We go to a lot of trouble in this country to preserve the separation of church and state. However, citizens who are Roman Catholic often have some extra-heavy-duty decisions to make, according to Archbishop George H. Niederauer, writing in Catholic Digest.
While Roman Catholic beliefs never seem to perfectly fit with the platforms of either the Democratic or the Republican Party, Niederauer stresses that the Catholic Church teaches that citizens should take an active part in public life. He adds that education, public safety, law enforcement, health care and many other essential issues depend on the direct participation of Americans in the political process.
American Catholics seem to have a lot of questions as the 2008 Presidential election quickly approaches. Beyond the current economic and employment problems, they want to know if they’re permitted to vote for a candidate who holds a position in opposition to a Catholic moral teaching. Issues at the top of this list include abortion, euthanasia and stem-cell research.
Many Catholics are scratching their heads about what to do when neither candidate appears to hold a position totally consistent with the Church’s teachings. To help answer these concerns, Niederaurer explains that the United States Catholic bishops published a document called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which formed the basis of his article.
In regard to the tradition of separation of church and state, the Archbishop explains that the U.S. has a long history of religious and civil leaders working together to solve issues such as slavery and the civil rights movement. Current issues include homelessness and hunger.
Niederaurer states that the Catholic Church bases its teaching on political issues on the Gospel, which shows readers what is true and good in the sight of God. He adds that connected to these truths is respect for the dignity of each individual, adding that it is the bedrock of Catholic moral and social teaching. Catholics, he stresses, are called to promote the well-being of everyone, especially the weak and vulnerable who have no voice.
Is the role of Church leaders to tell parishioners how to vote? Catholic leaders should instead teach Roman Catholics the importance of an informed conscience, the Archbishop states, so that they can make the best choices on the ballot. He adds that conscience is not a way to rationalize a particular behavior or something we want to do. Rather, it’s the voice of God in the human heart, telling us what the trust is and calling us to do the right thing and avoid evil.
Conscience requires each person to make serious attempts to form sound moral judgments based on the truths of the Catholic faith. In short, Catholics have a lifelong obligation to form their consciences within the framework of human reason and the Church’s teachings.
So what’s a Catholic voter to do when a candidate expresses a position directly in opposition to the Church’s teaching? Niederaurer explains that according to “Faithful Citizenship,” there could be times when a voter rejects the unacceptable position and decides to vote for the candidate anyway. However, this decision should be based on morally grave rationale.
The worst dilemma a Catholic voter faces is when each person on the ballot expresses one or more positions opposed to Church moral teaching. According to the U.S. bishops, the voter may take the very unusual step of not voting for anyone. Another alternative is to decide, after detailed deliberation, to vote for the individual who seems less likely to advance the position in question and who will also further other valid human concerns.