September 16, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Difficult moral choices cannot be avoided, must be addressed

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity”
(U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship,” #34.)

We Catholics who are citizens of the United States of America are in a tough spot when it comes to making choices on Election Day. Our Church’s position is clear: a person who votes for a candidate or political party because they promote intrinsically evil acts such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, ill-treatment of workers (including immigrants and refugees), redefining marriage, racism or other immoral acts would cause the voter to “be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil.” What are they to do? Stay home on Election Day? Write-in “none of the above”?

It’s a serious dilemma. No candidate for political office perfectly represents the positions of the Catholic Church. No political party has written a platform that is in complete agreement with our perspective on morality and social justice. And yet, we are strongly urged by our pope and our bishops to get involved, to exercise our God-given right—and responsibility—to select leaders and affirm policies that are morally responsible and promote the common good.

How do we go about this?

Here is what the U.S. bishops say in “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship:”

“There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (#35).

“Morally grave reasons” is the standard set by the U.S. bishops for voting for candidates or policies that are clearly contrary to Church teaching on matters that are intrinsically evil. The bishops continue:

“When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of 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” (#36).

A similar dilemma arises when a candidate promotes one intrinsically evil act (such as abortion) while his or her opponent appears to reject this evil while actively promoting another intrinsically evil act (such as deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions). The bishops address these moral dilemmas as follows:

“In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching” (#37).

In the end, each of us must decide. It would be easier (more comfortable) if the Church would tell us who (or what) to vote for or against. But that is not the Church’s role, and Catholics would be among the first to cry “Foul!” if our pope, bishops or priests inserted themselves into the political process in an inappropriate way.

What is the role of the Church? To proclaim the Gospel, to call attention to intrinsic moral evils, to urge all people of good will to defend human life above all, and to invite Catholics to accept our role as missionary disciples sent to bring our incarnate Lord to the “peripheries,” the ends of the Earth.

The moral dilemmas we face are not an excuse for passive inactivity. We are called to choose—like it or not—and through our difficult choices to defend life and promote the common good. †

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