Discerning how to vote as a Catholic

By Father Louis Arceneaux, C.M.

Published in Today’s American Catholic

I am an active Roman Catholic priest.  I am opposed to abortion and I wish we Roman Catholics in leadership had done and continue to do a much better job of promoting the dignity of every human being from the moment of human life within the womb of a woman to the day of death.  

At the same time I am opposed to the view that is espoused by far too many Catholic clergy, Religious and laity that declares that opposition to abortion is the overriding issue when making choices of candidates for any position of public office from members of Congress to governors and Presidents. I am not alone in that position. Actually the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops agrees with that position. 

In  their document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” they state “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 takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion, euthanasia  …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.

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects acandidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for a truly grave reason, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” (#s 34 -35)

I appreciate  the carefully composed document of our Catholic bishops. However, at the U.S. Bishops’ Fall, 2019 gathering, they approved a letter to be included with the full document. In that letter, the bishops expressed the view that opposing abortion was the preeminent issue facing Catholic voters. A number of bishops, including Cardinal Cupich and Bishop McElroy opposed this narrow focus but did not gain approval of their approach.  We voters must deal with a detailed document that presents a complex approach and a letter that is more narrowly focused. 

As a result, Catholic voters need to reflect and decide how they will form their personal consciences based on what they learn from our bishops, from other sources of Catholic social teaching and how they think the views of the candidates live up to the totality of Catholic social teaching.

In making our decisions about voting, we need to realize that there is much more to being pro-life than being opposed to abortion. We need a consistent ethic of life that supports all life issues, including the life of our planet. Pope Francis as well as Cardinal Cupich and Bishop McElroy have all written and spoken out in this way for a true complete pro-life approach to life and voting.

Bishop McElroy spoke to the challenges in a lecture he gave on “Conscience, Candidates and Discipleship in voting” at the University of San Diego on February 6, 2020.  In that presentation, he made the salient point that we do not vote for issues alone; we vote for particular candidates, applying what the Bishops said about reasons for choosing one candidate over another. He also noted that it is not only the candidates position on a particular issue that is important but also the candidates opportunity, competence and character that matter. We need to be clear that the candidate is a person of  honesty and integrity, that he or she is competent to affect the issues and will have the opportunity to do so.   

As we prepare to vote in November, we need to reflect prayerfully which candidate will promote and have an impact on carrying out  more of our Catholic social principles such as  the dignity of the human person, the common good of all people and care of our planet. No candidate is perfect and yet we are called to choose the most capable.

Louis Arceneaux, C.M. 4.4.2020

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