active participants in politics
by MOST REVEREND RICHARD J.MALONE
Bishop of Buffalo
Soon we will go to the polls to cast our votes for the president and vice president of the United States, congressional representatives, and state and local officials. When exercising our voting rights, we are not only acting as good citizens. We are also putting our faith into concrete action. Catholics, by virtue of our baptism, are called to be salt to the earth and light to the world. We must not hide our light under a bushel basket, but rather courageously defend our moral principles and promote human dignity and the common good in the public square.
Regardless of claims to the contrary in some media, the Catholic Church is not partisan. We do not promote either the Democrat or Republican party. We do boldly promote fundamental principles that must guide Catholics and others of good will in assessing candidates, evaluating issues and ultimately choose one over another.
"Let me again emphasize the importance of Catholics becoming informed, active participants in the affairs of politics. Voting conscientiously is not simply an American privilege. It is our responsibility, both as good citizens and as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ."
The U.S. Bishops, in our publication, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," have provided the faithful with a reliable guide for understanding our responsibilities relative to voting. In this resource we outline how respect for the life and dignity of every person, from conception to natural death and at every moment in between, must be the guiding principle underpinning every political agenda. We are called in a special way to protect the weak, vulnerable and voiceless, to defend religious freedom and conscience rights and to share our blessings with those in need.
The only way we can make sound, morally correct decisions about issues impacting our society and informed decisions about candidates for office is to rely on a well-informed conscience. A well-informed conscience does not allow us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a "feeling" about what is right and wrong. Rather, conscience is the voice of God speaking to our hearts, calling us to do what is good and to reject what is evil. We inform our consciences by becoming knowledgeable about God’s revealed truth as we find it in sacred scripture and Church teaching, and, very importantly, by praying for guidance.
We recognize that there can be proposals for addressing some pressing social concerns, such as the economy, immigration reform, or retirement security, on which people of good will can reach different conclusions. This is the exercise of prudential judgment, which demands that we never justify an immoral means to achieve a good end.
Prudential judgment does not come into play with every issue that confronts us. Not every course of action is morally acceptable. There are situations in which what is being proposed is an intrinsic evil. Intrinsic evils are actions that must always be opposed because they are always, by their nature, gravely opposed to the will of God. Examples of intrinsic evils are abortion, euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, genocide, torture and racism. Intrinsic evils undercut the dignity of the human person. If we think about it for a moment, we can see how all of the life issues are connected. Erosion of respect for the life of any person or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life.
Without a doubt, the conscientious Catholic faces many complex and difficult decisions in preparing to vote. That is why an informed conscience, and confidence in the moral wisdom of our Church, is so important. A Catholic may never vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil if, in voting for her or him, one is doing so in support of that immoral position. Conversely, a Catholic cannot justify voting for a candidate who opposes an intrinsic evil if that candidate is known to be indifferent to other serious moral issues involving human life.
There may be times when we find it necessary to vote for a candidate who holds an unacceptable position on a grave moral issue for other grave moral reasons.
We may sometimes find ourselves in the dilemma of being unable to find any candidate who is fully acceptable if all candidates hold one or more morally unacceptable positions. In cases such as this, the voter may decide to choose the candidate who is least likely to do the most harm, or even to take the extraordinary measure of not voting for any candidate.
Let me again emphasize the importance of Catholics becoming informed, active participants in the affairs of politics. Voting conscientiously is not simply an American privilege. It is our responsibility, both as good citizens and as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
© Western New York Catholic, November 2012