Inquiring Minds: Should Catholics Vote?


An Inquiring Mind sent this question: I know the Catholic Church doesn’t tell us WHO to vote for, but are there some basic criteria we should keep in mind as we prepare to vote for our next president? Is there even any reasons that I SHOULD vote?

Sr. Teresa responds:
Let’s answer the second question first. As Catholics, we are called to be responsible citizens, and our US bishops tells us that “participation in political life is a moral obligation.” Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world, so we should participate in public life (and this includes voting, as a responsible citizen) in a way to helps us to carry out the mission of Jesus.

And the basic criteria? The Church calls us first of all to have a fully formed conscience, which means that we need to listen to, accept, and act upon the Church’s teaching. The Catholic Church teaches four basic principles of Catholic social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. These four principles should be used to evaluate political candidates, parties, and ballot measures in the light of the Gospel. Let’s briefly look at each one:

1) The dignity of the human person: each human person, from the moment of conception, is created in the image and likeness of God, and thus has an inherent and inalienable dignity. Our participation in public life has to first and foremost keep this principle in mind. The US Bishops write: “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, 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.” As Catholics, we cannot support any position that undermines the dignity of the human person.

2) The common good: “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (CCC 1906). The common good necessarily involves respect for the human dignity of each person, and means that the society must permit each member to fulfill his or her vocation. In our Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers acknowledge this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness . . . “ The common good requires the recognition of individual rights and equality—“respect for the person as such” (CCC 1907), as well as “the social well-being and development of the group itself” (CCC 1908) and peace.

3) Subsidiarity: “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (CCC 1883). This principle is opposed to every form of collectivism, sets limits for state intervention, and tries to harmonize relationships between individuals and societies (CCC 1885).

4) Solidarity: this is required of us by fraternal charity, or basic Christian love. Solidarity is manifested in the just distribution of goods and payment for work, in working toward a more just social order. Although we most commonly think of solidarity in regards to material goods, it also involves sharing spiritual goods.
While the Catholic Church will always remain non-partisan and does not promote or endorse any candidates, as Catholics we should follow what the Church teaches as we go to the polls. We cannot be more committed to a political party or candidate than to the Lord Jesus. Nor can we be guided in our voting only by what we see on the news media or hear in soundbites—rather, we should investigate the ballot measures and candidates, and our decisions as we vote should, the Bishops tell us, “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.”

For more on the issue of voting, please visit http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/

*Unless otherwise noted, quotes are taken from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/