Voting With a Clear Catholic Conscience

The election is finally almost over. Many people have already voted by mail or at early sites, but many of us still have not. I am a Catholic who is very serious about both politics and following the guidance of our bishops. So I want to vote with a clear Catholic conscience. I’d like to show how the Church’s teaching helped me decide how to vote, in case this will help others make their own decision.

Forming My Conscience

Deciding how to vote is an exercise in forming one’s conscience. As with many moral decisions, there is no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all Catholic answer. But there is a correct approach to forming a good conscience and making a prudent decision, guided by the teaching of the Church. It is outlined by our bishops in their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

This document can be a guide not just for Catholics, but for all people of faith as they wrestle with the difficult choices in this election. It’s a shame that more Catholics don’t know about it. It’s especially a shame that so many Catholic politicians don’t use it to form their consciences, and instead adopt positions that are totally in violation of Church teaching.

The bishops make clear that we must always oppose all intrinsically evil actions and laws (FC 22). This would include direct assaults on innocent human life, such as abortion, euthanasia, cloning, genocide, torture, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, racism, violations of religious liberty, redefining marriage, etc. (FC 23)

But they left no question about which issues are most important. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (FC 22, emphasis added). There is no wiggle room here – “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.” (FC 28, emphasis added)

Nor can we pretend that a candidate’s other favorable positions give them an excuse for their evil position. In an earlier document the bishops said that “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care… But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.” (Living the Gospel of Life 22, emphasis added)

This does not mean that other issues are unimportant. But if life itself is not defended when it is most vulnerable, all other rights are meaningless.

Candidates and Intrinsic Evil

The bishops have said that we cannot vote for a candidate that promotes intrinsic evil in order to support that position. “In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil.” (FC 34). So I can’t support a pro-abortion candidate in order to advance abortion rights. No surprise there.

Despite a candidate’s intrinsically evil position, we can vote for them – but “only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” (FC 35, emphasis added). This is a crucial point. We have to have a very good reason to vote for such a candidate. Party loyalty isn’t a good enough reason. And we can’t take abortion off the table, pretend it doesn’t matter, and look only at other issues. In fact, it’s perfectly responsible to reject a candidate simply because they support an evil like abortion (FC 42).

However, we can’t just be single-issue voters: “A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support.” (FC 42) This makes sense. A candidate may be right about abortion but favor other intrinsic evils or be unqualified to hold office because of their character. It would be irresponsible to vote for such a person.

But what if all candidates promote grave and intrinsic evils? Here are our options: “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.” (FC 36, emphasis added)

In other words, when all the choices are bad, we can vote for damage control.

The Current Presidential Race

It’s clear that both the major party candidates present significant problems for a Catholic voter. Both candidates espouse positions that support intrinsic evil, which means that to vote for either would require a “truly grave moral reason”. That’s a very hard burden to meet. But it should be hard for a Catholic to justify voting for someone who supports a grave injustice.

In Mr. Biden’s case, the problem is his unequivocal support for legalized abortion and gender ideology, and his lack of support for religious freedom. For Mr. Trump, it is his cruel and xenophobic policies towards migrants and refugees, and his inflaming of racial tensions.

Is there enough in their favor to provide a “grave moral reason” to vote for either man despite those evil positions?

Those who support Mr. Biden cite some of his positions on immigration, economics and race, which they say are in general alignment with the bishops’ policy preferences. Supporters of Mr. Trump point to his support for religious liberty, his anti-abortion policies and his judicial appointments. Both campaigns have focused heavily on arguments about character – essentially saying that “the other guy is worse”.

Many Catholics and pro-lifers believe Mr. Biden’s position on abortion is disqualifying. They argue that Mr. Trump’s positions on abortion and religious liberty are alone enough to overcome his negatives. They also believe it is imperative to prevent the damage that would be done by a Biden Administration.

Are these arguments enough to justify voting for either of these men?

How I Decided

To give an example of how to answer that question, let me explain how I made my voting decision. I have to say, to make it perfectly clear, that what follows is my opinion only, it is not in any way an official statement of the Archdiocese, and it is not an endorsement or non-endorsement of any candidate.

I relied heavily on the teaching of the bishops in Faithful Citizenship to form my conscience. With the bishops, I believe that abortion is by far the preeminent issue in this election. No other issue is anywhere near as significant. But I also consider religious liberty, gender ideology, race and immigration to be significant issues.

I cannot conceive of a “truly grave moral reason” to vote for Mr. Biden. He supports the legalized killing of over 800,000 children a year, even up to the moment of birth. He considers gender ideology to be the “civil rights issue of our time”, and will not protect conscience rights. His administration will be staffed by people who have radicalized on these issues, and will do much harm to the Church in enforcing them. They will also advance the radical Critical Social Justice agenda (also known as “wokism” or “political correctness”). I just can’t see how any argument in his favor could be enough to overcome his unequivocal support of intrinsic moral evils.

But just because I won’t vote for Mr. Biden, that doesn’t mean that there is automatically a “grave moral reason” to vote for Mr. Trump. I cannot justify voting for a man whom I consider to be the worst person to hold high public office in American history. His cruelty, incivility and dishonesty have significantly contributed to the degradation of our politics and divisiveness in society. His stand on racial issues and his migration policies are an abomination. I agree that his administration would prevent damage on abortion and religious liberty, but I cannot in good conscience say that I think he should be president – which is what my vote ultimately means.

So I will not vote for either major party candidate. That’s just me. Everyone has to live with their own decisions, and be able to justify them to the Lord in the end.

Escaping the False Binary

This decision liberated me from the false binary that we can only vote for a Republican or a Democrat. There are other parties, including one that very closely reflects a Catholic position on the major issues – the American Solidarity Party. I believe their platform best represents my moral and political values. So on Election Day I will vote for their candidate, Brian Carroll. I will do so with a clear conscience.

I know that many people consider it a “wasted vote” to support a minor party candidate who has no chance of winning. But I believe the only way that we can influence the political culture is to vote based on principle. As John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” If enough people vote on principle, then the parties will eventually have to listen, and they will start to offer better candidates and platforms. If I just hold my nose and acquiesce in whatever the major parties offer, they’ll keep serving up the same unpalatable dish.

Our Difficult Duty

This is a hard election for Catholics. We have a duty to do better than choosing the less terrible of two awful choices. That’s difficult in this imperfect world. But ultimately we are called to give public witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to reject a politics of power, and promote a politics of principle and virtue. If we don’t, then our politics will only continue to get worse and worse.

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