There is a Catholic way to vote

  • September 9, 2008

The Catholic Church may no longer tell the flock whom to vote for, but there certainly is a Catholic way to vote. In numerous statements and documents over the years, Catholic bishops around the world have offered principles to guide voters on how to align their decision on the ballot with their faith.

One of the best guides to voting behaviour in Canada was released by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1998. Called Choosing a Government, it remains every bit as relevant today.

The first thing to note is that the laity are called to participate actively and intelligently in the political process. Secondly, the church as an institution does not engage in party politics, the Ontario bishops say. However, it can and does offer “principles that need to be observed in political life, so that human dignity will be respected.”

The Ontario bishops, after explaining the rights and duties of governments, offer some quick suggestions for voters:

1. Vote for the candidate that best meets your expectations, even if they are imperfect.

2. Examine candidates on the full range of issues, along with their personal integrity, philosophy, experience, past performance and policies of their parties.

3. Especially scrutinize their stand on human life concerns, particularly abortion, euthanasia, poverty, unemployment, violence, neglect of the aged and infirm and the marginalized.

4. Recognize that while laws should be morally acceptable, not all that is morally desirable can be covered in legislation.

5. Situations can arise in which “prudence calls on us to vote for the less imperfect of two possible outcomes.” Check Pope John Paul II's encyclical The Gospel of Life, no. 73, for its discussion on this point.

In 2004, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Social Affairs Commission issued its own statement in advance of the federal election that year (click here for full text). It offered some key moral principles to consider:

1. “Each human being, created in the image of God, has incalculable worth and inherent dignity. Life is the most precious gift that can be given, and it is a Christian duty to love life, respect it and keep it from harm.”

2. “Catholics believe in the freedom and responsibility to choose and promote human life at all stages, from conception to death.”

3. Marriage is a “loving, life-giving partnership between a man and a woman.” It deserves the support of society and governments.

4. “For Christians, concern for the impoverished is not only a political option, but also a Gospel imperative.”

5. The common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and easily.”

For a much more comprehensive examination of Catholics and politics, read Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Even in a country such as the United States, where separation of church and state is strictly enforced on the institutional level, there is wide recognition of the value of the religious in public life.

“Our nation's tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions and concerns into public life. Indeed, our church's teaching is in accord with the foundational values that have shaped our nation's history,” the document says in no. 11.

Much the same could be said here in Canada. What is quite clear, however, is that voting is never simple.

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