand opposed to these and all activities that contribute to what Pope Francis has called ‘a throwaway culture’” (FCFC, 45).

Marriage & Family

As the U.S. bishops explain, “The family founded upon marriage is the basic cell of human society. The role, responsibilities, and needs of families should be central national priorities. Marriage must be defined, recognized, and protected as a lifelong exclusive commitment between a man and a woman, and as the source of the next generation and the protective haven for children. The institution of marriage is undermined by the ideology of ‘gender’ that dismisses sexual difference and the complementarity of the sexes and falsely presents ‘gender’ as nothing more than a social construct or psychological reality, which a person may choose at variance with his or her biological reality (see Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 224). As Pope Francis has taught, ‘the removal of [sexual] difference creates a problem, not a solution’ (General Audience, April 15, 2015). ‘Thus the Church reaffirms…her no to ‘gender’ philosophies, because the reciprocity between male and female is an expression of the beauty of nature willed by the Creator’ (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Jan. 19, 2013)” (FCFC, 70). Even as the Church upholds this teaching on marriage, family, sexuality, and gender, it affirms that no one–including those struggling with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria–should be subject to unjust discrimination. Every person is created in the image and likeness of God and deserves to be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358). 

As the U.S. bishops explain, “Pope Francis has stressed, ‘Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity’ (Address on the Complementarity Between Man and Woman, Nov. 17, 2014). Children who may be placed in foster care or with adoptive parents have a right to be placed in homes with a married man and woman, or if not possible, in environments that do not contradict the authentic meaning of marriage. Child welfare service providers, consistent with their religious beliefs, have a right to place children in such homes rather than in other environments. We oppose contraceptive and abortion mandates in public programs and health plans, which endanger rights of conscience and can interfere with parents’ right to guide the moral formation of their children” (FCFC, 71).

As the U.S. bishops explain, “Policies on taxes, work, divorce, immigration, and welfare should uphold the God-given meaning and value of marriage and family, help families stay together, and reward responsibility and sacrifice for children. Wages should allow workers to support their families, and public assistance should be available to help poor families to live in dignity. Such assistance should be provided in a manner that promotes eventual financial autonomy” (FCFC, 70). 

Religious Liberty

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience is “based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth…” (no. 2106). To be a free human person largely means to use human reason, to search for truth, and to live out that truth both in public and in private. As religion is concerned with the highest truth, it is essential that people have religious freedom. This freedom must never be coerced, for to do so is to injure the individual in his or her relationship with God. While religious liberty is not an absolute right, if people cannot freely pursue God and universal truth, they are not truly free.

As the U.S. bishops have written, “Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas. What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it. Religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so. Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations…This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue” (Our First, Most Cherished Liberty). 

Protecting religious freedom, “our first and most cherished freedom,” in the U.S. also “offer[s] hope and an encouraging witness to those who suffer direct and even violent religious persecution in countries where the protection is far weaker” (FCFC, 72).

From ending the slave trade, to securing civil rights, from erecting hospitals and schools, to helping the unborn, the homeless, and the hungry–people of faith have led the way.

Poverty & Economic Justice

The Church calls on us to use all our spiritual, moral, and intellectual energies to create a new order – “a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied” (St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 35).

As the U.S. bishops explain, “Economic decisions and institutions should be assessed according to whether they protect or undermine the dignity of the human person. Social and economic policies should foster the creation of jobs for all who can work with decent working conditions and just wages. Barriers to equal pay and employment for women and those facing unjust discrimination must be overcome. Catholic social teaching supports the right of workers to choose whether to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively, and to exercise these rights without reprisal. It also affirms economic freedom, initiative, and the right to private property” (FCFC, 73).

As Pope Francis has written, “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control…Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions” (Evangelii Gaudium, 56).  

Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us. But this does not absolve us from our responsibility to help liberate those living in poverty. As the U.S. bishops explain, “Welfare policy should reduce poverty and dependency, strengthen family life, and help families leave poverty through work, training, and assistance with child care, health care, housing, and transportation. Given the link between family stability and economic success, welfare policy should address both the economic and cultural factors that contribute to family breakdown. It should also provide a safety net for those who cannot work. Improving the Earned Income Tax Credit and child tax credits, available as refunds to families in greatest need, will help lift low-income families out of poverty” (FCFC, 75). To learn more about how poverty entraps people and what can be done about it, watch this video from Poverty USA and review the resources of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

As Pope Francis has written, “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading…To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us” (Evangelii Gaudium, 53-54).

Immigration & Solidarity

The Church teaches that “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him. Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2241). 

As the U.S. bishops have written, “[t]he Church recognizes the right of a sovereign state to control its borders in furtherance of the common good. It also recognizes the right of human persons to migrate so that they can realize their God-given rights. These teachings complement each other. While the sovereign state may impose reasonable limits on immigration, the common good is not served when the basic human rights of the individual are violated. In the current condition of the world, in which global poverty and persecution are rampant, the presumption is that persons must migrate in order to support and protect themselves and that nations who are able to receive them should do so whenever possible” (Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, 39).

As the U.S. bishops explain, “Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary” (Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, 38). For its part, “The Church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education, and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the respect of the human dignity of all—especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances” (Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops). As the Wisconsin bishops acknowledge in their 2012 pastoral letter, Traveling Together in Hope, the rule of law is essential to maintaining a stable society. However, they explain that Americans “have to acknowledge that some of our foreign and domestic policies and practices have contributed to the illegal entry of immigrants. Our nation’s incessant demand for inexpensive goods and services is one of the driving forces behind the export of American jobs and the hiring of immigrant workers. Our nation is a magnet for immigrants because there is work here and because of the international disparity in wages. Our aging population needs younger workers.”

As the U.S. bishops explain, “Comprehensive reform…should include a broad and fair legalization program with a path to citizenship; a work program with worker protections and just wages; family reunification policies; access to legal protections, which include due process procedures; refuge for those fleeing persecution and violence; and policies to address the root causes of migration. The right and responsibility of nations to control their borders and to maintain the rule of law should be recognized but pursued in a just and humane manner” (FCFC, 81). Learn more at the USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants website and Immigration Reform page.

As Pope Francis explains, “The Church stands at the side of all who work to defend each person’s right to live with dignity, first and foremost by exercising the right not to emigrate and to contribute to the development of one’s country of origin. This process should include, from the outset, the need to assist the countries which migrants and refugees leave. This will demonstrate that solidarity, cooperation, international interdependence and the equitable distribution of the earth’s goods are essential for more decisive efforts, especially in areas where migration movements begin, to eliminate those imbalances which lead people, individually or collectively, to abandon their own natural and cultural environment” (Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 2016).

Care for Creation

As the U.S. bishops explain, “Protecting the land, water, and air we share is a religious duty of stewardship and reflects our responsibility to born and unborn children, who are most vulnerable to environmental assault…There are many concrete steps we can take to assure justice and solidarity between the generations…Our Conference offers a distinctive call to seriously address global climate change, focusing on the virtue of prudence, pursuit of the common good, and the impact on the poor, particularly on vulnerable workers and the poorest nations. The United States should lead in contributing to the sustainable development of poorer nations and promoting greater justice in sharing the burden of environmental blight, neglect, and recovery. It is important that we address the rising number of migrants who are uprooted from their homeland as a consequence of environmental degradation and climate change. They are not currently recognized as refugees under any existing international convention and are thus not afforded legal protections that ought to be due to them” (FCFC, 86).

As Pope Francis explains, “Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health’…To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and ‘whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor’. Still, attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density, on both national and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste treatment, loss of resources and quality of life” (Laudato Si’, 50).

More Resources from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

  • Read the full document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States: English | Spanish
  • New 2023 Introductory Note to Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: English | Spanish
  • What does it mean to form my conscience? English | Spanish
  • Watch the five videos: English | Spanish.
  • Check out the USCCB website for additional resources and updates: English | Spanish

Guidelines for Church Involvement in Electoral Politics

Policies of the Wisconsin bishops that clarify what activities and efforts are appropriate for Church officials and agencies during a political campaign and what activities are prohibited.

Wisconsin Voting Information

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2024 Letter from Wisconsin’s Bishops + Overview of Catholic Social Teaching

Our Call as Catholic Citizens Bulletin Insert

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