“A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern,” Pope Francis told governors last September.
This week I want to examine what it means for Catholics to “offer the best of ourselves,” as we prepare for the November election. At my request, the Denver Catholic Register is helping with this effort by publishing a note from Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Catholics in political life over the next few weeks (click to read Part 1, Part 2).
This week’s section addresses some of the key points that must be understood for us to engage in our current political and cultural context.
One subject that I want to address is the idea of “single-issue voting.” For Catholics to “meddle in politics” and “offer the best of ourselves,” we have to be well formed in the entirety of our faith. We have to know the hierarchy of truths and understand that some issues are fundamental, while others are less important for our families, fellow citizens, communities and society to truly flourish.
Catholics are frequently blamed for being single-issue voters when the topics of abortion and embryonic stem-cell research are raised. But, as the note from the CDF makes clear, the right to life serves as a cornerstone for the foundation of society. Every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, has a God-given dignity, which a just society recognizes.
The U.S. Bishops’ 2011 document Faithful Citizenship specifically mentions this when it declares, “This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. Those who knowingly, willingly and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil” (#31).
In other words, making the right to life the highest consideration in our voting is not a matter of blindly voting for a candidate because of one issue. It is a matter of understanding that the right to life – which is directly threatened by abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and in some cases, war – is the foundation of all other rights.
When you decide how you will vote, this basic right must be considered indispensable. It is not acceptable to choose an issue of lesser importance, such as party affiliation, and let it determine your vote. Faithful Citizenship notes, “…a well-formed conscience … recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight” (#37).
In the current political landscape, this often leaves Catholics with difficult choices. It may mean deciding to vote for an imperfect candidate who you think is less likely to advance a morally flawed position and more likely to advance policies that truly benefit society and the dignity of every human being.
The note from the CDF also makes a crucial distinction about living in a diverse society. It is important to not fall victim to the false and dangerous idea that there are no truths common to all people. The growing spread of relativism – the idea that each person has his or her own truth – must be rejected. People must realize that a society which ignores human nature and natural law will soon be without any foundation and will eventually disintegrate.
This November every person of voting age will be asked to exercise their faith and discern how these principles factor into who you vote for. As your shepherd, I ask that you take this responsibility seriously and work to fully form your conscience. Be not afraid to bring your faith into the voting booth, just as non-believers bring their values into the voting booth.
May the Holy Spirit pour out his gifts of wisdom, counsel and understanding on you!