Priests are often asked by parishioners which candidate in any particular election is the one that they as a Catholic should vote for. This year’s presidential election is no exception. If you’re reading this expecting me to tell you which candidate is the one you should vote for, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Yes, I have my opinion, and those of you who know me well enough should be able to figure out without any difficulty what that opinion is. But that’s not the point of this blog. In this article I wish to lay out principles Catholics should follow so that you can make the decision for yourself for whom you should vote.
First of all, let’s start by talking about a common mistake many people make: being enrolled in a particular political party, they automatically decide they will vote for their party’s candidate, and then look for reasons to justify their belief that their party’s platform is consistent with the Catholic faith. This has created some very strange, even ridiculous, tap dances by people and even politicians to try to soothe their conflicted consciences. Instead, we need to remember that our first allegiance is to Christ and His Gospel and not to any political party. (Not being myself enrolled in any one political party, I find a tremendous freedom in this arena!) Our choice should always be based upon which candidate best represents our beliefs. No candidate is probably ever going to score 100% agreement with everything we as Catholics believe. So we must figure out which are the principles we cannot compromise and are not open for debate and which we’d like to see but perhaps are not as significant as the others. In addition, we must consider the overall health of the nation spiritually, morally, and economically. It will of course be necessary to make concessions here and there, and we’ll have to be willing to tolerate a candidate’s position on one matter that we don’t like, simply because the alternative is a candidate whose position is unacceptable on a far greater matter. For example – and this is an extreme example I made up – one candidate may advocate a 50% tax on bubble gum to discourage children from chewing too much of it (which I think we’d all find silly), but his opponent, wishing to address the issue of illegal immigration, wants to station armed guards at the border authorized to shoot and kill on sight anyone trying to enter illegally. Even though I don’t like the bubble gum tax, I’ll take it over radical slaughter!
We also have to try and see the big picture and look down the line. Where will the particular policies of one candidate or another take us? If we embrace a certain position, what are the ramifications of that choice down the line? Is it leading us toward or away from our call to holiness in Christ? A healthy society needs to be strong economically, militarily, morally, and physically, but which of these is a priority, and when does one of these concerns outweigh the other? Sometimes that’s not easy to tell and there will be genuine disagreement among even faithful Catholics. That’s where healthy debate takes place.
So to sum up:
First, we must avoid knee-jerk decisions based on one-line promises and catchy sound bites, voting for a candidate simply because he is of “my party” regardless of how he stands on faith issues, or on nonsensical grounds. (One of my friends once told me she wouldn’t vote for a particular candidate because she didn’t like the look of his face and couldn’t bear to have to look at it on TV for four years – not the best reason to choose a candidate!) Instead, know the issues, the ramifications of them, and where each candidate stands on them.
Secondly, put your Catholic faith before party loyalty! There are some issues on which we can never compromise and it would be sinful for us to deliberately support any politician whose views contradict important Church teaching. To vote for a particular candidate who holds those views precisely because he holds them, as Pope Benedict XVI teaches, makes us ineligible to receive Holy Communion. The Holy Father has taught that only for grave reasons could one legitimately vote for a candidate who violates God’s gift of life and the dignity of every human being.
Thirdly, each candidate will have policies we like and policies we don’t. We must ask ourselves which of these policies are the most important according to our faith, and which ones may legitimately be sacrificed in order to allow a greater good to be protected.
Fourth, consider all elements together and PRAY about your choice before you make your decision, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in making the right choice.
And finally, remember to vote! It is our duty! See you at the polls in November!