Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Whom should we vote for in the upcoming election? Can faithful Catholics who are conscientious about their religious beliefs and fundamental human values vote for candidates or political parties that have taken positions that are contrary to our deepest convictions?
Like many Catholics, I have spent considerable time prayerfully contemplating the untenable nature of such questions, because both of the national party platforms contain seriously flawed moral positions. While I cannot and do not endorse one candidate over another, I think faithful Catholics, and all Americans, must challenge key planks of both the Republican and Democratic platforms, noting that one party seeks to remove the unborn child from the moral equation and the other party endorses capital punishment and fails to treat migrants with human dignity by taking away their faces, their significance. Both candidates must be held accountable for their past actions and proposed plans. This can never be reduced to a single issue—as gravely serious as these issues are. Instead, we must pray, reflect and act based on applying Gospel values to the full range of moral and social issues that are at stake. Our faith must inform our politics.
Our Church never tells anyone who to vote for, and we don’t tell faithful Catholics who they should not, or “cannot,” vote for. Instead, the Church asks that everyone have a properly formed conscience in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the clear and consistent teachings of our Church. This sometimes frustrates those who wish that Church leaders would make things simple for voters by telling them who to vote for, but that is simply not possible or advisable. Every responsible adult must make his or her own decisions when it comes time to vote. The place where such decisions are made is the sanctuary of each one’s conscience.
The U.S. bishops have published a statement entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” that provides valuable guidance regarding the exercise of our rights and duties as participants in our democracy. Number 35 of that statement teaches, “A Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permitted only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” This means that a candidate’s position on one or more fundamental moral issues must be considered seriously, but it does not automatically determine how we should vote. “Other morally grave reasons” may persuade us to vote for someone even if his or her position on an important issue is unacceptable to us.
Catholic social teaching provides an excellent framework for reflecting on fundamental social principles including:
- The sanctity of human life (including abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, capital punishment, respect for strangers)
- The dignity of family life (based on marriage between a man and a woman) and the protection and formation of our children
- Just and compassionate immigration reform and care for migrants and their families
- Protection for the poor and vulnerable through healthcare, housing and just wages
- Racial equality and special concern for the rights of minorities
- The dignity of work and the rights of workers
- The pursuit of peace and social justice here at home and internationally
- Religious liberty for people of all faiths and cultures both here at home and throughout the world
- The stewardship of God’s creation (care for the environment)
These issues, and many others, are vitally important to the health and well-being of our society, and they must be considered carefully in the exercise of an informed conscience whether in a voting booth or in completing a mail-in ballot.
Consistent with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and in continuity with 2,000 years of Christian faith and practice, our Church vigorously renews its call for a manner of political discourse that does not involve name calling, class warfare or divisive tactics. We urge faithful Catholics, and all people of good will, to exercise faithful citizenship by focusing on three guiding moral principles: 1) the defense of life, 2) the needs of the weakest members of our society, and 3) the pursuit of the common good.
To paraphrase the teaching of Vatican II, as followers of Jesus Christ and faithful citizens of this great nation, nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in our hearts (cf. Gaudium et Spes, #1). We participate actively in shaping the world we live in because this type of moral and political engagement reflects both the social teaching of our Church and the best traditions of the United States of America.
The fact is that as faithful Catholics and responsible citizens we must make difficult choices. That’s why we turn to Mary, Mother of the Church, and to all the saints to show us the way. There are no easy solutions to the dilemmas we face today. There is only our solemn obligation to participate in the governance of our nation as co-responsible members of a free society and as missionary disciples called by Jesus Christ to transform our society and care for our common home.
May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, intercede for us as we exercise our sacred duty as faithful citizens of this beloved nation.
Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer,