However, the bishops say that they "do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote", Zenit reports.
"We bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote," the statement entitled "Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility says.
"Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God's truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election."
But "participation in political life in light of fundamental moral principles is an essential duty for every Catholic and all people of good will," the bishops say.
The Church's role in helping Catholics to form their consciences is a central theme of the document.
"With this foundation," the bishops explained, "Catholics are better able to evaluate policy positions, party platforms, and candidates' promises and action in light of the Gospel and the moral and social teaching of the Church in order to help build a better world."
The bishops also affirmed their legitimate role in public life. "The obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to [our] mission," they stated. "Our nation's tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions and concerns into public life."
The bishops also acknowledge the challenges faced by Catholic voters: "Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised sensing that no party and too few candidates fully share the Church's comprehensive commitment to the dignity of the human person.
"As Catholics we are not single issues voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support. Yet a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support."
According to the New York Times, the bishops' statement thus leaves the door open for Catholics to back candidates who support abortion.
The paper quoted Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, chairman of the bishops' domestic policy committee, which pulled together this document, as saying that the document was not aimed directly at candidates.
Rather, it is "a summary of Catholic teaching", Bishop DiMarzio said. "It offers a basic moral framework on what it means to be a Catholic and American, a believer and a voter in this coming election year.
In another reaction to the document, American Deacon Keith Fournier said the bishops' document "unpacks the principles that can become the building blocks of a truly just society where all men and women will find authentic human fulfilment", Catholic Online reports.
"This kind of society will make the human person the polestar of all public policy and recognize that the first human right is the right to life. It will acknowledge that marriage and family are the first vital cell of society and always serve the common good.
"This kind of society will truly care about the poor and the needy; and will work toward an economic order which is first at the service of the person, the family and the common good," Fournier wrote.
"What is needed is a new Catholic action, one which represents a courageous response from a lay faithful who have informed their consciences and rolled up their sleeves, ready to do the hard work. This response needs to take the principles offered in the social teaching of the Catholic Church and work them as leaven into the loaf of society," he said.
"Our Bishops have given us a great manifesto. Manifestos birth movements. Along with the â€œCompendium of the Social Doctrine of the Churchâ€, it needs to give birth to a new Catholic Action," Fournier concluded.
Faith Should Affect Voting, Say U.S. Bishops (Zenit, 14/11/07)
Bishops' politics guidelines not written in stone (Los Angelese Times, 18/11/07)
Catholic Bishops Offer Voting Guide, Allowing Some Flexibility on Issue of Abortion (New York Times, 18/11/07)
The U.S. Bishops: Time for a new Catholic action (Catholic Online, 18/11/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility (Statement of the US Catholic Bishops Conference)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops