Voting in good faith

For first-time and seasoned Catholic voters, 2016 election is messy

Aaron Lambert

The 2016 election is right around the corner, and for many Catholics, there’s no telling how they feel about it.

With two controversial candidates going head-to-head, many Catholic voters are unsure of how our future potential president is going to support the values of the Church, leaving them in a difficult spot when it comes to casting their vote Nov. 8. Seasoned voters might be used to this, but even first-time voters aren’t sure what to think.

John Magee was born and raised in Ireland, but has lived in the U.S. since 1996. After a long process (20 years, to be exact), Magee was finally minted as a U.S. citizen Aug. 5, which means he will participate in the upcoming election as a first-time voter. As for how he’s approaching this presidential election, he refers to two quotes from Edmund Burke, a famous 17th century statesman from Magee’s home country of Ireland.

“We have to look at it through the eyes of faith. One has a civic duty to vote.”

“The first one is, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,’ and the second quote is, ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do little.’ Those are two great quotes that talk about what’s at stake,” Magee said.

As a first-time voter, Magee is certainly troubled by the lack of candidates in this election. Despite this, however, he’s not letting it deter him from his right to vote, a right, he said, he’s waited long and many have worked hard for.

“When I took the oath, it’s a promise I made, to exercise my civic duty and to get involved with the political realms,” he told Denver Catholic. “It’s very exciting and as somebody who was born in Ireland but America has become my adoptive land, it’s something that’s very significant for me because I’ve waited to so long to be able to have this.”

Vote with the eyes of faith

Even so, as an outsider looking in, Magee sees the state of the election and why it seems so difficult to make an educated vote, especially as a Catholic. He said that voters would do well to look at the entire platform instead of just a single issue, but even then, it’s not always clear that’s the best way to cast your vote.

“As a Catholic, you have to look at the platforms and how the candidates are going to respond from a Catholic’s perspective; the issue of life, the issue of economy, the issue of immigration, the issue of justice. What are they going to do for the common good?” he said. “[However], that’s a slippery slope because on the one hand they may be pro-life, but on the other hand they may be pro-something that goes contrary to our belief. It’s very gray scale.”

Though voting in this election isn’t very black and white, Magee is going to allow his faith to inform the way he votes, and most importantly, he’s going to exercise his right to vote.

“We have to look at it through the eyes of faith. One has a civic duty to vote,” he said. “It might not be the ideal candidate and it might not be the ideal person, but I think you have to look at the whole platform of what they have to contribute to society, to our faith, to our children, to the causes we believe in, and is there one candidate over another that will be better to that.”

Vote with your conscience

Even for Catholic voters who’ve participated in past elections, the 2016 election isn’t making the process any easier. Father Sam Morehead, pastor of All Souls Parish in Englewood, fully admits that this particular election is rather complicated.

“There is a lack of clarity on how to go forward when seemingly no candidate robustly stands for all of the values of the Church or even the most significant ones of them, either at present or historically.” Father Morehead said. “And yet, we need to do our best to slog through the soot and shine the light of Christ into it.”

“The question for me as an individual voter is: how do I cast the vote God wants me to cast? It’s his world, his country…nothing is mine, all ultimately belongs to God.”

As a priest, Father Morehead said he’s more consecrated to the work of God and the Church, and thus he is removed in one sense from the political process as a citizen. However, he said this role gives him a greater responsibility of forming the consciences of his flock so that they may more effectively engage the political order as well-formed Catholics. This is not an easy task, he said, as he’s observed that many people tend to approach voting in an individualistic and selfish way.

“We don’t see that we are stewards of our citizenship, stewards of a vote that doesn’t belong to us but belongs to God first and foremost, and thus we have to return it back to God,” he said. “The question for me as an individual voter is: how do I cast the vote God wants me to cast? It’s his world, his country…nothing is mine, all ultimately belongs to God.”

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Father Sam Morehead, pastor of All Souls Parish in Englewood, believes a key part of voting as a Catholic is keeping the idea of stewardship in mind and remembering that the vote we cast at the polls on Election Day ultimately belongs to God. It is the individual’s responsibility to form their conscience in accordance with the Church’s teachings and vote in the way that most promotes Christian morals and values in society. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

In order for one to cast their vote for God, one must have a properly formed conscience, Father Morehead said, one formed by the Gospel and the authentic teachings of the Church.

Only through a formed conscience will Catholic voters be able to sift through the issues and determine how their vote can “help or hinder the kingdom of God and the fulfillment of his will which is authentically taught us by the Church alone through scripture and tradition.”

Vote with love

As far as the candidates are concerned, Father Morehead’s solution is simple: Catholics are to love them the same way they’re called to love everybody else.

“I may like the policies of none of them, but they are human persons. They’re made in the image and likeness of God, they have the divine spark in them” he said. “I may not like anything about them, but I have to see the person through generous eyes of faith.

“Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump – they’re human persons. They’re not all bad, they’re not all good, they need my love.”

Vote with urgency

Catholic voters also have a more pressing obligation to vote, Father Morehead said, because “to whom much is given, much is expected, and Catholics have been given much.”

“[Catholics] have the gift of faith, of grace, sacraments, the authentications of Christ through the Church, and all of that in addition to the gift in America of being citizens in this country, who are empowered to be a participant in this process,” Father Morehead explained. “With all of the gifts from God that he’s given us, there is this greater urgency and emphasis on making a meaningful contribution back.

“To not take a stand is to take a stand, which is not a good stand. God is calling us to act and to be unafraid. … We need to be countercultural by engaging this process with a great act of faith.”

“Furthermore, because there are such important things at stake that go the heart and core of our faith and morals, there’s an even greater urgency and insistence that comes from the Holy Spirit this year to say, ‘be a part of this process and help effect Christ’s presence and values to our state, to our nation, to our world.”

Be unafraid

The worst thing a Catholic could do is not exercise their right to vote, and Father Morehead suggested that Catholic voters would do well to take the easy way out and resist the temptation not to take a stand.

“To not take a stand is to take a stand, which is not a good stand. God is calling us to act and to be unafraid,” he said. “Presidents, governors, kings and queens will all come and go, but the one thing that abides is God, and we must always keep our eyes turned on him, focused on him, and everything must be directed back to him.

“We as Christians have to have this commitment, interior and exteriorly, that our true citizenship lies in Heaven, and everything we do here on earth is oriented towards that. We need to be countercultural by engaging this process with a great act of faith.”

COMING UP: ‘Do the right thing’: Bringing the Catholic Faith into politics

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How does one do the right thing, and more importantly, what is the right thing? This seems to be the dilemma many Catholics are facing during this uncertain political season.

As the United Kingdom proved on the eve of June 24, when majority voted to leave the European Union, anything, even the completely unexpected, can happen in politics. However, this historic event also proved another, more important point: voting absolutely matters. As the United States approaches Election Day on Nov. 5, the political climate is perhaps more uncertain than ever.

The good news is that the Catholic Church, historically and statistically speaking, has proven itself to be a crucial element of the democratic process. Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst for National Catholic Reporter, wrote in a February article titled “The Catholic Vote in 2016” that Catholics “…are important because they have voted for the winner of the popular vote in almost every presidential election since Roosevelt,” and that they are “often pointed to as the preeminent swing voters who can decide an election,” with the caveat that political parties typically don’t focus much campaigning on swing voters during presidential elections.

From state politics to priesthood

Father Ron Cattany, pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, is no stranger to politics. In August 2009, at the ripe age of 55, Father Cattany retired from a long and fruitful career working for the state government as a natural resource official, but instead of retreating to an island resort for the remainder of his days, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in May 2013.

Father Cattany has observed that in modern culture, the civil law and moral law are growing farther apart, he said, and the reason for this is because people seem to confuse civil laws for moral laws.

“There’s a common perception in our culture right now that if you follow the civil law, you’re living a moral life,” Father Cattany said. “A lot of that is because people have gotten away from the fundamental values of a moral life.”

Father Ron Cattany was a long-time Colorado state executive, recent head of Mining and Reclamation, who is about to embark on a career change as a Catholic priest. Cattany and his parents were long-time parishioners at Mother of God Church in Denver, becoming members ther

Father Ron Cattany is no stranger to politics. He was a long-time Colorado state executive before he embarked on a career change as a Catholic priest. He was ordained a priest in May 2013 and now serves as pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.(Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler | Getty Images)

He stressed that in order for Catholics to be effective in the political process, they themselves must first live the moral life by means of properly formed consciences and solid faith formation.

“The deeper we get into living the moral life, the better reflection we get of our own life and where we may live a life of nuance on a number of these issues as to be definitive in terms of what’s right and wrong,” he said. “We have to come to terms with that within ourselves first because any way we live this out within the public square, we’re going to be challenged.”

‘Do the right thing’

To effectively illustrate how to do this, Father Cattany recounted an experience he had while working in the public sector. One day, he stormed into his boss’ office, worked up about a particular issue, and his boss gave Father Cattany what he called a “dad look” and simply told him, “Just do the right thing.”

This simple command, which Father Cattany acknowledged is not as simple as it seems, needs to be the basis for the way in which Catholics become involved in politics, he said.

“That’s what we’re confronted with now in the political sphere. How do we do the right thing?” he said. “The way we do the right thing is by living it first of all, and living it in a way that in living those principles, we have a joy in our articulation of these issues that shows that we’re looking at something better, that we’re looking at truth defined by Jesus Christ.

“It all becomes very personal. It’s sort of the opposite of the pharisees, who were the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ crowd. We have to apply to ourselves the principles, the beliefs, the actions and the faith that we’re asking somebody else to do as well. And we don’t do it in a wishy-washy way, we don’t do it in an accommodating way, we do it in terms of ‘this is the right thing.’”

These principles don’t solely apply to Catholic voters, either. Father Cattany challenged politicians to examine their own conscience and motivations in running for office.

That’s what we’re confronted with now in the political sphere. How do we do the right thing?” -Father Ron Cattany, former state executive and pastor of the Denver Cathedral

“Is the goal to build a career out of [politics], or is the goal to do the right thing? These become tough choices for politicians,” he said.

Ultimately, Father Cattany thinks that the goal of politics in any form is to effect real change and instill a set a values within society that properly aligns with what Christ taught, and the only way to do this is for Catholics to do the right thing by truly living their faith.

“We change lives one at a time,” he said. “We do that in ministry, we do that in social outreach, and the reality is we probably do that in politics as well, and it may very well be that faith, even at the political level, ends up being a lived experience.”

An enduring presence

Father Cattany also acknowledged that some Catholics may find themselves uneasy as they step into the voting booth this year, if for no other reason than they may be forced to choose between two controversial candidates. However, he urged Catholics not no let this sway them from exercising their right to vote, and to do so courageously and with persistence.

“Don’t give up. It’s that enduring presence that changes things over time,” Father Cattany said. “It’s the enduring presence that ultimately ended slavery. It’s the enduring presence that led to the civil rights act. There are a lot of things that happen because people endured over decades.”

Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, concurred with Father Cattany.

“As Catholics, we are called and have a duty to bring our faith and values into the public arena,” Kraska said. “The first step in exercising your faith in the public square is to rid yourself of those notions that somehow your participation doesn’t matter or isn’t needed. That is a huge barrier for a lot of Catholics.”

In a tumultuous and uncertain political season, many Catholic voters wonder how to play an active role in the political process. Father Ron Cattany, pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, said it is important for one to, firstly, be an example of a lived Catholic faith, and to then to use the developed sense of morality that comes from a proper faith formation and “do the right thing.” (Stock photo)

In a tumultuous and uncertain political season, many Catholic voters wonder how to play an active role in the political process. Father Ron Cattany said it is important for one to, firstly, be an example of a lived Catholic faith, and to then to use the developed sense of morality that comes from a proper faith formation and “do the right thing.” (Stock photo)

Kraska said that in the 2012 presidential election, many Catholics either didn’t vote and weren’t even registered to vote, and statistics appear to back this claim. Pew Research Center reported that in the 2012 election, 22% of all voters identified as Catholic, which was a drop from both the 2004 and 2008 elections, when 26% of all voters identified as Catholic. Kraska emphasized that the simplest thing Catholics can do to impact the political process is register to vote and actually exercise that right.

She also shared some practical ways for Catholics to bring their faith into politics, including getting involved in a campaign, contacting legislators via phone or email, and even considering running for office themselves (see: “Let’s Get Political”).

“There is a tremendous ability to make a huge difference just with that one vote or making your voice heard,” Kraska said. “The answer is never not to vote.”