Your question I am sure reflects the concern of many Catholics and other Christians at this very crucial time, so it is very good that you have written. Yes, it is true that sometimes it seems that no particular party or candidate fully reflects our moral values, so that as Catholic Christians and voters, it is a most challenging task for us, but this does not mean that we should back away from our responsibilities as citizens.
In their 1999 statement titled Faithful Citizenship, the United States Catholic Bishops wrote the following:
As bishops, it is not only our right as citizens but our responsibility as religious teachers to speak out on the moral dimensions of public life. As members of the Catholic community, we enter the public forum to act on our moral convictions, share our experience in serving the poor and vulnerable, and add our values to the dialogue over our nation's future. Catholics are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the moral wisdom anchored in Scripture and consistent with the best of our nation's founding ideals. Our moral framework does not easily fit the categories of right or left, Democrat or Republican. Our responsibility is to measure every party and platform by how its agenda touches human life and dignity.
They also went on to say,
For Catholics, public virtue is as important as private virtue in building up the common good. In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. Every believer is called to faithful citizenship, to become an informed, active, and responsible participant in the political process. As we said a year ago, “We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity [more fully] to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power” (United States Catholic Conference, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, no. 34).
On October 20, 2000, just before the last presidential election, the bishops of the four Roman Catholic dioceses in Massachusetts issued an election statement calling on Catholics to exercise their “moral obligation” to vote and to recognize the “absolute centrality” of the protection of human life when choosing candidates on Election Day. The truth of their statement has not changed and still holds today.
The following is part of their statement:
Before [Election Day], we all have a responsibility to become informed about the candidates and the issues so that our choices will be based on the truth and will reflect the principles of our faith and our nation. In the process of choosing candidates, we Catholics are helped by the Conference’s statement, Faithful Citizenship, that sets before the voter four areas of concern. They are the protection of human life from the moment of conception to that of natural death; promoting family life; pursuing social justice; and solidarity with other peoples and nations around the world. We endorse the content of that statement and, in a particular way, wish to underscore the absolute centrality of the first issue, the protection of human life. Support and promotion of abortion by any candidate is always wrong and can never be justified. We will never cease to denounce abortion and euthanasia and teach all Catholics that to support those positions is to support death over life.
The Massachusetts bishops concluded:
The choices we make on November 7th will help shape the new millennium. It is our responsibility to vote for candidates who will promote life and the culture of life over the culture of death. Such persons will care for all the people of this country, including the poor. Such leaders will support families in their choices and encourage communities to take up responsibility for bettering their own neighborhoods. Such leaders will show the world that we are a nation of peace and that we live in solidarity with all peoples and nations of this world. As Catholics, we stand for life. As citizens, we can do no less than vote for candidates who stand with us.
I hope that reading these statements from the U.S. bishops will help you to be clearer as to the serious responsibility we have to make our vote count. More than anything, we must protect and defend human life and support those who do. It is what God calls us to do always and everywhere. When we walk into the voting booth, we do not walk in alone. Christ walks in with us.
© Copyright 2002 Grace D. MacKinnon
Grace MacKinnon holds an MA in theology and is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.