October 21, 2016


The ugly election

“The deepest issues we face as a Church and a nation this year won’t be solved by an election. That’s not an excuse to remove ourselves from the public square. We do need to think and vote this November guided by properly formed Catholic consciences. But as believers, our task now is much more difficult and long-term. We need to recover our Catholic faith as a unifying identity across party lines. And we can only do that by genuinely placing the Church and her teachings—all her teachings, rightly ordered—first in our priorities. Larger forces shape our current realities. If we fail to understand those forces, we’ll inevitably cripple our ability to communicate Jesus Christ to generations not yet born.”
(Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput)

The outcome of this year’s election will have an impact on the way our Catholic faith is lived in the United States of America for many years to come.

The appointment of Supreme Court justices, immigration policies, religious liberty, protection for the unborn and elderly, infirm members of our community, terrorism, war and peace—these are just a few of the critical issues that are at stake in the choice of our nation’s leaders.

As Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has written, “the deepest issues we face this year won’t be solved by an election.” But this election matters, and the choices made by “properly formed Catholic consciences” will make a difference.

What difference does your vote or mine make in an ugly election like this one?

The simple answer is “evangelization.” To the extent that our votes are faithful to Gospel values, our exercise of this cherished responsibility to choose wisely gives witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. It proclaims to the world that while some trust in princes (or politicians), we place all our trust in God incarnate and in the Holy Spirit who works in our world regardless of the principalities and powers that appear to be in charge in any given era.

The dilemma we face this year, but to some extent in every election year, is that the choices we are presented with are not clear. A vote for one candidate or party will result in these unacceptable outcomes; whereas voting for the other candidate or party will provide different—but equally unacceptable—results. How do we resolve this dilemma?

Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin has written that “no candidate or political party platform is perfectly consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church on issues of morality and social justice.” With the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal-designate Tobin urges Catholics who wish to be faithful citizens to inform their consciences by studying the issues and making decisions that are not based on personalities but on policies.

The candidates and political campaigns don’t help us. Speeches, rallies, debates and (above all) political advertisements are chock-full of personal attacks, innuendos and outright lies. Issues and policy positions are rarely discussed. As a result, choices based on what the candidates primarily say (or how they perform) will almost certainly be uninformed.

To make responsible choices and, in the process, give witness to the Gospel, we need to dig deeper into party platforms, track records and policy statements made by the candidates. We need to be thoughtful, informed and serious about the issues even when the candidates and their campaign organizations are not.

The issues that faithful Catholic voters should care about are proposed by Cardinal-designate Tobin and the American bishops for our consideration in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” These include: The ongoing destruction of more than 1 million innocent human lives each year by abortion; physician-assisted suicide; and the redefinition of marriage—the vital cell of society—by the courts, political bodies, and increasingly by American culture itself.

Defining issues also include the excessive consumption of material goods and the destruction of natural resources, which harm both the environment and the poor; the deadly attacks on fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world, the narrowing redefinition of religious freedom, which threatens both individual conscience and the freedom of the Church to serve; economic policies that fail to prioritize the poor, at home or abroad; a broken immigration system and a worldwide refugee crisis; and wars, terror and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity.

There’s no question that we are in an ugly election season and faced with impossibly difficult choices. But we are a people of hope who are called to give witness to Gospel joy. Let’s show our true colors on Election Day. Let’s reject the ugliness and choose what is good and true!

—Daniel Conway

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