Faithful Citizen: Vote with a Well Formed Conscience

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Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen seems to have been a prophet before his time. His quotes appear to resonate even more today than they did during his lifetime. They certainly belie an almost otherworldly understanding of what the citizens of today will be facing when they vote. We would do well to note that Sheen, like the Church herself, had much to share that simply does not go ‘out of style’. As we approach one of the most ominous election cycles I have experienced during my 55 years, it is also good to examine what Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), has to say about our duties of forming a Catholic conscience when it comes to civic responsibility.

The Church teaches us that we, as the people of God, have duties as faithful citizens. Among these is the obligation to vote. This duty is not to be taken lightly, especially since the line in the sand has been so clearly drawn in relation to the five non-negotiable issues presented by our Holy Mother Church, and there have been alarming developments in all five areas during the past several years – especially during the current administration.

Vote according to right or wrong, not majority!

  1. Abortion is being pushed to new and ever deadlier limits – at home and abroad – all the way to infanticide. It was also just announced that 13 schools in New York City will distribute the abortifiaciant Morning After Pill to students without parental knowledge or consent!
  2. Euthanasia: With the dawn of Obamacare, the fears of ‘death panels’ and denial of care loom over the elderly and those with terminal illnesses.
  3. Embryonic Stem Cells: Although there have been no positive outcomes from many years of embryonic stem cell research, this Frankensteinian experimentation is being pushed further and further. Conversely, morally acceptable adult stem cell therapies are curing many illnesses and are a resounding success.
  4. Human Cloning is another form of ‘weird science’ that seems to be a grave temptation for today’s scientific community. As one popular meme states, ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’, yet there are reports of human cloning being eminent if not already occurring.
  5. Gay ‘Marriage’: The homosexual friendly environment of today has also forced its way into our reality. Not only are ‘tolerance’ initiatives making a mockery of the true definition of the word, the explicit lifestyle surrounding sodomy has imposed itself into schoolsGirl Scouts, and even ‘Catholic organizations, as well as prime time television shows and movies.

Are we to lose heart in all of this? Heaven forbid. Even surrounded by such perverted justice, let us remember that ‘with God, all things are possible’ and our choices are really quite clear cut when viewed with a well formed conscience. Here’s where the non-negotiable issues make our voting options very clear. These five issues represent areas for which there can be NO COMPROMISE. Unlike other topics such as just war, poverty, the death penalty, and immigration – there is simply no alternative but to completely oppose them!  Under the danger of grave sin – they are to be at the top of our list of issues!

All other issues have two (or more) sides, if you will. Good Catholics can disagree about how to handle poverty, for instance. Some may believe that the Federal Government should hand out entitlements to give aid to the poor, but it is equally acceptable to believe in subsidiarity which focuses on the lowest level at which true charity is achievable. Otherwise there is a danger of socialism – a theory that has been strongly opposed by popes throughout the ages. Pope Leo XIII’s statements in his encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris strongly criticized socialism, and it was denounced again in Quareagesimo Anno in 1931 by Pope Pius XI, and he ventured to write, “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true Socialist”.

Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” CCC 1883

When the principle of subsidiarity is ignored, governments often overstep their bounds in managing matters best handled on a more local or individual level.

Contrary to how some perceive the Seamless Garment theory, issues such as poverty and the death penalty also do not carry weight equal to the five non-negotiable issues. Although many bishops and Catholics of good faith are working toward a legislative end to the death penalty, there is a monumental difference between the totally innocent lives at stake through abortion, embryonic experimentation, and cloning (as well as the helpless elderly) and those who have been tried by a jury of their peers and found guilty by civil authority. This is another area where good Catholics are allowed room to disagree.

Just War is another example of an issue in which we are allowed choices. Considering that civil authority has the right and obligation to defend its citizenry, the CCC states:

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. CCC 2265

We must acknowledge that those privy to military intelligence and government security clearances are much better equipped to make such decisions. Again, if we have objections to the way this is being handled, we have recourse in petitioning our elected representatives in an effort to bring about a change in policy. This is, however, not one of the five non-negotiable issues.

We may also find ourselves with choices that offer two less than perfect candidates. This is where the gift of reasoning comes into play. As Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life states,

“I’m often asked what a voter can morally do if two opposing candidates both support abortion. I recommend asking a simple question: Which of the two candidates will do less harm to unborn children if elected?”

If you are tempted to retreat from your obligation to vote, you need look no further than the CCC for your answer:

Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country CCC 2240 [Rom 13:7]

Vote according to these issues first!
Vote using these issues as your top priority!

In summary, while there are many important issues facing citizens today, it is imperative that we prioritize according to the wisdom of the Church. Only a properly formed conscience – one that has been educated about the specifics of faithful citizenship – is equipped to properly and faithfully make choices in the voting booth. To blindly vote from emotion, rather than clearly discerned fact and in consideration of the five non-negotiable issues, could be gravely sinful. It is our moral obligation to learn the positions of the candidates and to know the mind of the Church. So, when choosing the candidates to represent us, we are admonished to give priority to the five non-negotiable issues:

 1) Abortion, 2) Euthanasia, 3) Embryonic Stem Cell Research, 4) Human Cloning, and 5) Homosexual ‘Marriage’

Only then will we be morally practicing the duties of Faithful Citizenship!

20 Replies to “Faithful Citizen: Vote with a Well Formed Conscience”

  1. Thank you for this excellent article. Through the intercession of Venerable Fulton Sheen, may it be shared far and wide!

    I’ve been praying for Venerable Fulton Sheen’s intercession during these months leading to the election, that his genius for using the radio and t.v. media for good would inspire those in the media today and even impact some sort of headline that will defend the faith despite all efforts to refute it.

  2. Susan, I will be taking your suggestion to heart! As of today, my prayers for intercession will go to Venerable Fulton Sheen!

    Allison, it is very gratifying to know that you found my somewhat lengthy post helpful. Join the many of us who are fervently praying for a good outcome from the looming election cycle!

    God bless you both!

  3. I just need to point out that our duty to vote does not mean we have a duty to vote for every single position or issue on the ballot. It is our moral right and sometimes even our duty to abstain from voting for a particular position if we do not believe that we can cast a morally sound vote. Fr. Pavone’s answer to the question about both presidential candidates supporting abortion is just one way to look at it, but also does not account for the possibility [in general, I’m not saying this applies to this election] that they will both be equally harmful to the unborn. I have had enough arguments about this issue with fellow Catholics and do not intend to engage in one here with my dear sisters, but I just want everyone to know that they can abstain from voting for a particular position or question on the ballot without having failed in their duty to practice responsible citizenship. We can’t read into or add to what the CCC says and try to bind the consciences of others to that reading like we are Protestants.

  4. In an election such as this one, I would be hard pressed to discern the moral wisdom of abstaining from voting, after all one candidate is on record as rabidly supportive of intrinsic evil. The other candidate, while not perfect, has made his support for issues that are in line with Church teaching clear. The platform of his party lists not one thing that is objectionable to those who adhere to the 5 non-negotiable issues. A recent, wonderful video by Bishop Paprock reaffirms this quite firmly. Were many good Catholics to abstain from voting, the morally repugnant candidate would surely win. Therefore, a vote for his opponent, would certainly give plausible rise to the hope that there would be moral ground gained. It would seem to follow that, if one could not in good conscience find a grave reason to abstain from voting, it might at least represent a shirking of moral duty – with extremely dire consequences for our country. When I read Fr. Pavone’s comments, I see a definite distinction being drawn – his examples clearly refer to less harm to the unborn being done by one of his hypothetical candidates. It was not my intention to imply that we are bound to vote in a particular race if both candidates hold equally gravely immoral positions. But this is not the case in this election cycle. In addition, I think that the link from EWTN states the concept quite well.
    Find Bishop Paprock’s message here:

  5. Though you may find it difficult to discern the wisdom in abstaining, I have some other Catholic friends who I consider to be very faithful, intelligent, and concerned about these issues who have no trouble discerning it at all. My only point is that two faithful Catholics may come to different conclusions and still both remain faithful. [Note I am not including in here the possibility that it is in line with responsible citizenship to cast a positive vote for Obama… but I also do not buy into the idea that a vote for someone other than Romney or Obama is morally the same thing as a vote for Obama]. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with abstaining to vote for a particular thing on the ballot, and if a faithful Catholic determines that they must abstain, then that is between him and his conscience and not for anyone else to judge. I just think it’s important for people to understand the difference between our opinions as bloggers and their absolute obligations as Catholics. That is all I’m going to say about this here.

  6. ‘but I also do not buy into the idea that a vote for someone other than Romney or Obama is morally the same thing as a vote for Obama’

    I didn’t realize that I had implied anything near to this. That was certainly not my intention. In an effort to adhere to your first comment that this not become some sort of argument(which I think is wise), I will refrain from any more banter. Thank you for your comments.

  7. I ask this question again, because I’ve asked in other venues to good Catholics as well, should we refrain from voting will this cause for the incumbent to win? If so, then don’t we have the moral obligation to cast a vote, some vote? Honestly? Logically, mathematically, what have you, will a non-vote help them win?

  8. I agree 100% with your non-negotiables, which pretty much rules out voting for the Democratic candidate. However, while application of Just War principles to a given set of circumstances may involve prudential judgments, the recognition of the principles themselves is not a matter of prudential judgment. The military policies of the GOP do reject key features of Just War principles, specifically, preemptive attacks do not satisfy the immediacy requirements (and possibly not the moral certainty and other requirements). This is in principle a rejection of Just War. Now, whether the Dems are any better, I don’t know – given O’s recent forays into drone assassinations, I doubt it. Another non-negotiable is the use of torture, and despite the previous GOP administration’s denial of its use, it is pretty obvious that it condoned and used it. Simply redefining an act that is torture as “enhanced interrogation” does not magically transform it into non-torture.

    Again, not sure the Dems are any better (part of the problem is that 99% of politicians have zero credibility). At least IMHO,just because one candidate or party is clearly disqualified from a Catholic’s vote, does not automatically mean the other candidate is qualified. Basically the two top parties have one that fails 5 of 7 non-negotiables (at least, possibly all 7) and the other that fails 2 of 7, and is likely marginally better on 1 other.

  9. Logically, mathematically, what have you, will a non-vote help them win?

    First, it presumes that one candidate or the other is entitled to your vote. I don’t see that.

    Mathematically, your individual vote is insignificant. More so if you are in a jurisdiction that leans heavily one way or the other. You also have to assume that the “non-votes” would all have gone to Romney (that is, there are no people refraining from voting who would have voted for Obama). This is a big assumption. But, to answer your question, assuming your non-vote is not cancelled out by an “Obama non-vote”, it might make it slightly more difficult for Obama to win if you voted Romney v. non-vote in a “battleground” state. Because the state goes to he who gets most votes, each vote for Romney would be one additional vote Obama would have to overcome.

  10. C Matt, while I agree that torture is not acceptable, I would present that the definition of torture itself is a matter for prudential judgment. In order for a government to be guilty of this evil, one must first confirm that torture is indeed present. The man on the street does not necessarily have the knowledge to make that judgment. Many theologians and clergy have weighed in on this matter – and not always with the same thoughts. While military should never resort to blatant cruelty, other techniques are experienced by our soldiers in their training and reporters in their research. War, even justified war, is never pretty.

    As for the justification of war, we are cautioned to leave that type of decision to civil authorities since they know the specifics and have the military intelligence of events of which the citizenry is not even aware. One must look only as far as Benghazi to know that sometimes government does not share what they know with us and action might be needed unbeknownst to us. We may never know all of the ‘need to know’ details.

    The five non-negotiable issues have no such grey area – they are purely black and white because there can never be a justification for them!

  11. Here’s what the Pope and the US Catholic Bishops have to say about rape, abortion and law, voting.

    “Pope John Paul II, in his groundbreaking 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), stated that legislative compromise was morally acceptable in certain situations.
    ‘[W]hen it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but, rather, a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects’ (73).”
    “Doerflinger echoed this point in his comments for the Register.
    ‘The Church opposes all direct abortion and federal funding for all such abortion. But without supporting the exceptions, the bishops’ conference has supported the restrictions placed on abortion funding by the Hyde Amendment and similar laws for the sake of the good they do and the many lives they save.’
    Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.”

    The same judgment can be applied to political candidates such as for president next month. Furthermore, one candidate would appoint pro-abortion justices to the Supreme Court, the other more than likely – pro-life. One would appoint pro gay marriage, the other pro traditional marriage. And the list goes on. Only one of those two major candidates is going to win. Every vote counts to get the right guy elected. Who do you think the unborn would want to vote for if they had a chance?

    As for so-called “torture” and “just war,” Bishop Paprocki answered that by saying “there were no serious sins” in the Republican Party Platform.

  12. Thank you for your great response! I fully agree and am glad you stopped by.

    As for Bishop Paprocki’s excellent quote, it would do well for all citizens to consider his words carefully and to fully comprehend what he is saying when the time comes for this important vote!

    “As for so-called “torture” and “just war,” Bishop Paprocki answered that by saying “there were no serious sins” in the Republican Party Platform”.

  13. Hi Birgit,

    I’m so happy to have found your blog and your website, It always give me added courage when I see Catholic women adhering to the spirit of Mulieris Dignitatem. On my facebook account, ‘Candid Heart’, you will see me post some of your articles and materials, and always giving the credit to you as the source.

    And also, since new seven saints will be canonized today, Oct. 21, you will have four new female help, residents of heaven: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Saint Maria del Carmen, Saint Mother Marianne Cope and Saint Anna Shaeffer. And, of course, even the males won’t stay idle either, including the one from my country, Saint Pedro Calungsod. They will be your intercessors to, ‘up there’ 🙂

    May God sustain you in your role in defending Life and our Holy Mother Church.

    – nestor

  14. I have been struggling and praying about this issue for a while.I wanted to have a clear conscience about it. I am 100%/no exception pro life grandmother. Ultimaetly I will stand before God and answer for my actions. A no vote for BHO is obvious but I cannot vote yes for Romney because of his stand on exceptions. Circumstances of conception do not alter the humanity of the unborn. As MA gov. he signed in legislation on other articles…could he not have vetoed them? The Republican party will never put up a true pro life nominee as long as the sheep keep accepting pro choice candidates. High price to pay, but so be it. As a former Catholic , I am blessed that the CC seems to be the only one taking this seriously. To God be the Glory! Dolores F.

    1. Hi Dolores. While I share your concern with the travesty that is the Obama presidency and could never vote for him under any circumstances, I must stop short of having the same weight of concern about Mitt Romney. Although I too am a pro-life grandmother, even having lived with the circumstances of one of the exceptions in my own life, I feel bound by my conscience not to help facilitate Obama’s reelection. Pope Benedict XVI and many holy bishops, as well as Fr. Frank Pavone, have instructed us with their words of wisdom when it comes to a citizen’s dilemma during times such as these. It is moral and upright to choose the candidate who will do the least harm. Given the vast difference in all five non-negotiables it is my personal discernment, guided by our shepherds, that there is such a great difference between these men that I feel at peace voting for the one who will do a hugely less amount of harm. Is he perfect? No! Will he dissapointed? Most likely. But is his party platform in conformity with Church teaching? Yes! Are our chances of good Supreme Court picks increased with him? Absolutely! If Obama has another 4 years to run with no boundaries we will see persecution of babies, disabled, elderly, and Catholics/Christians like never before. I just can’t take a chance on being a part of helping that happen. As it is, God alone can get us out of the mess we’ve already brought down on ourselves! God bless America!

  15. I’m pretty concerned about people not wanting Obama but refusing to vote for Romney. To me, it’s a cop out. It’s two days ’til the election. You don’t simply not vote for evil; you vote to avoid the greatest evil.

    If you’re concerned about a candidate not being good enough, not having enough of your values, then get to work on November 7th in whatever way you can with every spare moment you have before the next election! Also, work to put pressure on Romney (pray, God, he wins) to follow through on the things that matter to you. This is AMERICA!

    Sorry, folks, Jesus isn’t on the ballot. Don’t do evil. Also, avoid evil however possible. It’s November 4th. A vote for a 3rd party candidate or a sit-out is a vote for Obama. On Wednesday, when the ballots are cast, pick up your mat and WALK! It’s our country. We’re all going to have to work, and work hard, to get it back for everyone’s sake.

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