The “Catholic vote” is never a sure thing. Politicians have learned that Catholics are not a unified voice nor a unified voting block–too bad. If we Catholics voted according to the teachings of the Church, we could bring about enormous good for our nation.
The two sentences above are the opening lines of the Election 2008 page written four years ago. Little has changed because WE have not changed sufficiently to be the unified voice needed to bring change and healing to America.
Catholics have allowed themselves to be parceled out among the “women’s vote” the “youth vote” and the “black vote.” Progressive agendas know us better than we know ourselves. Their surveys, poll, and focus groups serve to convince candidates and strategists that they need not concern themselves with “the Catholic vote” precisely because we have been divided.
Studies report that one in five–20 % –of eligible Catholics are not registered to vote. Of those registered, 20 % rarely go to the polls to exercise their right to vote. This is a grave omission. The United states Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in their statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, state, “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (No. 13).
Research indicates that many Catholics are conflicted–they are unsure which candidate best represents their Catholic values. Some Catholics want a candidate who promises to address what is loosely called the “social justice teachings”: care for the poor, a living wage, assistance to the immigrant, basic health care and education. Other Catholics seek a candidate committed to the pro-life issues of abortion, euthanasia, a ban on embryonic stem cell research and defense of the natural family. Which set of values is right?
Both lists are authentic Catholic values. The rub is that the candidates rarely hold all these values. And, thus, Catholics are forced to choose between candidates. How, then, does one choose? We Catholics know it is important to follow our consciences. But do most Catholics also know that we are required in fidelity to form our consciences with the mind of the Church?
What does that mean?
Each of us arrives at our opinions and decisions based upon our knowledge and experiences. But experiences are subjective and remain so unless understood in the context of The Order of Things. It is often a mistake to universalize our personal experience–and that is where knowledge comes to our rescue. The mind of the Church is a treasure beyond worldly goods for it points toward our salvation. For people of faith, it is not necessary to wander in a tangled thicket of philosophies or political propaganda in search of the core values that build the Common Good for all men. The Church sets out the fundamental principles by which we, thinkers and doers, determine how best to apply those universal principles. These principles, based on scripture and Church teaching, shape and form our conscience –and the conscience is man’s ” most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” CCC 1776
Both Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have stated plainly that all moral issues are not of equal moral weight. While a living wage, and a preferential option for the poor are key issues that concern the dignity of the person, they cannot be set above the defense of life or the defense of the natural family. First comes life.
Many who labor to feed and house the poor and insure decent health care grapple with their vote every election cycle. One party promises health care and social assistance that supports the poor and the immigrant in her need. The other party promises protection for the unborn and to uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
There is no “seamless garment.” It is not permissible for a faithful Catholic to set the concerns of war or the environment or poverty as a balance against life issues. Some use their concern for the poor as a means of justifying a vote for the party that promises to keep abortion legal and to legalize same -sex unions. To do so is to become part of the “silent apostasy” that Pope Benedict XVI warned about. To do so is to imperil one’s own soul, for, it is a grave matter to vote for a party that champions the death of innocent children.
“Wait!” some may cry: “Isn’t war death of innocents? Isn’t the death penalty anti-life?”
Yes and yes, BUT, here is what the Pope teaches on that score: The July 2004 memo from Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington on the “Worthiness to Receive Communion”:
3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
Here the principle is clear–on war or poverty, good men may legitimately disagree about the methods to achieve peace and prosperity. It is a matter of prudential judgment when to go to war or how to help people out of poverty. But, in no case and under no circumstance is abortion or euthanasia ever justified. They are absolute prohibitions. It is not a matter of circumstances that require our prudential judgement, abortion and euthanasia are always forbidden.
5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
Other quotes of importance:
“As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public areas is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is consciously drawing attention to principles which are NOT NEGOTIABLE. Among these the following emerge clearly today:
- Protection of life in all its stages from the first moment of conception until natural death;
- Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family—as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage–and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;
- The protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.
Cardinal Francis George:
“If you’ve got an immoral law, you’ve got to work to change that. You’ve got children being killed every day. It goes on forever. That’s the great scandal, and that’s why there’s such a sense of urgency now. There’s no recognition of the fact that children continue to be killed, and we live, therefore, in a country drenched in blood. This can’t be something that you start playing off pragmatically against other issues.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput:
..My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.”
“It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace.”
Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae (1995), no. 101
There is one new urgency since 2008–religious liberty. The “Obamacare” HHS mandate attacks all Catholics and people of conscience. Did you know that the Church serves more people in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and shelters than any other institution except the government itself? If Catholic bishops are forced to shut down all facilities beyond the sanctuary, who will care for the millions who depend on Catholic service? For more information please read the US Bishops statements. For a woman’s perspective please watch this seven minute video HHS madadte, a woman’s perspective.
America struggles to do the good– faithful Catholic participation is the most patriotic love we can offer our nation.
“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”—-George Washington
Pray for America, one nation under God.
Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and speaker whose articles and commentaries on politics, religion and culture appear in a variety of publications. She is a frequent guest on the Women of Grace® television program. Mary Jo was appointed in 2010 to serve on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops National Advisory Council. Mrs. Anderson is co-author with Robin Bernhoft of Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions, published in 2005 by Catholic Answers. Mary Jo blogs at www.maryjoanderson.net.