To the editor:
If election-year history repeats, we are likely to read a sensational report that a Catholic cleric, somewhere, has told parishioners whom they should or should not vote for. Such behavior on the part of Catholic officials is, of course, outside the guidelines issued by the U.S. Bishops in Faithful Citizenship. Our church does not and should not instruct us on how to vote. On the other hand, we must not approach the privilege to vote with moral indifference.
In Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Bishops stress the importance of lifelong formation of conscience, aided by Scripture, church teaching, prayer, and reflection. They remind us that active participation in political processes is a moral imperative through which we bring our values and voices to the public square. That obligation does not stop at the voting booth. We have an ongoing responsibility to advocate for public policies that promote life, human dignity, justice, and peace. The Bishops’ document underscores the church’s moral teaching, as well as Catholic Social Teaching related to social, political, economic, and environmental justice.
Voters rarely find candidates who match perfectly with their own values and principles. Indeed, faithful citizenship requires: 1) a careful assessment of the candidates’ background, values, integrity, positions, and record; 2) an assessment of the significant issues facing our nation, state, or locale; and 3) the exercise of prudential and conscientious judgment in determining which candidates will best promote and serve the common good. In this context, voting on the basis of a single issue is both myopic and simplistic.
Even with rigorous conscience formation, Catholics, in good faith, may come to different conclusions with respect to candidates and public policy. The important thing is that we leave the voting booth knowing we have done our best, as “faithful citizens”!