“In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth.”
But, let me assure you that not all issues are the same. As the Bishops write later on:
“There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia.”
They continue on this same topic:
“It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.”“Similarly, direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.”
With this in mind the focus of the document is rightly forming the conscience. That is, the interior guide God gives each of us. They want us to live an integrated life of Catholic teaching, prayer, discernment and charity. The document does a very good job in pointing out two mistakes that many Catholics are prone to make.
- The mistake of not making proper distinctions. Some issues are always intrinsically wrong and others are not. We cannot act as if all issues are the same.
- The other mistake is making the distinction, but then ignoring the “less important” issues all-together. Even if they aren’t intrinsically evil or if there are different answers in how to solve the problems, we can’t just ignore them when voting (e.g., how to serve the poor, how to give access to health care for all, etc).
Now, the Bishops do say something else very important which can help us:
“A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”
An example might help. What if there are two candidates who are identical on the issues surrounding the intrinsic evils? How do we vote? Well, other issues would then have to be taken into account. They don’t cut any corners with this quote:
“It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation.”
This isn’t just about a vote. It is about salvation and human life. The Bishops know the gravity of it all. But, they also know it isn’t a simple thing to do. Which is why they say:
“As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”
So I don’t write all day long. Let it suffice to say that a Catholic should do the following before entering the voting booth.
- Inform yourself on the Church’s teachings on different subjects. Not all carry the same gravity. Also, the Church generally gives moral principles, but it is our job to prudentially apply them in specific circumstances – even the voting booth.
- Continue to form your conscience. This is a life-long process. Reading one voter’s guide isn’t enough. I highly recommend you read the Bishops’ document I have linked.
- Follow your conscience when you enter the voting booth.
We are obligated to exercise our right to vote, when we are able to. The Catechism says:
2239 It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.
2240 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:
Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. [Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.
The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”
I hope this helps and I hope we can be Catholic, before we are anything else.