Once again, Election Day approaches. At times like these, I am frequently asked how people can do the right thing as voters, as citizens, and as Catholics.
According to the teachings of our Church — our Holy Father and our bishops — there are several critical questions involved here.
The first is the formation of my conscience. Our bishops have said quite clearly that
“Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do.” (Faithful Citizenship 17)
A good, Catholic conscience is obedient to the teachings of the Church, and open to hearing the voice of God. It considers God’s will more important than any partisan interest that I may have. It always directs me to do good and avoid evil, and in the case of voting,
“A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Participation of Catholics in Political Life 4)
Building on the proper formation of conscience, we can then turn to the issues and the candidates. One thing is crystal clear at this point: all the issues are not the same, and the defense of human life is the paramount issue for Catholics to consider. As the United States Bishops have said,
“This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection.” (Faithful Citizenship 31).
“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.” (Faithful Citizenship 28)
This means that in evaluating a candidate, we must consider, first and foremost, their position on the defense of human life. As the U.S. Bishops have said:
“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 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.” (Faithful Citizenship 42)
Our New York Bishops have said the same:
“The inalienable right to right of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.” (New York State Bishops, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)
Cardinal Egan once confronted us, in language as plain as possible,with the choice of conscience and discipleship that we face when going into the voting booth:
Look [at the pictures of unborn children] and decide with honesty and decency what the Lord expects of you and me as the horror of ‘legalized’ abortion continues to erode the honor of our nation. Look, and do not absolve yourself if you refuse to act.”
The teaching of our Church is clear: we must vote pro-life.
(For more information about voting, including statements by the Archdiocese, the New York Bishops, and the United States Bishops, click here. For information about the positions of candidates running for office, click here.)