header photo

Norbert Bufka

Author  ·  Historian

Published Articles, Letters, and Blogs

What is a Faithful Citizen?



Since 1975, the United States Conference of Catholic bishops (USCCB) has been issuing a document every four years to help Catholic citizens be responsible voters. It is called Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship. It can be downloaded here:

 . This document can be very helpful in making a choice for President and other offices, if read completely and carefully.  

The bishops point out very clearly that the Church supports life from conception to natural death  while in their introductory letter they state, “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority.”  

They state in #25 that “the erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life.” The bishops make it clear that the right to life includes the need for food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, meaningful work, and necessary social services.” In #91, they write,   “We focus on what protects or threatens the dignity of every human life.” “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support.” (#42)  

The Bishops go on to say, “Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. (#17) The most important teachings of the Church in conscience formation are “the four basic principles of Catholic social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity.“ These teachings will help the voter evaluate a candidate’s views and a party’s platform, the bishops write.  The goal in all cases is to “build a better world.” (#5) Catholic voters should use Catholic social teaching to examine candidates' positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates' integrity.#41


After having done all this serious study and reflection, a voter’s conclusion might well be one of confusion rather than clarity. The bishops are aware of this and so write, “the conscientious voter may decide not to vote, or  “after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance … a morally flawed position and” more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.” (#36)


Keep in mind that priests and bishops who endorse or condemn a specific candidate are vilating the intent of Canon 287, although it has not been widely enforced.

I must challenge two statements in this document. The bishops label some actions (abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, gay marriage, and destructive use of embryos.) as “intrinsically evil”, They use this phrase ten times, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not identify any actions using this phrase.  I question the motive for using such language.

.  Pope Francis shared his perspective on life issues in his letter on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate,” No. 101: “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm, and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.“ Some bishops  proposed this language be inserted in the document, but the majority rejected its inclusion.


The second statement that must be examined is that conscience must conform to Catholic teaching.

In the formation of conscience, the Catechism teaches that a person is to reflect on the Scriptures, kneel before the Cross, be aided by the Holy Spirit and others,  “and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church”. (#1785, emphasis mine) It does not say one’s conscience must conform to Catholic teaching. I, Norbert, believe that freedom to explore moral questions enriches the Church’s teaching, not threatens it.


Review of moral teaching (Norb)

The bishops very clearly talk of many moral issues as I indicated in my brief overview. They also emphasized that some values are more important than others and some cannot be violated by voting for someone who supports moral evil. this makes one complicit in that evil, they write.

The Bishops tell us to use the four fundamental social doctrines of the Church to evaluate a candidate. These have both an individual and corporate or systemic dimension.

The inherent dignity of the human person is rooted in Genesis 1:31 where God says that all creation is good. That goodness must be respected. Killing a person is an obvious example of breaching this respect. The Church deems an embryo is a person and so must be respected and protected.  An abortion is an individual decision, not a systemic one.  Yet the Bishops have for decades treated it as a systemic decision.  No government is telling or commanding anyone to have an abortion.

State executions are also killing a person. These deaths are not individual decisions but the government, which is acting on behalf of all citizens. It is a systemic decision, not a personal one.

Policies regarding access to health care, education, clean environment, and even access to socials ervices are both systemic and personal. When the system denies access to health care or bars children from a good education as in segregated schools, the decision is no longer personal but systemic.

Systemic values are higher than personal values and so must influence our thinking in regard to voting for or against a particular candidate.

The Bishops tell us that “The common good is ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily’" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1906).

"Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good", they remind us in #90.

The principle of subsidiarity, they tell us in #48,means that local institutions, like the family or city, is the preferred group to deal with issues but the larger institution must step in whenthe local is unable to handle it.



What the bishops failed to address is the constitutional crisis that President Trump is creating by casting doubt on our voting process and very openly wanting to be dictator of the country for life. Trump has said he will not allow a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election.  This is a far larger life issue than any discussed by the Bishops.

The bishops also did not address the danger of global climate change which threatens all life in the world, also a far more serious life issue than any addressed by the bishops. Trump denies the climate change issue and removed the United States from the Paris Accords.

The document was published before the pandemic so that issue is not discussed at all but is a very relevant and serious life issue, which Trump has badly mismanaged.  The most telling example is his own contraction of the disease and exposing many others because he refused to follow the guidelines of the CDc.


Now it is time for a decision. Donald Trump has never expressed any interest in the lives lost by the pandemic, killed by police, or died in war.  In fact, he calls those killed in war “losers”. At the debate” on September 29, he refused to denounce white supremacists and fueled the fear of a fraudulent election.

He supports a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which would mean the loss of insurance for 20 million people.

He has locked immigrants in cages, separated children from their parents. He bullies and belittles those who disagree with him. He blames everything that is wrong on others, especially people of color.

A life issue which doesn’t get much media coverage is execution of criminals by the fedral and some state governments. There were no federal executions between 1963 and 2001. There were three in 2001-2003 Under George W. Bush.  There wre none from 2003 until July 2020when the Trump administration started executions again. Seven have been executed since July my opinion, government executions are premeditated murder and to use the Bishops’ language, are intrinsically evil. 

On the other hand, Joe Biden’s statements during the “debate” show he has integrity, honesty, and concern for the common good of all people.   He is guided by the social teaching of the Church.  He will also address the challenges of voting rights, the pandemic,  racism, and global climate change.  In addition, he has 47 yers of public service and knows how government works and believes n our democratic institutions.  he is pro-choice on abortion but he does not support abortion. He rather supports programs and policies which would help pregnant women so they don’t feel the need to get an abortion.

Now it is your decision. Who has the better pro-life position in keeping with the teaching of the catholic Church?


Thank you for reading the entire essay. Feel free to pass it on. You may be interested in my latest book, Crisis in the Catholic Church: What It Is and a Path to Recovery. It discusses the very deep division in the Church that is caused by the rampant clericalism, which was much of the culture that allowed clergy to sexually abuse children. Another book that may interest you is Being Catholic Becoming Faithful. In this I begin with a long discussion of faith followed by different aspects of Catholicism. Both are in the Faith Journey category on my website


Norbert Bufka has a Master of Pastoral Studies degree and is the author of more than  20 books, nine of which are faith oriented ( 


A Lesson from History

I recently read Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler which he wrote in 1924.  He had two fundamental beliefs: the first is that the German (Aryan) race is superior to all others and must be preserved in its purity for the world to advance. His second belief was that the Jews were responsible for everything wrong not only in Germany but in the world.

He believed that he as the leader had absolute power and was above the law.  He believed in using propaganda (this includes lies) to convince the masses of his goals.

He demanded absolute loyalty from all around him.  He created a private army to enforce his decisions. An analysis of his talk and actions revealed that he was destructively narcissistic and blamed others for his failures and shortcomings.

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Be sure to register to vote and then actually vote by mail or in person on November 3. 


This appeared in the Midland Daily News on October 2, 2020 as aletter to the editor.

Save the US Postal System

The Continental Congress in 1775 established a postal system which has been an integral part of our tradition and culture. It is now under serious attack by our President, who does not want it to deliver the millions of mail in ballots this fall.  In other words, he opposes the post office for his own political aims.  In so doing, he is also subverting our electoral system. This is unconscionable.

He must be voted out of office in November along with lal this
republican crosies who wont’ stand up to him.



Vigano’s letter to Trump is not Catholic

I was extremely distressed this morning when I read in NCR that Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Papal Nuncio to the United States wrote an open letter to Donald Trump. In this letter he said “we have been witnessing the formation of two opposing sides that I would call Biblical: the children of light and the children of darkness.”  He praised Trump for leading the children of light and opposing the children of darkness.

A number of priests and bishops supported Vigano by posting the letter on their parish website or facebook. In at least one case, after a parishioner objected, the priest deleted it.

I am currently reading Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. It is absolutely amazing the similarities between Hitler and Trump. Both werenarcissistic at a pathological level.  Both blamed others for their mistakes and both took credit for things they did not do. Hitler appealed to the German masses because he played on their oppression by the Hapssburgs while Trump appeals to the supremacy of whites. Hitler did whatever he could to promote his agenda. Trump is doing that today.

Vigano supports Trump for his opposition to abortion, but Vigano and others fail to remember that Trump supported abortion until he decided to seek the Presidency. Vigano support Trump because Trump supports religious freedom of Christians. We live in a multi religious country and world. We can no longer think in terms of Christians vs. all the others,but must think in terms of the human family which is made up of many diverse siblings and cousins.



The killing of George Floyd is reprehensible

I am not sure what to write today about the video taped killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but I feel compelled to say a word of support to my fellow Americans who happen to have a skin color different than mine and the majority of people in this country. Does this fact of minority make them less American? Or less human? Or less important?

The answer to those questions is a resounding “no”, but yet some whites ignore the reality before them or choose to look a different way or just plain deny what they see and know in their hearts of hearts. Without rendering legal opinion nor denying the right of a person to a fair trial, the video clearly indicated a brutal and deliberate killing. What makes it morehoreendous is that four policemen were involved. Policemen are an honorable profession and we need them, but we do not need ones who are so callous as to kill someone who is telling them, “I can’t breathe.”

As a result of this inhuman act, hundreds and thousands of people peacefully protested and are seeking justice, not just for George but for all people of color who have and continue to be mistreated by police and many others in our society.

Yet, our president used the military to clear out the protestors in DC so he could have a photo-op. this was disgraceful and shamefull. The Episcopal bishop of Washington was right to call him out for that. the president has not offered a word of compassion for the senseless killing nor a word of comfort to the family. Yet he was able to tweet denunciation of the looters and violent protestors with law and order slogans .

Jess Sessions, former U. S. Attorney General under Trump said he supported swit justice in all cases but 'We don't need to overreact. politically correct policing' will 'demoralize officers.” So are we to assume that protesting killing a man in the line of duty is just politically correct language? How absurd! I would think that all respectable policeman are demoralized by this very inappropriate behavior of a fellow officer.

Please, let us stand up to the rioters by all means, but let us listen to the cries of the peaceful protestors and not confuse them with the opportunistic rioters who could be from the extreme right or left.



Mail-in voting is necessary


Due to the pandemic we face a challenge in securing the right to vote by every citizen who wants To vote.   The solution is mail in voting and a secure postal system.

Five States already conduct elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. In the April 14, 2020 issue of the Atlantic,Priscilla Southwell Wrote in an article „In the Pandemic, Every State Should Vote by Mail” that  the process has been successful and secure. Oregon had only a dozen or so cases of proven fraud out of 100 million ballots since 2000.

Even without a pandemic, many voters face inflexible work schedules or lack adequate transportation to the polls.

The League of Women Voters and Surveys of people across all political persuasions show support for mail in voting.  Vote by mail should be the right of every citizen in every state, and we should let our legislators know that this option should be enacted soon, for every state.

In addition, no mail-in process can work without a functioning US Postal System. Currently the US Postal Service is struggling due to the pandemic. Voters should insist on full support for America’s mail and postal workers.  The time to act is now.



Civil service under siege

in the first century of our country’s existence, the president made many appointments as favors to friends. The assassination of James Garfield in 1881 by a disappointed office seeker, resulted in the creation of civil service under the Pendleton Act of 1883. After a few years of adjusting to the change the country has been operating under this system very well.

The most important reason for the Pendleton Act was to ensure that competent people were appointed to government positions through exams and other requirements. president Trump demands loyalty above everything else. As a result he has been firing and appointing new people so often it is hard to keep track of who is in charge. The high level positions do not fall under the Pendleton Act but do require approval by the Senate. Many positions have acting directors because the Senate has refused to go through the process of pproval of appointments.

Since the impeachment trial, the president has been firing or transferring people from their positions in retaliation for their testimony against him in the trial.

Dale Cabaniss, director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), was forced to resign. Michael Rigas, formerly of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, took his place. Rigas believes the Pedleton Act is unconstitutional. The OPM is refusing to give briefings to Congress for the first time in its history. This does not bode well for government employees and the civil service system.

Trump has already hired a number of people outside the OPM, but his most egregious example was the transferal of Dr. Rick Bright from  the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA,  to a lesser position. Bright claims this transfer was due to his opposition to Trumps promotion of the antimalaria drug as a drug for covid19. He is a specialist in emerging infectious diseases and has refused to leave his position.

Be sure you are registered to vote in upcoming elections.  Check out your registration status here.

Free markets need regulation

One of the realities of a capitalist economy is the cycle of boom and bust, said more academically, prosperity and depression. The cycle became so serious  in the long decade of the 1930’s and the Great Depression that Congress passed the Glass-Stegal Act in1938 which kep  the investment, insurance, and banking sectords of the economy separated. This Actwas repealed in 1998.

Its repeal was one of the causes of the Great Recession that began in 2008.

Congress, now controlled by wealthy and extreme free market ideologues  are concerned only about their own wealth and reelection. They bailed out the  three sectors in 2008 without giving a thought to he history lesson of the 1930’s. They even added to the path to greater control by allowing the wealthy to “buy” our government leaders through Super Pacs. Both political parties are involved in this chaotic thinking and thus make it virtually impossible to change direction.

the wealthy, with the help of Russian interference and the one issue Catholic bishops propelled Donald Trump into office as president, despite his complete lack of moral integrity or any sense of governing. Christians by the millions are overlooking this flawed human being for the sake of overturning Roe v. Wade. They see Trump as a “savior”.

Because of these factors, Trump is able to get away with abandoning the high values of our country that have in the past shown world leadership  in the areas of disarmament, fighting climate change, regulating dangerous practices that damage our health and environment. All for the sake of making more money. This is becoming very clear in the pandemic we are living with.  The concern of our president throughout has been the economy rather than the health of our citizens.

It is time to change that power structure in Washington. Be prepared to vote in upcoming elections.   

The Divine Plan

Surgeon General Jerome Adams has publicly and repeatedly stated his belief in a divine plan.  During the covid19 crisis. Adams is a Catholic and expressed the view that it is not coincidence that the pandemic is happening during Holy Week. We were sad that Jesus died, but then there was salvation and we are happy, he said.

When speaking of a divine plan in regard to the pandemic sounds like God  planned the pandemic. I don’t accept that view at all.

But can we learn something by living through this pandemic? Of course. As the saying goes, when you have lemons, make lemonade. So too with this pandemic. Let’s make something good of it, like a friend making masks for passing out to people. Or a neighbor buying groceries for an older couple. Or being friendly from a distance. Or giving away the government check to someone who needs it more than you do. Or sending a kind note to a shut-in or talking  to someone you haven’t talked to in a long time. or just calling neighbors to find out how they are doing.

The divine plan is to become a more civil and compassionate society. .  God didn’t intend the pandemic, but he certainly intends for us to act compassionately towards others andif we learn that lesson from this, then what we have become is a good thing.

The meaning of Good Friday

Today Christians all over the world remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago. I was taught that my sins as well as all the others were responsible for his death. I was also taught that Jesus died so that our relationship with God would be restored. Adam and Eve destroyed the original good relationship and someone had to restore it., But that meaning of the Cross misses the mark.

Jesus’ mission was to show us how to live  a life of love, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  The more we live like this, the more we are saved from our sins. In this way, Jesus truly redeemed us. His life was so authentic, it challenged the establishment of his and they decided to kill him.  Jesus was true and faithful to the end. We are called to be the same kind of person.

If Jesus had to die to restore our relationship with God, then Judas was a saint because he was necessary for Jesus to be turned over to the establishment. Yet, Jesus said, “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.””  (Matthew 26:24).

Let’s follow Jesus by doing what he did: love all people and act with mercy and compassion.


View older posts »