No to gay marriage, the death penalty, stem cell research, abortion, racism, torture and war crimes. That was the message America’s Roman Catholic bishops have issued to the faithful ahead of next year’s elections.

Forming Citizens for Faithful Citizenship is the title of a document issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops yesterday.

“As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group,” it read.

“When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths.”

The document instructs Roman Catholics to use their faith to guide them in their electoral choices, while claiming to be non-partisan.

The bishops say that conscience is the “voice of God.”

Bishop Morlino of Wisconsin told CNA:

“I’m generally… very pleased with the text. I find that many of our people have been mis-instructed about conscience. They’ve been taught that conscience is a maker of truth instead of a seeker of the truth.

“Our emphasis on conscience dictates and clarifies… that at times salvation can be at stake.”

During the 2004 Presidential campaign some bishops threatened to deny Communion to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Catholic who supports abortion rights.

But many Catholics criticised the Church’s preoccupation with the gay issue, and have said that instead the new guidelines should focus on the Iraq War. While the latest guidance from the bishops makes explicit reference to torture they went on to add a sentence about “the continuing threat of fanatical extremism and global terror.”

Pope Benedict XVI is to visit the United States next April.

He will address the United Nations, visit Ground Zero in New York City and the White House during his five day trip.