A Moral Obligation
In just a few months, we have the opportunity and the moral obligation to elect new leaders in this country.
Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2240.
As Catholic voters, we do not necessarily fulfill this moral obligation by filling out a ballot and getting an "I VOTED TODAY" sticker. We are morally obliged to be well-informed voters with well-formed consciences who vote accordingly.
What does that mean?
Well, in some elections, voters are deciding on issues that have several morally good solutions, and their job is to select the best strategy. In other elections, voters encounter "non-negotiables," the issues on which the Catholic voter must never compromise or make exceptions. The candidate or issue endorsing the side out of favor with Church Teaching on "non-negotiable" issues must not receive a Catholic's support. As far as possible, the Catholic voter is morally obliged to cast a vote for the issue or candidate in line with Church Teaching--whether in a national, state, or local election.
No election is "too small" to apply these moral principles. Each and every election matters, especially when we consider how our nation's top-ranking political leaders got their starts on city councils, school boards, etc. Evaluate each candidate, taking into account which non-negotiable issues he or she will likely encounter in office. As the Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics says, "One should seek to elect to lower offices candidates who support Christian morality so that they will have a greater ability to be elected to higher offices where their moral stances may come directly into play."
Unfortunately, in some elections, none of the available candidates have a clean record or platform on the non-negotiable issues. In those instances, the voter (who is well-informed with a well-formed conscience) votes for the candidate who will likely do the least harm among all available candidates, and consider their views on other, lesser issues.
In some elections, a voter can morally decline voting if all available candidates endorse one or more of the non-negotiable issues. However, the voter must remember that voting for one of these candidates is not necessarily a positive endorsement; it may be tolerating a lesser evil to avoid a greater evil.
While there are many more than 5 non-negotiable issues for Catholics, there are 5 issues most in play in United States politics today. Those "top 5" non-negotiable issues that must never be promoted by law are:
- Embryonic Stem Cell Research
- Human Cloning
- Same-Sex "Marriage"
Priests for Life did such a great job of summing up these issues in publishing the Catholic Answers Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics, that I copied their summaries. (Abbreviations below):
1. AbortionThe Church teaches that, regarding a law permitting abortions, it is "never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or to vote for it" (EV 73). Abortion is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide.
The unborn child is always an innocent party, and no law may permit the taking of his life. Even when a child is conceived through rape or incest, the fault is not the child’s, who should not suffer death for others’ sins.
2. EuthanasiaOften disguised by the name "mercy killing," euthanasia is also a form of homicide. No person has a right to take his own life, and no one has the right to take the life of any innocent person.
In euthanasia, the ill or elderly are killed, by action or omission, out of a misplaced sense of compassion, but true compassion cannot include intentionally doing something intrinsically evil to another person (cf. EV 73).
3. Embryonic Stem Cell ResearchHuman embryos are human beings. "Respect for the dignity of the human being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human embryo" (CRF 4b).
Recent scientific advances show that often medical treatments that researchers hope to develop from experimentation on embryonic stem cells can be developed by using adult stem cells instead. Adult stem cells can be obtained without doing harm to the adults from whom they come. Thus there is no valid medical argument in favor of using embryonic stem cells. And even if there were benefits to be had from such experiments, they would not justify destroying innocent embryonic humans.
4. Human Cloning"Attempts . . . for obtaining a human being without any connection with sexuality through ‘twin fission,’ cloning, or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union" (RHL I:6).
Human cloning also involves abortion because the "rejected" or "unsuccessful" embryonic clones are destroyed, yet each clone is a human being.
5. Homosexual "Marriage"True marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Legal recognition of any other union as "marriage" undermines true marriage, and legal recognition of homosexual unions actually does homosexual persons a disfavor by encouraging them to persist in what is an objectively immoral arrangement.
"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral" (UHP 10).
ABBREVIATIONSCCC Catechism of the Catholic Church
CPL Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Notes on Some Questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life
CRF Pontifical Council for the Family, Charter of the Rights of the Family
EV John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)
RHL Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation
UHP Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons
So, how does a Catholic voter become well-informed?
Consult the candidates' voting records, read the news, and consider the bias of all of your sources. Contact the candidates or the candidates' offices directly if you are unclear on their stances on a particular issue, especially if the candidates are in a local election.
Well-Informed and Well-Formed
Once a Catholic voter is well-informed on the candidates, he or she must make sure that their conscience is also well-formed. A well-formed conscience will never contradict Church Teaching. To find out what the Catholic Church teaches, start by consulting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
A candidate does not merit a Catholic's vote merely because of his or her political party, charisma, or self-proclaimed Catholicism. The candidate worthy of a Catholic voter's endorsement is the one who is (most) in line with Church Teaching, and, therefore, will do the least harm and promote the most good.
Most think that the so-called "Catholic Vote" is a myth in today's elections.
I pray that that myth gets turned on its head come November.
May all of our nation's priests be emboldened to share the Truth of Church Teaching from the pulpit, especially on these non-negotiable issues. The sheep are hungry for Truth!
May our courageous priests receive tremendous graces for shepherding their flocks and feel the support of their bride, the Church.
May all of the Church faithful humbly submit themselves to Church authority, praying for our priests, and voting with well-formed consciences.
May we never take for granted our religious liberty or our "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Happiness, accurately understood, is living out our Christian "vocation to beatitude." "The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1718). In other words, as St. Augustine said, our hearts will be restless until they rest in God.
How much more will our country be restless if its leadership remains godless? So long as we build a kingdom on earth that is not godly, believing that our individual "pursuit of happiness" is a license for moral relativism or free-for-all hedonism, we will toil in vain like those in Psalm 127.
"Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch. It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, To eat bread earned by hard toil--all this God gives to his beloved in sleep" (Psalm 127:1-2).
Now, and always, may Catholic citizens vote with well-formed consciences to serve the Eternal Kingdom rather than this mere earthly one.
Let us not forget we have but one Master.
"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6: 24).