Advocacy: The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship


One of the most challenging aspects of social ministry is in the area of advocacy. Yet advocacy is an essential part of the role of the Social Ministry team in the diocese and the social ministries liaisons from our parish to the diocese. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “It is necessary that all participate, according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This is inherent in the dignity of the human person … As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (nos. 1913-1915).

In 2007 and again in 2011, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued guidance on this crucial topic, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Bishops of the United States. This guidance was updated again in 2015 for the current election cycle. Links to that document can be found at

The bishops have affirmed the “Responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation . . . “ Multiple legislative networks offer opportunities to take action on specific issues and legislation. For example, the California Catholic Conference has established the Catholic Legislative Network, at We encourage everyone to set aside time to read, reflect and pray over this fundamental guidance as we form our own conscience and policy judgments in this election year.

When our parish social ministries team places action alerts in the bulletin, they originate with one of these networks and not from the social ministries core team of the parish. Even so, these alerts are not to be interpreted as direction telling every parishioner how to vote. The principles of Catholic Social Teaching are lasting and universal. But the world of political action is necessarily complex and requires judgment regarding strategies and practical consequences of any policy formulation.

The Church equips its members to address political questions by helping them develop well-formed consciences. “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act. . . . [Every person] is obliged to follow faithfully what he [or she] knows to be just and right” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1778). We Catholics have a lifelong obligation to form our consciences in accord with human reason, enlightened by the teaching of Christ as it comes to us through the Church.

Even the bishops themselves may find themselves divided as to how to approach a specific issue. In 2012, Bishop McGrath issued a statement in support of a San Jose ballot measure to raise the minimum wage. He began by stating very clearly that he himself was torn on the issue and ended by saying that he would be voting yes and urging us to vote our consciences on the issue.

We trust that the alerts that appear in our bulletin will be taken in the same spirit and urge you to continue your research on issues by consulting the social ministries resources and links on the diocesan web site.

For those who want to review additional resources on a range of social issues from other perspectives, you may join our e-mail list by contacting Anthony Ordona,