In a culture which is becoming more and more secular each day and the moral values on which this country was founded are in steep decline, this upcoming election is one of the most important elections of our lifetime. I urge all Catholics to take seriously their obligation as citizens to engage in the political process, beginning with exercising the right to vote. All Catholics have a moral obligation to this responsibility.
More than any other time in history, our country is facing political challenges that demand urgent moral choices. This current presidential campaign and upcoming election provide an important opportunity to help Catholics and non-Catholics alike understand the magnitude of acting in the political arena with a properly formed and informed conscience.
Neither I, nor any bishop, can tell people which candidates for whom to vote. But the U.S. bishops state in The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (www.faithfulcit izenship.org) that voting “is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.” The role of bishops is to help form the consciences of Catholics in the light of church teaching so they will make sound moral judgments.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph #1777 states: “Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.”
In the context of the political process, forming our conscience takes place when we seriously examine the issues and are open to the truth and what is right according to Catholic teaching. It requires the study of sacred Scripture and the teachings of the church, especially in regard to Catholic social teaching. Then we must examine the facts and background information about various choices and prayerfully reflect and discern the will of God. The prudent advice and the good example of others help support and enlighten our conscience. The authoritative teaching of the church is an essential element as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit in helping us to develop our conscience.
In voting for a candidate for public office, we must be guided by our moral convictions, not any self-interest or attachment to a political party or interest group. It would irresponsible to vote for a candidate because we have always voted for that particular political party. The USCCB document The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship states: “Catholic voters should use Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues and should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens “to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest” (USCCB, Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33).”
But what happens in a race where Christians are faced with two morally problematic choices? When both candidates are not good, then who should I vote for? This is a question on the minds of many people in this election cycle. In reality, very few candidates or political parties advocate policies which line up completely with Catholic Social Teaching. That being said, all political issues are not equal. Some parties and candidates have policies and planks within their platforms which promote serious mortal sin. This is a cause for grave concern. Human life issues, religious freedom issues, immigration issues and education issues are just some of the major concerns in this election year. But there is a hierarchy of truths in Catholic Social Teaching. Defending innocent human life, protecting the sanctity of marriage and concern for the poor lead the way.
Again as stated in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “As Catholics, our focus is not on party affiliation, ideology, economics, or even competence and capacity to perform duties, as important as such issues are. Rather, we focus on what protects or threatens human life and dignity.” Therefore, a formed conscience, enlightened by the teachings of Christ as it comes to us through the church’s moral teaching, must be our guide for all of the issues. If you would like to know more about the Seven Themes
of Catholic Social Teaching, this
website will be of value. http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching.cfm.
Through voting and involvement in the political process, Catholics help shape the moral character of society. It is the church’s role to help build and shape a society that animates the love and charity which the Gospel demands. This is a requirement of our faith and part of the mission of Jesus Christ that has been given to each member of his body. Our faith offers us the opportunity to make a unique contribution in our society through our efforts to advance the common good for all in building God’s kingdom. Therefore we must carefully discern which public policies are most sound in accord to Gospel values and vote for the candidate which most likely will embrace those policies.
At times Catholics may choose different ways to respond to social problems, but we cannot differ on our obligations to protect human life and help build a more just and peaceful world through a lens of Catholic morality.
In the words of Mark Twain: “A Christian’s first duty is to God. It then follows, as a matter of course, that it is his duty to carry his Christian code of morals to the polls and vote them … If Christians should vote their duty to God at the polls, they would carry every election, and do it with ease. … It would bring about a moral revolution that would be incalculably beneficent. It would save the country” (Colliers Magazine, September 2, 1905, pg. 17).
Let us pray that the Lord will give each of us the wisdom, guidance and moral prudence needed as we go to the polls on November 8. Come Holy Spirit!