How should Catholics decide how to vote?

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The dignity of the human person, subsidiarity, the common good, and solidarity should inform the Catholic conscience on any occasion.

Thanks for presuming Catholics should vote! I recently met a retired woman who proudly claimed her Catholic faith. And then even more proudly admitted she’d never voted in a single election: “My trust is in God, not in dirty politics.” 

If politics is dirty, it’s because people of good will aren’t engaged in public life. The U.S. Bishops (USCCB) affirm: “As Catholics, we bring the richness of our faith to the public square.” And also: “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.” (13) Both statements appear in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility (Nov. 2019). This document on social responsibility has been edited and reissued every four years since the 1976 elections.

Regrettably, the latest edition came out before the pandemic, which would surely have shaped the content. Still, it underscores the timeless principles of church social justice doctrine: the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity, the common good, and solidarity. These four pillars should inform the Catholic conscience on any occasion.

Human dignity requires a passionate defense of the unborn. Yet “equally sacred,” Pope Francis insists, are the lives of the poor, the infirm, elderly, and children. Human dignity is threatened in many ways: indifference to immigrants and refugees, xenophobia, racism, torture, human trafficking, capital punishment, gun violence, global conflict, and the environmental crisis. All must be properly viewed as life issues. All are jeopardized by the “throwaway culture” that labels some lives expendable. 

The principal of subsidiarity involves a concern raised by Pope John Paul II: that “all structures of sin are rooted in personal sin… linked to the concrete acts of individuals.” A person may feel helpless to influence institutional evil. Yet Pope Benedict XVI noted that charity is vital not only in micro-relationships (friends, family members, small groups) but also in macro ones (social, economic, political). (9) The morality of groups matter, from the family to the corporation to the international community. Larger groups have responsibility to smaller ones.

The common good is upheld when the basic unit of society, the family, is nurtured and protected. Children and women must be valued. Workers must earn a living wage. Food security, shelter, education, health care, employment, and freedom of religion must be guaranteed rights. The economy must serve people and not vice versa.

Finally, solidarity remains a Catholic value. Our relationships across society must have a “Eucharistic consistency,” with a preferential option for the poor and a welcome for the stranger. Support leaders and policies that affirm these truths.


Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (USCCB, Nov. 2019)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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