We continue to discuss how Catholics are called to apply principles to the moral decision making and act of political involvement. Drawing from the US Conference of Catholic Bishop’s document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
Avoiding Two Temptations
Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity:
The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.
The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, environmental degradation, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care or housing, pornography, human trafficking, redefining civil marriage, compromising religious liberty, or unjust immigration policies are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.
Making Moral Choices
The bishops do not tell Catholics how to vote; the responsibility to make political choices rests with each person and his or her properly formed conscience, aided by prudence. This exercise of conscience begins with always opposing policies that violate human life or weaken its protection.
When morally flawed laws already exist, prudential judgment is needed to determine how to do what is possible to restore justice—even if partially or gradually—without ever abandoning a moral commitment to full protection for all human life from conception to natural death (see St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 73).
Prudential judgment is also needed to determine the best way to promote the common good in areas such as housing, health care, and immigration. When church leaders make judgments about how to apply Catholic teaching to specific policies, this may not carry the same binding authority as universal moral principles but cannot be dismissed as one political opinion among others. These moral applications should inform the consciences and guide the actions of Catholics.
As Catholics, we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.
[Excerpted from USCCB Handout, 2020]
When all candidates hold a position[s] that promotes an intrinsically evil act[s], the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of [intentionally] 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. (FC 36)
Political Engagement and our Baptismal Call
In their statement on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops remind Catholics about the call to participate in political life. “In the Catholic tradition,” they write, “responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (no. 13).
Visit FaithfulCitizenship.org today to read the full document, along with a new letter, watch new videos, and access other great resources.
Holy Family, Pray for us.
~ Fr Jeremy M. Gries