Following is the fifth in a six-part series by Bishop Paul S. Loverde on forming our consciences as Catholics prior to the November presidential election.
A respect for human life and dignity always requires us to refrain from making disparaging remarks of a personal nature regarding others, including candidates for public office.
Nevertheless, the gravity of the responsibilities to be assumed by elected officials makes character a relevant factor in the judgments we make about the votes we will cast.
In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, I affirmed with my brother U.S. bishops that our “decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue” (no. 37).
In the current presidential election, both commentators and avowed supporters of the major parties’ candidates have acknowledged their shortcomings and personal liabilities.
Many conscientious citizens are so troubled by the candidates’ policy positions and by their character flaws that they are questioning not only whom to vote for but also whether they ought possibly not to vote at all.
I encourage you strongly to read the document, Faithful Citizenship, to which I have already referred. I am convinced that only prayer and reflection will enable us to grasp and understand the relevance of the three considerations proposed below.
First, “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” (no. 34).
Second, “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (no. 35).
And third, “When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” (no. 36).
It is also important for us to recall once again that “a well-formed conscience … recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and … the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences” (no. 37).
Once again, let us embrace the spiritual exercises of prayer and fasting with the intention that each citizen, in deciding how to vote, will be guided by a conscience formed by moral principles that are objectively sound and true.