I often get asked “Are Catholics required to vote a certain way?” and the answer is “Yes and No.” The Catholic Church does not endorse any candidate or party. Period. No matter what you have read or heard, there is NO mandate on which candidate(s) Catholics must vote for. Hard stop. However, we ARE asked to bring our values and commitment to the common good with us to the voting booth. HOWEVER, what that actually looks like on our individual ballots depends.
Matt Malone, SJ wrote this great little opinion piece for America magazine, in which he said “I can virtually guarantee that if you attend Mass on Sunday morning in any parish in the United States, you will find yourself sitting in a pew near someone who disagrees with you about what the public policy should be on abortion, or same-sex marriage, or the death penalty. While the teaching of the church on the moral dimensions of these issues is consistent, there is today, as there has always been, a spirited debate about HOW to APPLY those moral principles in the public realm, one that is democratic, diverse and nonsectarian. Catholics are free to disagree with one another in good conscience, if not about the moral principles at stake, then certainly about the prudential application of those principles in the public square. Our fundamental identity and unity as Catholic Christians does not reside in our allegiance to a set of ideas, much less to some political manifesto. Our unity resides in the person of Jesus Christ. For us, truth is ultimately a person – a ‘someone’ we encounter rather than a ‘something’ with which we beat each other over the head.”
Michael Sean Winters writes “What makes Catholic social teaching so powerful is that it doesn’t fit squarely within in any one party or ideological movement…From the church’s teachings on abortion to the death penalty, concern for the poor and care for the earth—none of it neatly corresponds to our current political chasms (Tania Tetlow).”
Bishop McElroy states “When you say abortion is the preeminent issue we face as a nation, you are setting up an election choice.” According to Bishop McElroy, discerning whom to vote for as a faithful Catholic cannot be boiled down to a single issue and must instead focus on establishing and maintaining the common good.
“The common good is, in Catholic theology, the advancement of the whole series of issues in society which allow the fullest expression and enhancement and achievement of human life and dignity for all people in our society and in the world. To say that abortion is the preeminent issue in a particular political season is to reduce the common good, in effect, to one issue. That’s a distortion of Catholic teaching, in fact, the assertion that abortion is the preeminent issue in any political campaign is itself a political statement, not a doctrinal one.” Instead, U.S. Catholics must assess the entire range of issues. Bishop McElroy urges us to vote with other foundational issues in mind that effect the common good, such as climate change which could, without our attention, make the entire earth uninhabitable for ALL human beings and many other beautiful species. The Bishop implores voters to be “attentive to a comprehensive understanding of what our faith teaches us and what Catholic social teaching teaches us.”
Ultimately, the role of the church is to “bring us the proclamations of the Gospel, not to make political determinations for the faithful. That responsibility, he explained, rests on a well-formed conscience. “Catholic teaching is always in the core of your heart, when you are just there with God, after you’ve listened to the teachings of the church, after you’ve listened to other issues… You sit down and you pray and ask what is God calling you to do? If you’re doing that authentically, then your highest authority is conscience. In Catholic teaching, not only can you follow your conscience, you must. It is sinful NOT to follow a well-formed conscience.” (see https://lisaabadbrown.com/2022/02/26/conscience/)
St. Paul says “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Never be lacking in zeal, but be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in affliction, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of all God’s people. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another…Do what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
This is our Catholic “practice.” These sacred hopes are what we take with us to the polls as believers on Nov. 8th.
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