There have been numerous inquiries to my office about if and when I might speak about the upcoming national election. I choose to do so now, knowing in advance that what I say will disappoint some, and perhaps may be of some help to others.
What is a serious voter of conscience to do this fall? Both parties have now embraced their respective platforms and both candidates have spoken repeatedly about their positions on issues on what I believe to be “ of conscience.”
Looking at this election from the standpoint of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) document on political responsibility entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (very much worth a read by clicking here); the following is what I would take into the voting booth to shape my choice on Election Day. My observations on the issues are based on what has come to date either out of the respective party platforms or the candidates’ mouths and they appear in the priority order in which the issues appear in the aforementioned publication:
1. Protecting innocent human life in the womb, reducing abortion on request, opposing euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. In these very important areas of life concerns, it is abundantly clear from the party’s own platforms as well as convention election rhetoric that the Republicans provide stronger reassurance.
2. Opposing torture, waging unjust war, preventing genocide, eliminating the use of the death penalty, avoiding armed conflict and seeking peace. Personally, I find little comfort in either party on these very important “life issues.” Little has been said as of this writing by any candidate on most of these issues save the last – the search for peace.
3. Protecting religious freedom by allowing Churches and religious institutions to define themselves free of government interference and respecting the rights of those institutions and employees to protect themselves from materially cooperating in actions against their moral conscience. Nothing has changed since my previous “blog” writings on this very important religious freedom issue from the Administration and again the rhetoric at the Democratic convention suggests that they either just don’t care about how Catholics feel or believe there are too few of us who feel strongly to do them electoral harm. The other party’s candidates and their platform promise restoration of religious freedom.
4. Promoting genuine and just immigration reform while securing the nation’s borders. There is little difference to be found here but the President’s recent Executive Order implementing portions of the now nearly defunct “Dream Act” shows more compassion, at least to those children of parents no longer living in this country while their children do.
5. Proffering genuine access for all to medical care and expanding its opportunity to more of the uncovered. The Catholic Church and especially its bishops have long argued for the extension of health care benefits to those presently uncovered and unprotected. The Affordable Care Act accomplished a large portion of this important social agenda. Unfortunately the Administration has published regulations which infringe on the Church’s freedom to define and pursue its mission but the fact is there now is no maximum limit on health care benefits, there now is no pre-condition impediment to accessing a health care plan, and children may remain on their parent’s program now until they are twenty-six. Additionally, more of the nation’s previously uncovered are now covered. Contraceptive mandate notwithstanding, I think the Democratic Party and platform is more committed to the Church’s vision of universal health care for the poor although I lament the absence of access to care for the undocumented.
6. Support for marriage as between one man and one woman as the bedrock of societal family life. In this election, there is a clear choice, I believe, as seen in platforms and pronouncements of party leadership.
7. Strengthening the possibility of parental choice in the education of their children. The power of the teachers’ unions over the Democratic Party and its candidates for office is very visible. The teachers are strongly against parental choice in education (read that, competition is good in every other sector of society, except the education of our children) and the Democrats in this one walk lockstep the teachers’ union line. Republicans see the value to our nation in freedom of choice in education.
8. Care for the genuine poor, disadvantaged, the “least among us.” This one is interesting to me because the Democrats have always laid claim to it. Much of this election is about the economy, high unemployment, home mortgages, etc. I have yet to hear either party speak for “the genuine poor, disadvantaged and least among us” primarily, I suspect, because these people do not vote or form a voting bloc. That’s why they need the help of the Church and all followers of Christ. Remember those challenging words in the Gospel, “when did I see you poor?”
9. Advancing the cause of human labor by protecting employees and supporting their right to organize. You don’t need my help on this one. One party loves unions and the other has an allergy to them.
10. Giving witness to global solidarity through promoting peace and pursuing justice. I don’t think there is an advantage to either party here at this moment in human history. The evidence of the last few days is that there are a lot of people in the world who do not like, trust, or believe in the United States for a variety of reasons, a few fair, but many unfair. Now this is just my personal opinion but in answer to that quadrennial favorite question, “are you better off now than four years ago?” I would say I am not at all sure. Not to decide is to decide!
So, what I have attempted to do above is to take the issues which the body of bishops in the United States have lifted up as constitutive for conscience formation today and apply them for myself. I only ask you to do the same in forming your conscience and decisions. I do not wish to tell you for whom to vote or how to vote, but rather, in an area of human reasoning and judgment, only explain how I see these issues when I consider how to cast my vote. The guidance which the bishops of the United States follow at moments like this election season disappoints some while is understood and appreciated by many. You may read these guidelines by clicking here.
For some, one or more of these issues may be more important than others or there may well be an issue or issues which are not on this list (which was never meant to be exhaustive). I have never known in my lifetime a perfect candidate for office (though I think the late Governor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania came the closest to passing the test on most of the above) and voting can become a “lesser of two evils” decision for many (it has for me in the past, I know). One thing is for certain and is probably the only thing which the two candidates for the highest office and their parties can agree on. This year, there is indeed a clear choice.
Let me close by calling your attention to two important ecclesial statements that have guided me in preparing and praying over this blog entry, the first from the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and the second by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
In speaking to the bishops of the world, the Council described our responsibility as teachers in the “Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishop in the Church” and there in we were encouraged to “announce the Gospel of Christ” and also to “teach the value of earthly goods and human institutions according to the plan of God the Creator.” The fathers went on to enumerate “the human person and bodily life, the family and its unity and stability, the procreation and education of children, civil society with its laws and professions, labor and leisure, the arts and technical inventions, poverty and affluence.” In addition, bishops “should set forth the ways by which are to be answered the most serious questions concerning the ownership, increase, and just distribution of material goods, peace and war, and brotherly relations among all countries.” [Christus Dominus #12]
Then from the 2002 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” the following: “In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.
When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, [emphasis is that of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith] Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forego extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo. Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such. The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the same way, one must consider society’s protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution for example). In addition there is the right to religious freedom and the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity, according to which the “right of all individuals, families, and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged” [Gaudium et Spes, #75). Finally, the question of peace must be mentioned. Certain pacifistic and ideological visions tend at times to secularize the value of peace, while, in other cases, there is the problem of summary ethical judgments which forget the complexity of the issues involved. “Peace is always the work of justice and the effect of charity.”[Catechism, 2304] It demands the absolute and radical rejection of violence and terrorism and requires a constant a vigilant commitment on the part of all leaders.” (#4).
Voting is a sacred right won for us by our ancestors through blood and battle. We must take it seriously, study the issues and cast our ballot from a well-formed conscience.