In just over a month, we will be voting for the next president of the United States (and of course, other elected offices as well). As I did in 2016, I would like to provide some insight from a document from the United States Bishops Conference called, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” It presents the key points of the Church’s teaching of faith and morals as they relate to current social and political issues. I am not going to tell you who to vote for. Your homework is to learn more about each of these issues, and then to learn more about each candidate, and then to use your vote in accord with Church Teaching and a well-formed conscience. I put a link to the document on the parish website, and I highly encourage everyone to read it.
I want to start with this unfortunately long quote: “Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that [intrinsically evil policy]. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position—even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act—may reasonably 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. When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods… This is not to bring a ‘Catholic interest’ to the political sphere, it is to insist that the truth of the dignity of the human person, as discovered by reason and confirmed by revelation, be at the forefront of all political considerations.”
I want to elaborate on that quote, because it sets up the Catholic struggle of voting in modern American politics. First, it says it is morally acceptable to vote for a candidate whose position includes a morally grave and intrinsic evil. But there are two required essential conditions. The first is that someone voting for that candidate has to be voting for them despite that morally grave evil, not because of it. You can’t promote a position that is incompatible with Catholic teaching on any grave moral issue, and you can’t vote for a candidate in order to promote a morally grave evil. The second condition is that you can vote for a candidate who promotes a morally grave evil only for truly grave moral reasons, and not just because of other issues of less moral gravity.
Next thing about this quote is when all candidates’ positions embrace morally grave evils, then what? Then there are three options. First, you choose not to vote and cooperate with grave moral evil. Second, you find a third-party candidate whose position is more morally acceptable. Or third, you vote for the candidate who is less likely to actually promote the morally grave evil aspect of their policy, and more likely to accomplish more positive aspects of their platform.
And lastly, concerning this quote, is that it is not a matter of “well, this is what I believe, but I can’t make that choice for others.” If something is good or bad, true or not true, it applies to all humanity. It isn’t that the Church teaches that some moral truths only apply to Catholics. It’s that the Church teaches it’s evil and harmful for all humanity. Others may not be culpable for the evil of their sin, out of ignorance, but they are still wounded by the effect of the sin. The truth sets you free, and lies ensnare you, whether you believe them or not.
The paramount issue is the dignity of human life. And the primary issue regarding the dignity of human life is abortion, “the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, which is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed.” This is distinct from delicate surgical procedures when a pregnancy becomes life-threatening. In that case, morally, the lives of both the child and mother must be preserved as much as resources and technology allow, and may even involve the near-certainty of the tragic death of the child. But this is not the same as the act whose intentional purpose is to bring about the death of the unborn child. Sometimes euphemistically branded as “women’s healthcare” or “women’s right to choose,” no one has the legitimate moral choice, under any circumstance, to choose what abortion intends to do, either through surgical procedure or a pill. This is not a religious or faith argument, and not exclusively a women’s issue. It’s a human rights issue, and its foundation is in science, biology, and reason. So, any candidate or party that promotes this intrinsic grave evil is morally unacceptable to vote for… unless, in the conditions mentioned above. First, that one chooses such a candidate despite their promotion of abortion, and to do so based on a greater moral issue. However, there is no graver moral issue than abortion that legitimizes voting for such a candidate. Second, that when all reasonable candidates promote an intrinsic grave moral evil, it is acceptable to vote for the candidate less likely to effectively promote the evil, and more likely to promote other issues of grave moral concern.
Other moral issues concerning Catholic Social Teaching are opposition to the death penalty, euthanasia, torture, racism and other unjust discrimination, human cloning, in vitro fertilization (IVF), embryonic stem cell research, and redefining marriage, sexuality, and gender in such a way that distorts their essential nature; and the promotion of the humane treatment of immigrants, prisoners, employees, and the mentally ill; reasonable access to healthcare, food, housing, education and employment; and the protection of the environment, and of religious liberty: to freely and faithfully live out one’s religious convictions in public and professional life.
These are many of the issues, and the document goes into much more necessary detail in explaining these and other issues. I’m assigning it as required homework reading. It’s either that, or I spend the next 10 homilies reading it to you. I thought you’d prefer it this way.
When I finished giving this type of homily leading up to the 2016 election, someone told me that the person behind them had muttered, “Well, that didn’t tell me anything.” I understand. It’s messy and confusing. No candidate is in line with the Catholic Teaching even on grave moral issues, much less all issues. And even if a candidate or party is on the right side of the issue, it doesn’t mean they have a successful strategy to address the issue.
And there’s also a lot going on that’s not strictly political policy, but related to our political and social situation: protests and riots, racial tension, economic uncertainty, COVID-19, corruption, human trafficking, gun control, international tensions, judicial appointments, media bias, pineapple on pizza, and so on.
If I accomplish nothing else in this, I at least want to have laid the groundwork for two things: First, that as the watchman I am appointed to be, I have instructed you in right and wrong, life and death, and it is up you to choose life. And second, that when the dust settles after election day, that we don’t look toward any of our brothers and sisters in the pews with us with any lack charity over who should and shouldn’t have been voted for. And whatever happens, we got this, we stick together, with Christ the King, our true leader, to guide us into his everlasting kingdom. God bless you.
POSTSCRIPT: I know some people have difficulty with some things in here, because they have difficulty with some things the Church teaches, because they struggle or disagree with what the Church teaches, or they have committed an act of sin that gives them a profound sense of shame. Please do not leave the Church. God loves you infinitely, and embraces you with his infinite mercy. If anything discussed here, or anything the Church teaches, is such a difficulty for you that it endangers your relationship with God or His Church, please contact me however is best for you.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: This homily, delivered at the pulpit of a Catholic Church, is the magisterial teaching of the Church (well, maybe not the part about pineapple on pizza). I know there are many resources online from strongly right and left leaning writers and speakers that put things in much starker (or for some, more ambiguous) terms. In my opinion some things are being said from the pulpit are more opinionated than magisterial. I don’t necessarily disagree with what is said, but might disagree that it should be preached. I gave here the teaching as presented by the Bishops of the Church. If you want to know my opinions, in a setting where I am more free to express opinions in terms or interpretations that are not magisterial, I would be more than happy to have that conversation individually.
“The aim of this instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, wanting to be teachers of the law, but without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance” (1 Tim 1:5-7).