October 26, 2016 // Uncategorized
The upcoming election
This election season has certainly been disappointing for many of us, especially for faithful Catholics who hold a high view of public life as a service to the common good. We expect politicians to reflect our best aspirations as citizens. The presidential campaign, in particular, demonstrates that a new politics is needed in America, one that practices civility and that addresses fundamental issues so important for the flourishing of society, based on the fundamental principles of human life and dignity, justice, and peace.
I have given several speeches the past few months on political responsibility and voting. You may wish to read the speech I gave this past week at the University of Saint Francis, previously given at Saint Jude Parish in Fort Wayne and broadcast on Redeemer Radio. This speech developed points from other similar talks that I had given on both sides of the diocese. The speech is posted on our diocesan website. Even better, I recommend, if you have not already done so, to read the latest revision of the document of the U.S. Bishops: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a document which I use and reflect upon in my talks.
In making our political choices, including voting in the upcoming election, it is imperative that we morally discern our choices with well-formed consciences. Our consciences should be formed in accord with the truths of our faith and the moral teachings of the Church. We then must prudently decide which candidates to vote for, making a judgment on whom we think would best serve the common good of our community, nation, and world.
The Catechism defines the common good as “the sum of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (#1906). The common good concerns the life of all. Of course, one cannot speak of serving the common good if one doesn’t protect the most fundamental good — the right to life, the right that makes all other rights possible.
The fundamental and core principle of Catholic moral and social teaching is respect for the life and dignity of the human person. The common good, properly understood, presupposes this principle. Besides the right to life, the common good also includes concern for other rights connected to human life and dignity, including food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing. For the sake of the common good, the rights of the family must be fostered and protected. Also, the common good is threatened and harmed when the right to religious freedom is not upheld. The right to live our faith and values must be respected and not undermined by the government. Religious liberty is part of human dignity and a basic human right.
Saint John Paul II spoke a great deal about the principle of solidarity, an obligation of our faith that is necessary for the common good. How little we have heard about this important principle in the political campaigns this year! Pope John Paul wrote: “Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 38).
Solidarity has to do with the good of our neighbor. It includes concern not only for our fellow Americans, but for all people. It especially includes care for our vulnerable brothers and sisters: those at the beginning and end of life, the unborn and the elderly; the poor; refugees and immigrants; the oppressed and the persecuted. Solidarity is both a principle and a virtue. Only when there is solidarity is there true peace. In the words of the great John Paul: “peace is the fruit of solidarity.”
I encourage all to exercise good moral discernment and the virtue of prudence when voting for various political offices on the national, state, and local levels. I encourage all to exercise their right to vote. Voting is not only a right; it is also a serious responsibility.
Some want me or our priests to endorse or oppose particular candidates or political parties. This is not our role. Our role is to hand on the Church’s moral and social teaching, to help Catholics to form their consciences correctly. It is the role of lay people, not the clergy, to run for public office, to be involved in political parties, etc.
As Catholics, we all have an obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society. We must bring to the public square what our faith teaches about human dignity, the sacredness of human life, the truth about marriage and the family, the dignity of work, economic justice, care for the environment, etc. These are not optional topics of our faith. We contribute to the wellbeing of our society and culture when we bring our moral convictions to the public square. The Catholic Church brings a consistent moral framework for assessing issues, political platforms, and campaigns. In this increasingly secularist culture, there are those who wish to silence our voice in the public square. Our faith requires us not to remain silent.
In the revised introduction to the bishops’ document on faithful citizenship, we discuss some particular issues that we are deeply concerned about, issues that should be considered when we consider candidates for various offices:
+ The ongoing destruction of over one million innocent human lives each year by abortion.
+ Physician-assisted suicide.
+ The redefinition of marriage — the vital cell of society — by the courts, political bodies, and increasingly by American culture itself.
+ The excessive consumption of material goods and the destruction of natural resources, which harm both the environment and the poor.
+ The deadly attacks on our fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world.
+ The narrowing definition 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 in our country and a worldwide refugee crisis.
+ Wars, terror, and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity.
In preparing to vote, we should consider all the above issues (and others) as we evaluate the candidates up for election to various offices on the federal, state, and local levels. At the same time, we recognize that not all issues are morally equivalent nor carry the same weight. This matter is treated in more detail in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and in my recent speeches. The bishops warn against two extremes: making all issues morally equivalent and dismissing or ignoring important issues.
Some elected offices have more responsibilities than others regarding certain issues, something to be taken into consideration in our prudential judgments. It is also important to look at the character of the candidates up for election.
In sum, I encourage you to vote and to think deeply and clearly before you vote. Study the issues and the candidates in light of Church teaching. Be sure that your conscience is well-formed. Exercise prudence in your choices. Don’t put being Democrat or Republican ahead of your identity as a Catholic, as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Finally, let us not forget the power and necessity of prayer. Let us pray for our nation and all those who will be elected to public office. May the Holy Spirit inspire all to serve the common good!
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