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WASHINGTON—Religious groups can better public discourse, John Carr and
Mark Silk, Ph.D., said at the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious
Affairs and the National Council of Synagogues of America, May 12, in
"When religious people bring their most fundamental values to public debate, they enrich rather than impoverish the public square," said Carr, executive director of the bishops' Department for Justice, Peace and Human Development. He drew on the bishops' statement, Faithful Citizenship, to argue for an active, nonpartisan role in U.S. politics for churches, synagogues and other religious bodies.
He spoke after a presentation on voting trends among religious groups in the U.S. by Silk, professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, Connecticut. They concurred that white Catholics have been a decisive "swing vote" in previous general elections and will be closely watched by pollsters and political strategists as the November 4 election approaches.
Carr said a candidate's position on a single issue should not guarantee a voter's support since responsible citizenship requires prudence and careful discernment of how public policies contribute to social welfare, especially for the poor and vulnerable. However, he said, "a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support."
As polls show disaffection from the political establishment, the presenters see interreligious coalitions as forces for fostering civic involvement and elevating public discourse. But direction given from the pulpit must be moral in tone and substance but not overtly partisan, they said. People rightly invite clergy to shine moral wisdom on issues but resent being told whom to vote for, they said.
Participants saw it as a religious imperative to involve people of faith in the political process so their informed consciences, shaped by religious teaching, might bring to bear on political decisions the best values of the great religions.
Silk expressed surprise that few religious leaders today denounce public attacks, often motivated by political objectives, aimed at a particular denomination.
"Hardly anyone has taken John Hagee to task," said Silk, referring to the Evangelical pastor and founder of "Christians United for Israel" whose rhetoric has sometimes been interpreted as anti-Catholic.
Participants also discussed other Catholic-Jewish issues. Rabbi Gil Rosenthal said that negotiating the economic treaty between the Holy See and the State of Israel, the so-called "Final Agreement," requires resolution of such issues as property taxes and visas for clergy. They also discussed the revised Good Friday Prayer, the upcoming World Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, and the U.S. visit of Pope Benedict XVI. Jewish participants praised the pope's Passover greetings April 17, following an interreligious gathering in Washington, and his April 18 visit to the Park East Synagogue in New York City.
Catholic participants at the consultation included Cardinal William Keeler, co-chair; Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee; Bishop Basil H. Losten of Stamford, Connecticut for Ukrainians; Father James Massa, USCCB staff; Christian Brother David Carroll; Father Robert Aufieri; Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, and Atonement Father James Loughran.
Jewish participants included Rabbi Alvin Berkun, co-chair; Rabbi Rosenthal; Rabbi Jerome Davidson; Rabbi Shira Lander; Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg; Rabbi David Sandmel; Rabbi Robert Slosberg; Rabbi Daniel Polish; Rabbi Ruth Langer; Rabbi Jonathan Waxman; Rabbi Joel Meyers; and Ms. Judith Hertz.
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