Catholic Political Engagement is not just thinking or discussing issues, but must move toward action. In previous notes, we looked at some of the core principles that underlie Catholic engagement in the political realm. We now address some of the considerations of the process by which these principles are applied to the act of voting and taking positions on policy issues. It begins with the general consideration of the nature of conscience and the role of prudence. The application of prudential judgment does not mean that all choices are equally valid or that the bishops’ guidance and that of other church leaders is just another political opinion or policy preference among many others. Rather, Catholics are urged to listen carefully to the Church’s teachers when they apply Catholic social teaching to specific proposals and situations.
How Does the Church Help the Catholic Faithful to Speak About Political and Social Questions?
A Well-Formed Conscience
The Church equips its members to address political questions by helping them develop well-formed consciences. “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act. [Every person] is obliged to follow faithfully what he [or she] knows to be just and right” (CCC 1778). We Catholics have a lifelong obligation to form our consciences in accord with human reason, enlightened by the teaching of Christ as it comes to us through the Church.
The Virtue of Prudence
The Church also encourages Catholics to develop the virtue of prudence, which enables us “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806). Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act. Prudence must be accompanied by courage, which calls us to act. As Catholics seek to advance the common good, we must carefully discern which public policies are morally sound. At times, Catholics may choose different ways to respond to social problems, but we cannot differ on our obligation to protect human life and dignity and help build, through moral means, a more just and peaceful world.
Doing Good and Avoiding Evil
There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. These intrinsically evil acts must always be rejected and never supported. A preeminent example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion. Similarly, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, and other acts that directly violate the sanctity and dignity of human life including genocide, torture, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified. Nor can violations of human dignity, such as acts of racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable, or redefining marriage to deny its essential meaning, ever be justified.
Opposition to intrinsically evil acts also prompts us to recognize our positive duty to contribute to the common good and act in solidarity with those in need. Both opposing evil and doing good are essential. As St. John Paul II said, “The fact that only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances does not mean that in the moral life prohibitions are more important than the obligation to do good indicated by the positive commandment.” The basic right to life implies and is linked to other human rights such as a right to the goods that every person needs to live and thrive—including food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work.
[Excerpted from USCCB Handout, 2020]
Call for civil dialogue. Join Civilize It
Civilize It is about making room in your heart for those with whom you disagree. We are called to recognize that each person is a beloved child of God and should be treated with respect because of our inherent human dignity. Civilize It is a Catholic, non-partisan call to focus on the dignity of all people, even when we disagree, and to put faith in action by bearing witness to compassion and civility. Take the pledge and find helpful resources at CivilizeIt.org.
Holy Family, Pray for us.
~ Fr Jeremy M. Gries