The Catholic Vote: Does the Church Favor One Party Over Another?

By Father Donnell Kirchner

Even if the Catholic Church is not as influential as she might have been once, the fact is that she is the single largest religious denomination in the USA, though divided into many diverse and different camps and schools of thought. Pollsters will tell you that there is no such thing as one, large monolithic group of people.

Many political leaders in both political parties are (practicing) Catholics, and the majority of the Supreme Court Justices have Catholic roots and values. So does the Catholic Church in the USA favor or like one party over the other, want you to vote in favor of one candidate against another? Does the Vatican really want Barack Obama to be defeated, as some bloggers would imply, or that many Catholic bishops are pawns of the Republicans?

I think one of the best way to address this issue is to look to the Bishops’ own document: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which highlights the role of the Church in the formation of conscience, and the corresponding moral responsibility of each Catholic to hear, receive, and act upon the Church’s teaching of forming his or her own conscience. “We bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth”.

For newer generations that have become accustomed to simple solutions, a tightly worded, tightly knitted document can be difficult to reduce to sound bites, so nuanced and precise in its crafting. Those who are looking for black and white answers, have to be careful to not pick and choose what interests their preconceived ideologies. What the Vatican has called “Cafeteria Catholics.” For lack of space, here are some of its points.

While the place of defending unborn life in the womb is given a special role — call it the mother of all principles — Catholics are cautioned to not overlook and forget other aspects of defending and promoting human life. “The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights — to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors—basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work — is universally binding on our consciences ... As Blessed Pope John XXIII taught, “[Each of us] has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and, finally, the necessary social services” (“Pacem in Terris,” no. 11).

In paragraph 31, the bishops recognize that decisions about political life are complex and require the exercise of a well-formed conscience aided by prudence. Christians should be against laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection.

“Pope John Paul II taught that when a government official who fully opposes abortion cannot succeed in completely overturning a pro-abortion law, he or she may work to improve protection for unborn human life, “limiting the harm done by such a law” and lessening its negative impact as much as possible (“Evangelium Vitae,” no. 73).

Prudential judgment is also needed in applying moral principles to specific policy choices in areas such as the war in Iraq, housing, health care, immigration, and others. This does not mean that all choices are equally valid, so the bishops recognize that judgments and recommendations they make on specific issues do not carry the same moral authority as statements of universal moral teachings. That means that the devil is in the details.

So in paragraph 36 the bishops state that “when all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, 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”.

If one was hoping for Church leaders to indicate which candidate and party to vote for, they seems to be saying, grow up, exercise your mature judgment and ask for wisdom from the Holy Spirit to make the best choices possible. In paragraph 42, the bishops remind Catholics that they are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. “Yet a 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.”

Father Donnell Kirchner, CSsR, of Liguori, Mo., received a degree in moral theology in Rome and taught for 39 years as a Redemptorist priest in Brazil. He currently travels around the USA preaching.

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2012

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