More evidence that worries about creeping “theocracy” in America are misguided: According to a poll released this week by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, only 16% of American Catholics are aware that during the 2008 election cycle, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document explaining Catholic teaching on political issues. The report, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” was not a new idea; the bishops issue such a report every presidential election cycle. Even more striking: 71% of American Catholics said the report would not have made a difference to them even if they had known about it. Three-quarters who read the report said it had no influence on their vote.
Statistics like these don’t explain why American Catholics apparently tuned out the bishops’ report. Maybe the report wasn’t sufficiently publicized. Maybe the report was vague. Maybe American Catholics know what the Church teaches about political questions and don’t think they need a refresher. Maybe – and this surely worries the Bishops Conference – the vast majority of American Catholics simply do not believe they have to form their consciences according to Church teaching. One implication is clear. If “theocracy” means that believers blindly vote the way their churches tell them – or even seriously consider their churches’ positions on political questions – theocracy doesn’t seem a real issue in America today. — MLM