Late last year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put out its strongest statement yet about the need for American voters to avoid voting for candidates who refuse to defend the sanctity of human life. This document urged Americans to involve their consciences in politics, a novel concept for some folks.
The document, entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, was released by the USCCB as a sort of “open letter” to American Catholics, advising them on the morality of certain important political issues. The document urged them not to submit to the moral pluralism that has infected so many otherwise sensible people.
The guidelines put in place by the American bishops are relentlessly clear, so specific that even the most committed loophole-searcher would be hard-pressed to dodge them. “Conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart,” the document declares unequivocally, “revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. … a legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.”
Some issues are more important than others, say the bishops, and the life issues are the most important of all. In the bishops’ own words:
“[34…] A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, 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.
“35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
“36. 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.
“37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.
“38. It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation. Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well being . . .
“41. Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidate’s positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens ‘to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation . . .’
“42. As Catholics we 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.”
Although the document mentions genocide and torture as human rights abuses that Catholics must oppose, the issue of abortion stands paramount in their thinking. Abortion is the central human rights issue in the U.S. today. While the United States is not guilty of institutionalized genocide or torture, over 4,000 abortions take place within her borders each day.
Remember, when election time rolls around, that the pro-life issue is always paramount. Consistently voting for life does not make Catholics and other Christians single-issue voters. Rather, it makes them sensible ones. Without the right to life, all other human rights are meaningless.