Manchester, England — The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have made the defense of human life their top priority in guidance to Catholic voters ahead of the general election.
A four-page letter to voters, which will be distributed throughout churches, lists "important issues" the bishops invite Catholics to raise with candidates in the May 7 election for the House of Commons.
The issues include respecting life, supporting marriage and the family, alleviating poverty, support for parental choice for faith-based education, fair pay, religious freedom, care of refugees and migrants, the role of the European Union and the Britain's place within it, and the care of the environment.
The first of all the issues they deal with, however, concern abortion and euthanasia, and the bishops note persistent attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the UK.
"We support policies that protect the fundamental right to human life," says the letter signed by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, president and vice president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
"The unborn child is vulnerable and defenseless and, tragically, in our society often the innocent victim of abortion. We oppose calls to introduce assisted suicide or euthanasia," the bishops say.
They note that Parliament would probably renew efforts to legalize assisted suicide, so they asked, "Where do the candidates in your constituency stand on assisted suicide, euthanasia, abortion and other life issues?"
The bishops emphasize the importance of marriage "as the building block of society" and invite voters to ask themselves: "Do your candidates have a commitment to support marriage and family life?"
In the introduction to the letter, published Tuesday, the bishops proclaim the Gospel as a "way of life."
The Gospel, they say, "teaches us to value each person: the vulnerable child inside the womb; the parent struggling with the pressures of family life; the person striving to combat poverty; the teacher inspiring students to seek the truth; the stranger fleeing violence and persecution in their homeland; the prisoner in his cell in search of redemption; the child in a distant land claiming the right to a future; and the frail elderly person needing care and facing the frontier of death."
"As Catholics, we are called to work for a world shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ," they say in the letter. "The Gospel proclaims the mercy of God and invites us steadfastly to love God and our neighbor.
"Our relationship with God leads to the desire to build a world in which respect, dignity, equality, justice, and peace are our primary concerns," the bishops say.
As with guidance in previous elections, the bishops stress, however, that they are not telling Catholics how to vote.
"Who you vote for is a matter for you alone," they explain. "Our aim is to suggest how you might approach this important question in May 2015 and to suggest some key issues for your reflection as you make your own decision."
Nor were they advocating voting on a single issue, they said while at the same time making clear that issues concerning human life were "more central than others."
Telling Catholics that "our actions are more important than our opinions," the bishops also urge the faithful to make sure they use their right to vote.
"We expect politicians to be committed to the common good," they say in their letter. "We also each have a responsibility to be involved in the democratic process. It is important that we vote. It is a duty which springs from the privilege of living in a democratic society. In deciding how we vote the question for each one of us is then: How, in the light of the Gospel, can my vote best serve the common good?"