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A faithful decision

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“There is a war on Catholics and Faith in God,” the envelope read.

Inside the mailer was “The 2020 Elections Catholic Voter Survey,” distributed by the organization CatholicVote, which wanted to poll “1,000,000 eligible Catholic Voters … on the Left’s War on Catholics and Faith in God.” This report, when completed, would be “distributed to President Trump and his top advisors … members of Congress … radio talk-show hosts.”

CatholicVote was looking for information as well as donations. But the mailers that many Catholics in the Diocese of Albany have received have left them with more questions than answers. Was this survey put out by the Catholic Church? Was it approved by the Diocese? Is the Church telling us who to vote for? Can they even do that? And just what is CatholicVote anyway?

These questions delve deeper into the difficult and demanding job all Catholics have when faced with how to decide whom to vote for in an election. Some want their bishops and pastors to just come out and tell them who to vote for. Sorry, it is not that easy and it is not something the Church can do.

“Obviously, the Church is a tax-exempt entity and so we are governed by the IRS rules and guidelines,” said Kathleen Gallagher, director of Pro-Life Activities for the New York State Catholic Conference. “We can’t get involved in partisan politics, which means we can’t endorse one candidate or oppose another candidate. We can’t do that. We just can’t. And that is the beauty of it, that the Church gives it to us with our free will to form our own consciences and use our own prudence and good judgment to make these difficult decisions.”

In trying to sway Catholic opinion are groups such as CatholicVote, which is a non-profit, political advocacy group that is independent of the Catholic Church, and just recently launched a $9.7 million advertising blitz in swing states to get the president re-elected. The campaign calls Democratic nominee Joe Biden “an existential threat to our democracy.” Just as many Catholic groups exist on the political left, such as Catholics for Biden, Catholic Democrats and Vote Common Good, and they are working to promote Biden, who, if elected, would become just the second Catholic president ever alongside President John F. Kennedy.

“There are a lot of groups out there that put the word Catholic in their name but people have to dig deeper than that because they don’t officially represent the Catholic Magisterium or the hierarchy of the Catholic Church,” Gallagher said. “If you look deeper on the Catho­licVote.org website, it says basically this is a group of Catholics, like-minded Catholics, who clearly lean to the right, who got together and formed this organization and it’s totally funded by voluntary contributions.

“CatholicVote essentially says, ‘No Catholic who understands what’s at stake here, can vote for Joe Biden or the Democrats.’ Our Church says, ‘Yes they can.’ But at the same time, there are groups out there, like Vote Common Good and Faith in Public Life, which lean to the left and the Democratic side of things, which say, ‘Catholics can’t be true to their faith and support Donald Trump.’ Our Church says, ‘Yes they can.’ In a world of imperfect choices, our Church says we have to do our best to make the best choice possible.”

Gallagher added if the Catholic faith was a political party, the platform would be “the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.” The problem is the two major political parties in this country leave many Catholics and non-Catholics underwhelmed.

“No political party, certainly not the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, aligns with all of the principles of the Catholic faith,” Gallagher said. “I have often said to people, as Catholics, we are politically homeless. We don’t fit into the left or the right, neatly. For Catholics, voting is hard; it’s hard work. There are a lot of things that we have to do, to know what our Church teaches, to know the Gospel values, to do our homework, to research the candidates, their positions. Use our prudential judgment. Let the Holy Spirit guide us.”

So where does the work start with less than two months before Election Day? A key resource, which Gallagher calls “our blueprint,” is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ teaching document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which was updated in 2019. Another initiative launched last year — “Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate — asks “Catholics to pledge civility, clarity and compassion in their families, communities and parishes.” But again these documents will inform and guide your moral framework when it comes to choosing a candidate, but they won’t tell you who to vote for. And Forming Consciences goes so far as to say that “as Catholics we are not single-issue voters.”

“We are urged and called to examine all of the issues, the broad gamut of issues. But all issues are not of equal moral weight, right? Some issues have a special claim on our conscience, the bishops say. And abortion, they call it a preeminent priority. Why do they do that? They do that because abortion threatens life itself,” Gallagher said. “And life is the necessary condition for all of the rights that follow. The way I Iike to put it to people is, if you look at the sentence ‘to be.’ ‘To be’ comes before ‘to be fed’ or ‘to be clothed’ or ‘to be protected from violence.’ All of that. ‘To be’ is the foundational issue.

“So, of course, we have to give that strong moral weight, but at the same time our bishops say that’s not an excuse to dismiss other issues. No issue is optional for the Catholic voter; assistance to immigrants and promoting racial equality and all of these issues that are on the front burner right now, we have a responsibility to examine. Where do the candidates stand on these issues, what are the party positions on those issues?”

If that wasn’t dizzying enough, the temperament and mentality of the candidate should be added into the decision.

“I’ll throw another monkey wrench in. Our bishops also say character and integrity of candidates counts,” Gallagher said. “And we should put that into the mix as well, not just their positions on the issues.”

In our extremely polarized world, where both sides are predicting the end of the world if either is elected, and where social media is filled with hate and misinformation, it is difficult not to look at the issues with a biased eye. Adding Gallagher: “We all have a political lens that colors how we see the world. But our faith says try to look through your faith lens first.”

“But I think if we keep in mind, as Catholics, as Christians, we should put the most vulnerable, the most defenseless, the most oppressed people in the forefront,” she said. “We have to think of others more than our own pocket book, more than our own selves. If you look in the Catechism, the Catechism tells you there are three main responsibilities of Catholic citizens and they are: to pay taxes, to defend the country and to vote. And all of those responsibilities are really putting the emphasis on the other guy. We are doing it for other people. Our faith says we are doing it for our brothers and sisters.”

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