KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Kansans head to the polls this fall to vote in local, state and national elections, they hold many decisions about the future in their hands.
And the four Catholic bishops in Kansas have launched a project that will place information right at Catholic voters’ fingertips — through the devices they use every day — to consider before they head to the polls.
For the first time, the bishops are sharing their election-year reflections on key issues for Catholic voters in a video format people can access on their phones, tablets, laptops, or desktop computers.
“People get a fuller insight into what we’re trying to say because you hear the bishop,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. “You hear the tone of what he’s saying.”
Each bishop addresses a topic, and while they say this project doesn’t encompass every important issue for Catholics, the videos address four areas they believe carry heavy moral weight.
“There is a responsibility not just to vote, but to be informed before you go into the voting booth,” said Archbishop Naumann.
His video focuses on the subject of marriage.
Bishop John B. Brungardt of the Diocese of Dodge City speaks on life.
Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of the Diocese of Salina talks about an obligation to protect the poor, and focuses particularly on usury and payday loans.
And Bishop Carl A. Kemme of the Diocese of Wichita speaks about religious freedom.
While the Catholic Church in the United States does not take the position of telling people whom to vote for, nor does it endorse candidates or political parties, said Archbishop Naumann, “The church does have a responsibility to attempt to form the conscience of Catholics and to articulate the principles that they should utilize when they make the choices of whom they’re going to support for public office.”
The videos each run a few minutes and can be viewed all at one time or separately between now and the election.
The bishops tie in Scripture and modern occurrences in their reflections.
“This broken world of ours needs hearts that are not hardened to the fate of the weak, the vulnerable and the imperfect,” says Bishop Brungardt in his video on protecting life. “We need mercy, kindness and unconditional love as an antidote to what Pope Francis has called a throwaway culture. Every human person is made in the image of God from the moment of conception until natural death.”
With more than 55 million babies aborted since Roe v. Wade, he said, “We cannot go about our lives treating this as just another political issue to be argued about by politicians.”
Bishop Weisenburger notes in his video that concern for the poor is an integral part of being a Christian.
He addresses usury, which he defines as the practice of charging an “unjust interest rate on a loan.”
People, including Kansans, who find themselves short on money to cover their bills might seek a fast payday loan that carries an interest rate of 15 percent over two weeks — which equates to 390 percent over a year if the borrower can’t quickly repay the loan and pays only the interest, he explained.
“This becomes a trap from which people cannot escape. People stuck in these situations become desperate,” said Bishop Weisenburger. “I have personally heard some of their stories, and it’s heartbreaking.”
Bishop Kemme describes in his video a nation that has lots its appreciation — and even understanding — of religious freedom.
“Many have taken religious freedom for granted; it’s just been a part of our American inheritance,” he says. “But, my friends, make no mistake. Religious freedom is under attack. There are no tanks in the streets and no one is being arrested for going to church, but religious freedom is in trouble.”
As an example, he points out the Little Sisters of the Poor who filed a lawsuit when faced with a Department of Health and Human Services mandate that would require them to cover contraception and other products contrary to their beliefs — or be fined.
He also addressed the issue of religious Americans who do not want to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies and what he describes as a loss of the right to oppose a redefinition of marriage.
Archbishop Naumann described intolerance — with the possibility of being penalized — toward those who don’t conform to a different moral viewpoint.
“What’s evolving now is that support for same-sex relations is becoming part of public school curriculum, so what children are being exposed to in public schools, there’s a social agenda that really is in conflict with Christian morality and Christian ethics,” he said. “And again, all of this is done in the name of being tolerant to people with same-sex attraction.”
He emphasized that the church wants to show every concern to people who have same-sex attraction, but said that’s not the same thing as endorsing behavior.
He expressed concerns about a culture that is “confused about something even as fundamental as what constitutes marriage” when our society has historically supported marriage because of its role in raising children, thus forming new citizens.
“It was a natural thing to have the policies that were family friendly, marriage friendly,” he said.
There is a lot going on in the world today, internationally and inside the United States, the archbishop said, and he believes social issues have a significant impact.
Strong marriages build strong families. Without strong families, he believes the country will lack the strength to be a leader among nations, or even to solve domestic problems.
He also points out that in selecting leaders — presidents, governors and senators who will approve appointments — it’s important to note that these elected leaders are the people who will appoint judges.
Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, hopes people will help spread these video messages by sharing them with one another and “liking” them on Facebook.
“We need good, believing, faithful Catholics involved in the process more than ever,” he said.
He hopes the messages will get people thinking about many of the issues in today’s world from a moral perspective.
“They’re a call to action,” he said. “They’re designed to get people thinking about some of the issues that are most important.”
Catholics face real challenges in today’s world, he said, and these issues — especially with religious freedom or conscience — will increasingly confront people.
“If you’re someone who is running your own small business, especially in the wedding industry, if you’re someone who works in health care, you’re going to be faced with these issues really soon,” he said. “There are going to be some real challenges.”