The difficult choices about how to vote
Note: This is the second of a two-part series on our responsibilities as what our Bishops call “Faithful Citizens”. In some cases, the document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” has been quoted and the specific article number is put in parentheses.
In the first installment, we looked at the Church’s teaching to always follow our conscience. A well-formed conscience is the result of a “willingness and an openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (18). Plus, knowing the facts about issues, and reflecting through prayer are also essential.
So how does a well-formed Catholic conscience approach the issues presented by various candidates? We need to use the virtue of Prudence, which “enables us to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (19).
For example, the Bishops remind us that there are “some things we should never do, as individuals, or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor…These are called ‘intrinsically evil’ actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned” (22).
Some actions that are “intrinsically evil” are: abortion, euthanasia, genocide, torture, racism, threating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable, or redefining marriage. (23)
Pope Francis addressed this same issue in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Rejoice and Be Glad” (Gaudete et exsultate). In article #101 he wrote:
“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…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.”
The Bishops tell us that there are two “temptations” that “can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity…The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of human life and dignity…The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity” (27-29).
Eliminating these two temptations makes our choices very difficult when we are looking at the whole range of issues that are supported by a particular candidate. The Bishops do give us some guidance for how to create a balance in our choices: “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion…or racist behavior…if the voter’s intent is to support that position…At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” (34).
There may be times when “a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons” (35).
So many of our conversations about voting revolve around abortion, although the Bishops urge us not to be “one-issue” voters. What the Bishops are teaching us here is that we must always oppose the scourge and scandal of abortion, however, we must also take into account equally grave issues that assault human dignity – racism, the death penalty, hunger and poverty, to name a few.
Being a Catholic voter has never been harder – but it has also never been more critical to promoting the common good of our country.
Deacon Don Weigel is the Diocesan Director of Catholic Relief Services and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.