The dust has settled; the 2006 election is over. Analysts will debate what happened and why for years; but one thing is for certain, Catholics are a significant voting bloc.
But how do Catholic voters properly educated on important issues by the teaching of the Church choose their candidates? Do voters’ guides addressed to “Catholic” issues truly “guide” Catholics by fairly representing the Church’s views on issues?
Many guides identify themselves as Catholic, but they do not speak for the Church. While voters should learn about upcoming elections from many sources, Catholics should be wary about groups who claim to represent authentic Church teachings. Some guides contain compelling points to consider; but some may be misleading or confusing. Catholics must be vigilant about what they read, and be sure they understand actual Church teachings.
To take an example, one advocacy group’s guide says, “We need to understand that our Church’s social teaching calls us to consider a broad range of important issues – on everything from poverty to war, human rights, abortion and the environment.” (Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics)
That is true and a good point, but the guide goes on to say, “Since we seldom, if ever, have the opportunity to vote for a candidate with the right positions on all the issues important to Catholics, we often must vote for candidates who may hold the ‘wrong’ Catholic positions on some issues in order to maximize the good our vote achieves in other areas.”
This statement incompletely depicts the moral decision making process. By making all important moral issues of equal value, it does not take into account that some moral “wrongs” pose a greater and more immediate threat to our society than others.
In March of 2006, Pope Benedict XVI articulated the Church’s views on the priorities we must consider if we are to be faithful to our Christian witness:
1. Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;
2. Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage;
3. Protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.
Benedict XVI clarified: “These principles are not truths of faith, even though they receive further light and confirmation from faith; they are inscribed in human nature itself and therefore they are common to all humanity.”
As a faith community, we do not determine right and wrong by popular vote, although we do influence society and the quality of life we share together by making informed moral choices when we cast our votes in secular elections.
The Church teaches that the task at hand for all of society is to defend the most fundamental aspects of human dignity. If these essential elements are compromised, our witness to Christ’s teachings is corrupted.
This year’s election is over, and Catholic voters have learned that the moral choices they make at the polls have a substantial influence on how public policies are determined. Catholics are therefore even more responsible for learning what they need to know to be faithful citizens on their next trip to the ballot box.
PCC Column December 2006 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.