Catholic voters reminded to consult ‘Faithful Citizenship’ as guide

This logo appears on materials, study guides and videos related to the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial “Faithful Citizenship” document that provides guidance to Catholic voters during a presidential election year. CNS

With election day coming up, Catholic voters are reminded to take their responsibility to vote seriously. 

The U.S. bishops encourage voters to read and reflect on the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” which is rooted in the Catholic Church’s long-standing moral tradition that upholds human dignity and the common good of all, according to Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“The document is meant to give Catholic voters an opportunity to reflect upon how their faith intersects with their political and civic responsibilities,” said Archbishop Coakley.

One thing “Faithful Citizenship” is not is a mandate on which candidate for public office to vote for, Archbishop Coakley said.

“No candidate will likely reflect all of our values,” he told Catholic News Service in August. “But I think we need to begin in prayer. We need to know our faith. We need to study our faith. We need to have recourse to the Catechism and what it might teach about certain questions.

“This document is intended to be that, an official guide for the formation of consciences that Catholics can utilize as they weigh these questions,” the archbishop said.

Furthermore, he continued, “the Gospel cannot be parsed in political or partisan terms. The Gospel calls us to live by standards and our Catholic faith calls us to embrace standards that are not divisible into left or right, Republican or Democratic terminology.”

“Faithful Citizenship” draws from the teaching of Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, St. John Paul II, St. John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council, and “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.”

The introductory letter reminds Catholics that “we bring the richness of our faith to the public square” and that “faith and reason inform our efforts to affirm both the dignity of the human person and the common good of all.”

The letter also says, “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed. At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity, such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

It concludes by reminding Catholics to “bring their faith and our consistent moral framework to contribute to important work in our communities, nation and world on an ongoing basis, not just during election season.”

The full document also is available in Spanish, with accompanying videos available in English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. The English language videos, along with links to other USCCB Faithful Citizenship resources, are available at

On the Tennessee Register’s Faithful Citizenship resources page, links are available to the full text of the bishop’s document and more. 

Archbishop Coakley said the bishops expect the guidance offered in the “Faithful Citizenship” materials will gain wider attention this year.

“My hope and prayer is that Catholics who really want their faith to influence their decision-making when it comes to going to the polls will give the reflections in this document consideration rather than just going to their favorite news source,” he said. “That’s going to be a very different kind of guidance than what they receive from their favorite cable news anchor or pundit.

“This is our chance to bring a different light to bear to a very important fundamental civic responsibility.”

Faith Alive No. 30, Part 1: Document ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship’ examined

CNS illustration; photo by Paul Ratje, Reuters

When facing a tough decision, it can be tempting to look for the comfort of having someone else tell us what to do.

Turning to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in late 2019, Catholics looking for clear-cut answers to the question “How should I vote?” will be disappointed.

The document states: “We bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth” (No. 7).

Can the guidance at least be captured in a tweet? According to the bishops, discussion of how voting might be informed by a moral framework consistent with Catholic social teaching requires many more characters.

In contrast with voter’s guides that boil the assessment down to the single question of which moral issues are “nonnegotiable,” the bishops recognize that Catholic social teaching indicates several more layers of reflection.

The document explains: “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” (No. 42).

But it is well worth digging into the analysis: “Forming Consciences” offers a rich and beautiful vision of the values and principles that can inform Catholic participation in public life and decisions about political platforms and candidates.

Let’s work with a quote from Pope Francis in the introductory letter. Pope Francis states that the call to holiness requires a “firm and passionate” defense of “the innocent unborn.” At the same time, he also describes as “equally sacred” “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.”

What to do when no political party’s platform, and none of the candidates on the slate, seem to conform with the full integrity of these concerns?

The first temptation, the bishops note, is to miss the ethical distinctions between different issues: “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception to natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed” (No. 28).

But their analysis does not stop there. They also warn against a second temptation: to misuse this distinction as an excuse for ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity, such as the moral crisis of environmental degradation and racism. These, and several other crucially important issues, “are not optional concerns which can be dismissed” (No. 29).

At this point, some might think: This is so frustrating. Why can’t they just state clearly what is the right answer?

Church teaching appreciates that a healthy society should allow for robust discussion about a variety of political parties and proposals. In 2002, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the congregation explained what gives rise to a plurality of parties and strategies in concrete political action.

As the congregation described, this plurality arises “because of the contingent nature of certain choices regarding the ordering of society, the variety of strategies available for accomplishing or guaranteeing the same fundamental value, the possibility of different interpretations of the basic principles of political theory, and the technical complexity of many political problems.”

Even if Catholics hold a shared moral vision of the evils that should be avoided and “the good that we must do” (No. 24), that shared vision does not equate with a single “right answer” in politics.

For this reason, in “Forming Consciences” the bishops explicitly encourage Catholics to develop the virtue of prudence, “the charioteer of the virtues.”

Prudence enables us “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (No. 19, Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1806).

Prudence also helps us to discern how clear moral principles might apply in the particular circumstances, as well how to evaluate “a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity and ability to influence a given issue” (No. 37).

If prudence is the “charioteer” driving toward the good, “Forming Consciences” also offers a helpful guardrail: the voter’s intent. Recognizing that voters may face truly difficult situations in which all candidates support unacceptable moral positions, the bishops explain that a Catholic may never vote for such candidate “if the voter’s intent is to support that position” (No. 34).

In contrast, “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.”

When there is a truly grave moral reason for the choice, the voter’s intent, not the “nonnegotiable” character of the policy topic, is determinative (No. 35).

As the bishops note in their introduction, challenges abound: “At all levels of society, we are aware of a great need for leadership that models love for righteousness, as well as the virtues of justice, prudence, courage and temperance.”

If reflection on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” is also pursued in light of those same virtues, we might hope for important steps forward in living out the call to holiness together, to “work with Christ as he builds his kingdom of love.”

– – –


Amy Uelmen is a lecturer in religion and professional life at Georgetown Law School. She holds a Bachelor of Arts, juris doctorate and juridical science research doctorate from Georgetown, and a master’s degree in theology from Fordham University.

Faith Alive No. 30, Part 2: What is at stake when we vote?

CNS illustration; photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

What is at stake when we vote? The question echoes ceaselessly at election time.

Many prepare to vote by asking what is at stake for them, their families or others they care about. Many reflect on what is at stake for their nation’s future and the wider world. Happily enough, these kinds of questions sometimes prompt us to reevaluate our presuppositions and stances on issues.

In preparing to vote I aim to recognize what is at stake, while realizing that an election is a beginning, not an end. Afterward, my concerns may well continue.

Catholic leaders encourage voters to prepare by listening, reading, consulting and considering how a particular election engages their values.

Regrettably, not everyone votes. Some think their vote won’t matter. Some conclude that the political realm is uninterested in them. Some say that their life allows no time to vote.

Would it help to think of voting as a means of putting faith into action and contributing to society’s well-being?

“We bring the richness of our faith to the public square,” the U.S. Catholic bishops affirm in a letter approved late in 2019 to introduce and supplement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their document currently reissued one year before each U.S. presidential election.

Racism is an issue consuming American society at the time of my writing. “The wound of racism continues to fester,” the bishops’ letter plainly states.

The chairmen of seven U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committees said May 29, four days after 46-year-old George Floyd died during his arrest in Minneapolis, that they were “broken-hearted, sickened and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes.” Nationwide protests followed Floyd’s death.

Will racism appear in some straightforward manner on any upcoming ballot? Evaluating moral issues at election time often means looking beyond the surface and slogans of the candidates and policies placed before us.

But social and political issues typically have a moral dimension. Public policies, after all, impact human lives. The bishops’ letter mentioned many such issues. Abortion, the bishops reaffirmed, “remains our preeminent priority.” Abortion, they noted, “directly attacks life itself.”

Other issues also pose “serious threats to human life and dignity,” and cannot be ignored, said the bishops. They mentioned “racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

They called assistance for individuals and families struggling “to make ends meet” a “pressing” concern, and they accented the urgency of immigration reform.

Gun violence and xenophobia “affect human life and dignity,” the bishops observed. They also urged resistance to “the throwaway culture.”

Does preparing to vote, then, involve contemplating the positive or negative impacts an election could have on human life and dignity?

A sentence in the bishops’ letter that captured my attention reads, “Our approach to contemporary issues is first and foremost rooted in our identity as followers of Christ and as brothers and sisters to all who are made in God’s image.” The word “identity” made me think.

What kind of person do I intend to be? What are my deepest hopes for society? How does my faith factor into this? These are questions about identity, about who I am.

I don’t envision political ads that present the broad spectrum of issues facing voters as a call to work for “justice and healing” or to “affirm the dignity of the human person and the common good of all,” to borrow some words of the bishops.

Political ads inform us what candidates believe is at stake in an election. But a genuinely vital question remains: What do you or I conclude is at stake?

– – –

(Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editorial staff for 37 years.)

Faith Alive. Rediscovering a sense of place: Appalachia’s story

Two bishops’ pastoral letters and one “people’s pastoral” are seen on the Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s website. CNS photo/Catholic Committee of Appalachia

Many people suffer the loss of “a sense of place” when a region that is like home to them is exploited or abused in large ways.

Places that afford us a sense of place have played major roles in our lives. They mirror key dimensions of our identity back to us.

Many in the U.S. region called Appalachia know what the loss of a sense of place means. The Catholic Committee of Appalachia said in its 2015 people’s pastoral letter titled “The Telling Takes Us Home” that harmful mining practices and other damage to streams, towns or mountain vistas harmed not just “the landscape.”

Rather, some developments, like “extreme mining activity,” exacted a toll on the “sense of place and of home.” Those living in Appalachia’s mining areas “and beyond often grieve the loss of home as they would the loss of a dear friend.”

For 50 years the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has served as an advocate for this region. “The truth of Appalachia is harsh,” its first pastoral letter affirmed.

Released in 1975 and signed by 25 Appalachian bishops, it was titled “This Land Is Home to Me.” It explored a sense of powerlessness in this often forgotten region, which it called “the spiny backbone of the eastern United States.”

It stressed that “the suffering of Appalachia’s poor is a symbol of so much other suffering.” It stands as a “symbol of the suffering which awaits the majority of plain people in our society if they are laid off, if major illness occurs, if a wage earner dies or if anything else goes wrong.”

Thus, “at stake is the spirit of all our humanity.” Indeed, said the pastoral letter, “there are too few spaces of soul left in our lives.”

I contributed a chapter to a 1987 book titled “A Sense of Place.” Visiting any locale that evokes this sense is always more than “a trek into the past,” I wrote. It means revisiting one’s roots.

These are places populated in our memories by people who fulfilled unforgettable roles in our lives.

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, while my wife and I, for reasons of health safety, were unable to participate in our parish’s Sunday Mass, we turned to Sunday Masses livestreamed by St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, some 1,200 miles from us.

My alma mater is the university this Benedictine abbey conducts. Its well-known contemporary church designed by Marcel Breuer was completed during my student years.

Upon logging into the Sunday Mass, I immediately felt at home. I experienced the indelible sense of place I’ve described. I wrote in the book chapter:

“St. John’s is a place, a small place. A boy of 18 goes there to spend four of the most formative years of his life. When he leaves, his world has grown much larger.”

But imagine sometime finding this place converted unrecognizably (for business or other reasons) to some entirely different purpose. My sense of loss would prove overwhelming.

Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s “people’s pastoral” spoke of such loss, explaining:

“Studies have confirmed higher rates of depression in the coalfields, often related to this loss of place. People of faith would be right to consider this grief a kind of spiritual death.”

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia plays a vital role in making its region’s compelling story widely known. If it is a story of fearsome shadows cast over workplaces, homes, neighborhoods and stunning mountain ranges, it is a story also of the efforts undertaken to create sustainable communities of many kinds and restore hope.

“There is a growing sense of apocalypse, the gradual revelation that the old order of things is coming to an end. … But beyond apocalypse … a new world is being revealed, and this should give us hope,” the committee’s 2015 message forcefully stated.

An accent on social justice characterized the 1975 pastoral letter. Twenty years later a second pastoral letter focused equally on care for the earth, a form of caring intertwined essentially with care for human life.

Titled “At Home in the Web of Life,” it insisted that economics “should not undermine human dignity and community, nor the dignity and community of nature. It needs to remain rooted in the web of life.”

It is fascinating to note points of convergence between the work of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia and Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’.”

“The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning,” Pope Francis remarked. For “anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink,” returning to such “places is a chance to recover something of their true selves.”

Regrettably, care for “our common home” is deficient nowadays, Pope Francis made clear. Recall, he urged, that “the entire material universe speaks of God’s love. … Soil, water, mountains: Everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”

Faith Alive. Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s models of ministry

A man in Naoma, W. Va., is seen near the a mountaintop removal coal mine on Kayford Mountain Aug. 19, 2014. The Catholic Committee of Appalachia, a membership-based organization, has served Appalachia, the poor and creation since 1970. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Unlike many Catholics who flocked to central Appalachia in the wake of “This Land Is Home to Me,” the 1975 Appalachian bishops’ pastoral letter, I was a native. As a 10th generation West Virginian, I grew up immersed in the culture and could code switch like a champion. So there was no culture shock for me. What I found myself sorely lacking was any idea how to structure a parish ministry.

Of course, I was well aware of the region’s history of invasion by “do-gooders” who came and went, leaving a legacy of bitterness and dependency. I was determined to be sensitive to people’s expressed needs, not my preconceived notions. So instead of starting a program upon arrival in southeastern Kentucky, I investigated other programs that were successful.

I loved stories and books, which made the county adult literacy program a perfect fit. Reading was a skill that would stay with my students and assist them long-term. It gave them pride and the realization that they, too, had ideas to contribute.

The program was directed by a Rochester, Minnesota, Franciscan Sister Mary Cullen. She invited me to the fall meeting of an area organization, Catholic Committee of Appalachia — a meeting devoted to studying and discussing “Models of Ministry.”

Listen. Consult. Collaborate. The words exploded in my consciousness! It was a heady combo of Myles Horton meets Paolo Freire, and absolutely intoxicating. I floated on the waves of Catholic social teaching on solidarity and subsidiarity flowing through the discussion.

Ministry was about accompaniment and being with, working with — not working and doing for. Local people know what they want and need, so listening and forming relationships is foundational.

But most exciting, in joining CCA, I gained a network of experienced Catholics ministering in the area, endeavoring to employ a more respectful model — encouraging local people to use their own skills to help their communities prosper.

It wasn’t quite that simple, of course. I overlooked the fact that rural Appalachians tend to be so kind and generous that they’re reluctant to tell someone respected that they’re not keen on an idea. That’s one reason relationships are key. I have to like and trust you before I’ll tell you you’re crazy.

On Saturdays, when people came to town to shop, I sometimes stopped at a little social center for some lively conversation. Folks sat in comfortable, if slightly beat-up, chairs, enjoying coffee and watching TV.

I was gradually accepted, and when they discovered I was Catholic — a rarity in the area — they told me about a sister there some years before. She “meant well” they said fondly. She visited the center and decided it would be nice if the women learned to knit or crochet, instead of just sitting around. They smiled politely, or indulgently, at the idea (they were no doubt already skilled).

Encouraged, Sister supplied yarn on certain days, along with woodworking tools for the occasional men. However, in a matter of weeks, the number of folks present dwindled to zero. She despondently halted the “improvement” program, which miraculously restored attendance.

Many in this group were isolated during the week, and at the time, it wasn’t unusual not to have a telephone. “She was very sweet. We couldn’t bear to tell her,” they explained with genuine regret. “We love just visiting and seeing the TV!” But then, Sister never asked; she just decided.

That experience really drove home the message of my colleagues in CCA. Don’t assume, consult. When in doubt, ask. Don’t do it yourself, collaborate. And collaborate we did, expanding a network of successful projects and a forum for advice and sharing.

I am tremendously grateful for Catholic Committee of Appalachia members and its approach to ministry, both of which delivered me from serious pitfalls and overreach. My focus became empowering others, rendering myself superfluous. I found the model to be valid, based on truth: People have the inner resources to realize their own hopes and dreams, wherever they are.

Faith Alive No. 32, Part 1: Women’s right to vote: 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment

CNS illustration; photo by Nancy Wiechec

If you’ve ever read about someone suffering the ravages of a hunger strike and the violence of forced feeding, you have an insight into what the women who secured the right to vote for American females had to go through.

It wasn’t a neat and tidy process.

The 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which secured voting rights for American women, is Aug. 18.

But as a powerful film in PBS’ “American Experience” series makes clear, women weren’t “given” the vote; they won it through decades of hard struggle, proving once again that freedom is never free.

When civil rights icon John Lewis died in July, his remarks on the anniversary of the attack on the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, were widely quoted: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble and redeem the soul of America.”

The women who fought for over 70 years for the vote got in trouble, good necessary trouble.

Changing the U.S. Constitution is not an easy thing, nor should it be. And when the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, a small minority of Americans could vote — mostly property-owning white males.

In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. That’s over 70 years before the 19th Amendment. Most of those who attended that convention would be dead before the ballot was secured for women nationwide.

Alice Paul, born in 1885, took a leading role in advancing the cause. She had worked for suffrage in England, and she brought tactics back to the U.S., including picketing, protesting, parades and yes, even a hunger strike from jail. Many American women were incarcerated as they worked for the vote.

In 1913, on the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as president, 8,000 women marched with banners from the Capitol to the White House to stand up for voting rights. Wilson was unwilling to endorse the idea, even though many Western states had already granted women the vote. Wyoming’s women won the vote in 1869, and some women voted in territories that hadn’t yet been admitted to the Union.

In January 1917, 18 months of picketing began at the White House. The picketers endured verbal abuse and sometimes even physical attacks. In August 1917, 10 suffragists were arrested.

In 1918, Woodrow Wilson finally endorsed women’s suffrage.

Article V of the Constitution presents a complex procedure for adding an amendment to that document. Two-thirds majorities in both the Senate and the House were required, and 36 state legislatures had to ratify the 19th Amendment to make it the law of the land.

One sad and ironic aspect of the struggle was that Black women joined the fight, but their efforts were not wholly embraced. Had the movement made an issue of Black enfranchisement, many Southern states, where vicious Jim Crow laws prevented Black men from voting, might recoil from opening the door to Black women as well. So the enthusiasm of Black women wasn’t seen as part of a winning strategy.

This only serves to underscore that in the struggle for equality in the U.S, it’s often the Black American who is left at the end of the line. It’s all the more reason why we should stand up for the fight for justice that our neighbors of color continue to wage now.

The vote was secured for every woman in the nation, but it took years for some states to add their names. For example, South Carolina didn’t ratify the 19th Amendment until 1969, North Carolina in 1971.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We must not forget that the arc bends because people are willing to stand up and fight to bend it.

In our country, there are those who still seek to repress the vote, particularly for minorities and the poor. Voter ID laws, whose proponents justify them by making false claims of fraud, make it harder for the young, minorities and the elderly to vote.

Thousands of polling places in the country have been closed, according to a USA Today analysis, often in the poorest neighborhoods.

COVID-19 adds to the struggle. Good, experienced poll workers are often retirees, and now many feel it’s in their best interest to stay home. People fear standing in long lines, yet some authorities try to suppress mail-in balloting by false claims of fraud.

As American Catholics, we treasure our right to vote as a sacred duty. When we walk into the polls or put our ballot in the mail, we know that we don’t vote alone. We vote with all those who have struggled before us to win this precious right, and we pledge to make it accessible to all.

Faith Alive No. 32, Part 2: Centenary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment: Women’s leadership

Members of the National Council of Catholic Women are seen with President Herbert Hoover in 1929. Even after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Catholic women faced an uphill battle. CNS photo/Library of Congress

As we mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote, for most it will not be a shock to learn that the Catholic Church was not out front in the movement for women’s suffrage. In fact, some of the Catholic women who were prominent writers when the movement was gaining ground were more known for their anti-suffrage views.

It was only with growing appreciation for women’s contribution to the World War I war effort, and for their voices in support of more just labor policies that a stronger tide for Catholic support began to turn.

As historian Jeanne Petit recounts, even after the 19th Amendment was ratified, Catholic women faced an uphill battle. A 1921 declaration by Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer of Milwaukee is indicative: “Man is made by God to fight the public battles, not the woman.”

In response, the laywomen of the newly formed National Council of Catholic Women warned that dismissing their work would only play into the hands of those who hope to submerge a Catholic contribution to the broader culture.

What gave these Catholic women their hopeful drive to continue to organize? The anonymous author wrote: “The vision and wisdom of Catholic women will save us from that day … for we live our faith when we realize that we are all parts of the body of Christ — the church.”

Thankfully, a host of courageous and committed trailblazers persevered in their efforts to open the paths for women to bring robust contributions to public life. And their central insight still illuminates our work: Our greatest contributions to public life emerge when we all realize that we are part of the body of Christ.

How might the power of that transformative message be conveyed today? We might take a clue from the methods of the suffragists themselves.

In 1910, Alice Paul returned to the U.S. after spending time with British movement leaders, bringing a host of creative ideas for how to communicate to a much broader audience what was at stake in the drive for suffrage. The National Woman’s Party that she founded helped people to visualize their cause, with photographs, drawings, parades, pickets, boycotts and hunger strikes.

If she were to spearhead a movement strategy today, I think she would greatly appreciate the role of film in depicting the contribution of women’s insight and leadership. In her honor, let’s turn to a scene from the most recent “Star Wars” movie, “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019).

The heroine Rey and her two male companions are drawn by quicksand into an abandoned underground spaceship. As they poke around, they suddenly face a very large and very angry desert serpent. The two men raise their weapons, but Rey indicates that they should hold their fire.

To their astonishment, Rey moves closer to the serpent, stepping into the creature’s coil. From there, she is able to actually see what the problem was: It was wounded. Rey then places her hand on the wound as healing power emanates from her body. The creature then freely moves out of the way of the explorers’ path.

In the film, “force healing” is not limited to women. And after this incident, Rey humbly comments to the droid BB-8: “You would have done the same.” Nonetheless, the image beautifully depicts the vision and wisdom of women in leadership roles: the insight to know when to lower one’s weapon, the courage to step into places of anger or pain, and the power to be a healing presence.

The centenary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment represents a wonderful opportunity to revive a hopeful vision of the body of Christ enriched by the contributions of women and men together. In turn, this hope will help us to draw more fully on the resources, energy and insight that the church can offer for the service of public life and the common good.

Faith Alive. No. 31, Part 1: What does the Catholic Church teach about nuclear weapons?

This meme accompanies Part 1 of Faith Alive! No. 31. CNS illustration; photo by Paul Haring.

On Aug. 6 and 9 the world will observe the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The 75th anniversary raises the question: What does the church teach about nuclear weapons?

Two popes have visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki to highlight the dangers of nuclear war and to mourn its victims. St. John Paul II made the first papal visit in 1981. Last November, Pope Francis made the second.

Since the 1945 bombings, popes have addressed and developed the teaching on nuclear weapons in consistent and increasingly urgent ways. The bishops of the United States have amplified and applied this teaching.

So what does the church teach about nuclear weapons? Its teaching is anchored in a concern to protect human life, an acknowledgement that peace is ultimately built on justice and a need to place strict moral limits on the use of force.

Any use of force must be proportional and discriminating. Force must not cause evils greater than what it aims to achieve. Force must discriminate between combatants and civilians.

In 1954, Pope Pius XII argued that “every possible effort must be made to avert (atomic warfare) through international agreement.”

He condemned “the pure and simple annihilation of all human life within the radius of action.” Pope Pius made the moral argument that the use of force must be limited to “self-defense” within “rigid limitations.”

St. John XXIII built upon this teaching in his 1963 encyclical letter, “Peace on Earth”: “The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned.”

The Second Vatican Council was equally clear that “any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities … is a crime against God and man himself.” The council maintained that the arms race “is not a safe way to preserve a steady peace.”

Instead of eliminating the “causes of war,” the arms race aggravates them. “Extravagant sums” are spent on weapons and not on the underlying causes of conflict and the “multiple miseries” afflicting humanity.

St. Paul VI called “development, the new name for peace” in his 1967 encyclical letter, “On the Development of Peoples”: “For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of … a more perfect form of justice.”

Pope Paul also inaugurated the annual World Day of Peace (Jan. 1) in 1968. In the first papal Peace Day message, he decried “frightful weapons of extermination” and the expenditure of “enormous financial” resources that “hinder(s) the development of so many other peoples.”

Addressing diplomats in 2003, St. John Paul II was emphatic. “‘NO TO WAR!’ War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.” He singled out “those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons.”

Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 starkly warned “those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries.” He called their viewpoint “completely fallacious.” “In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims,” he added.

Pope Francis has frequently addressed the moral and life-threatening dangers of nuclear weapons. In a message to the 2014 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, he wrote: “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for … peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.” He decried how expenditures “on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations.”

The U.S. bishops have issued two pastoral letters on the issue, “The Challenge of Peace” (1983) and “The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace” (1993). In the first, they called upon the whole world to “say ‘no’ to nuclear conflict; ‘no’ to weapons of mass destruction; ‘no’ to an arms race which robs the poor and the vulnerable.”

In the second, they asserted: “The eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is more than a moral ideal; it should be a policy goal.”

What about the role of “nuclear deterrence”? In 1983, the U.S. bishops echoed the 1982 judgment of St. John Paul: “In current conditions ‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”

Decades later, the church has reexamined “current conditions.” Nuclear deterrence has not led to “progressive disarmament” and a global nuclear ban. In fact, the nuclear powers are investing heavily in modernizing nuclear arsenals.

Given these conditions, in Hiroshima, Pope Francis declared: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral.” Earlier this year, the U.S. bishops’ International Justice and Peace Committee highlighted the efforts of Pope Francis and reaffirmed the longstanding “moral obligation to recommit to the work of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.”

The church’s teaching is clear and compelling. World leaders should work for a mutual, verifiable ban on nuclear weapons and instead invest in peace.

Faith Alive. No. 31, Part 2: The church on nuclear abolition

This meme accompanies Part 2 of Faith Alive! No. 31. CNS illustration; photo by Paul Haring.

This coming August marks not only the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II but also of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From the very beginning, nuclear weapons have been controversial.

Controversy swirls around them again, as the nine nuclear-armed powers engage in a new arms race under the name of “modernization,” and as the United States and the Russian Federation have abandoned the treaties that for decades had regulated their deployment in the name of deterrence.

One question facing defense experts and arms controllers is whether in today’s geostrategic conditions the world can any longer trust in the kind of conventional arms control used since the 1960s to deter nuclear war, or whether the more reasonable thing is to aim directly at the elimination of nuclear arsenals.

For, as President John F. Kennedy said in 1963, not long after the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear disarmament is “the necessary rational end of rational men.”

That same spring St. John XXIII declared in the encyclical “Pacem in Terris” that “nuclear weapons must be banned.” The goal of negotiation, he argued, ought to be “ultimately to abolish them entirely.”

Two years later the Second Vatican Council, after noting how “the horror and perversity of war is immensely magnified by the addition of scientific weapons,” solemnly declared, “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.”

At the height of the Cold War, however, first St. John Paul II and then the U.S. Catholic bishops in their 1983 pastoral “The Challenge of Peace” allowed for a strictly conditioned acceptance of nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes only.

Earlier, however, St. John Paul on a visit to Japan had urged “that we will tirelessly strive for disarmament and the abolition of all nuclear arms.”

Thus, for 60 years the church’s view has been that abolition of nuclear weapons should be the goal of international nuclear policy.

In the years following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, it appeared that the policy of deterrence could continue be justified because, as the “Challenge of Peace” had prescribed, there was significant progress toward disarmament.

But, since the early 2000s that progress has stalled. The other strict conditions identified by the bishops have not been met. Arsenals, though reduced by 85%, remained far in excess of the minimal levels required for deterrence.

More important, the nuclear postures of both Russia and the U.S. contemplate the use of nuclear weapons against a variety of nonnuclear targets: chemical weapons, terrorism and even to avoid defeat in a conventional war. The firewall between nuclear and conventional forces, so central to the morality of nuclear weapons, had completely collapsed.

For those who cared about such things nuclear weapons were losing their legitimacy. For a number of years Vatican diplomats decried deterrence as “the chief obstacle” to negotiating the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Then, in 2017, Pope Francis “condemned” the use, the threat to use and the very possession of nuclear weapons, thereby proscribing deterrence.

The papal condemnation followed the adoption by a U.N. conference in July that year of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In September 2017, the Holy See signed and ratified the treaty.

The condemnation of deterrence is the clear teaching of Pope Francis in line with the teaching of his predecessors. He has publicly reiterated the condemnation several times, most recently on his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki last November. The 75th anniversary is time for American Catholics to make it their own.

Faith Alive, No. 28, Part 1: Returning to Mass: Unexpectedly familiar moments

This meme accompanies Part 1 of Faith Alive! No. 28. CNS illustration; photo by Katie Rutter.

The first weekend of quarantine, my husband and I decided we were not going to attend Mass. Things weren’t publicly suspended yet in our diocese, but I’d just returned home from Missouri and was self-isolating for fear I’d been exposed to COVID-19 while traveling. We watched Mass using the CatholicTV app and made a spiritual Communion.

The second weekend of quarantine, with the dispensation from the bishop in place and rumors Mass would be canceled publicly in the coming week, we still stayed home. At 13 weeks pregnant, with a squirmy toddler who has never met a stranger, I was hesitant to pile into crowded pews.

Here we are, 10 weeks later, Louisiana is in phase 2 of reopening, and part of me is still hesitant to return now that 50% capacity is allowed in the buildings.

I miss the Eucharist, desperately. The last time I received Jesus was in an airport chapel. My hunger for the Lord is intense, weighing heavy on my heart. But I hesitate to go back to Mass, not just for fear of the virus, but because of a worry that Mass won’t feel like Mass in the way I want.

There will be all the familiar Mass parts, though we won’t sing, we’ll be donning masks and the toddler’s favorite part (the sign of peace) will be omitted. Jesus will still be present, the Eucharist still given to us, our knees still on the ground as we pray and worship, and what good news that is!

But will it feel the same? After nearly three months away, will I feel the same? Will I be relieved we are home, happy to be back in the church where we were married, our daughter baptized, where I’ve gone my whole life?

Or will I be anxious the entire time, nervous my 2 1/2-year-old will touch someone, lick the pew or run off at top speed, her mask flying in the wind? Will I be at peace as I sit down in our favorite spot or stressed by the distanced assigned seating, staring at dear friends I haven’t seen in weeks wearing colorful masks with only their eyes visible?

But perhaps, after weeks of uncertainty and nearly unhealthy doses of hopelessness, church is precisely the place we can bring those feelings — anxiety, fear and nervousness — and lay it down at the altar.

Even if the common things we’ve grown used to are gone, like handshakes at the sign of peace, coffee and donuts in the narthex, and even choosing our own seat (by friends with whom we go to brunch after), we are still gathering to worship the Lord in the way he invites us to: at the altar, in community, receiving his precious body and blood. That remains unchanged, constant and steady, a source to give us life and a summit we can approach with great joy.

When things change in life, big or small, I find it best to approach that change by first acknowledging my anxiety and fears, giving myself permission to “feel my feelings.” As I do, there’s a chance to think through the experience that’s coming my way. In some sense, by first allowing myself to be nervous and worried, calm and peace is then possible.

So too with returning to Mass. We can cling to what is sure to never change — the Eucharist being present — and then we can calmly think through the various scenarios of what may look, feel and even sound different.

As I ponder what may feel different, and give myself permission to be worried or anxious about what our first Mass back may look like, I can’t help but think of Pentecost, the birthday of the church.

The apostles huddled together not knowing what was to come but were confident of Jesus’ promises, even in their anxious hiding. Then, in the most unexpected of moments, the Holy Spirit descends upon them and they experience the power of God in a new way, one they never could have predicted, and they rush to the streets to preach, baptize, heal and literally change the world with the Gospel.

Perhaps then this moment of returning to worship at Mass — even with the necessary changes like signing up online a week before, sitting every other pew, wearing a mask, not singing and having to postpone our usual large parish gatherings — will be a chance to experience God’s power in a new way, giving us strength to continue bringing the Gospel to the world.

It’s OK if we are nervous. It can give way to hope. It’s good that we are cautious. It can give way to joy.

It’s expected for us to be unsure of what to do as things feel and look different, but one thing is certain and unchanging: Jesus will be present in the Eucharist, and we will get to receive him. Mask wearing, no sign of peace, no singing and assigned seating or not, Jesus will be there — and God’s power will pour into our hearts in a new, yet familiar way.