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NOTE: The following letter was published in the October 20, 2016 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
In the midst of so much discouraging news about both of our presidential candidates, as I visited parishes and encountered our faithful in recent weeks, more and more people have asked me about the upcoming elections. “What do we do as neither candidate seems ideal? What is my responsibility regarding voting?”
Let me begin by sharing with you what Pope Francis said about our presidential elections. Flying back to Rome from Azerbaijan Oct. 2, a U.S. reporter asked the Pope what should Catholics do in an election where both candidates hold some positions contrary to Church teachings.
The Holy Father answered, “You are asking me a question about what you describe as a difficult choice, because in your view there are difficulties with both one and the other. During an election campaign, I never say a word. The people are sovereign and all I will say is this: study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience!”
Pope Francis’ answer may be very broad, but it points us to two resources which provide the specifics many Catholics are seeking.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has produced a comprehensive document, “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” A two part summary of the document was sent to all our parishes last month.
Part 1 of the bishops’ guidelines focuses on our call as Catholic citizens. It explains what the Church teaches about issues affecting public policy; who should participate in political life, and how Catholic social teaching can help guide our participation. One point I think bears repeating states, “In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.”
The second part of the bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document addresses questions about making moral choices and applying our principles. As is noted in the summary, “Part II is a consideration of the process by which these principles are applied to the act of voting and taking positions on policy issues.” In answering the question, “How does the Church help the Catholic faithful speak about political and social questions?” the bishops discuss how we should form our conscience, the virtue of prudence, doing good and avoiding evil and making more informed choices.
One section of the summary I think all will find enlightening deals with avoiding two temptations. In the document the bishops write, “Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity: The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity.”
The summary also includes a listing of what public policies should concern Catholics most. In its conclusion it reminds us: “The Church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The Church cannot champion any candidate or party. Our cause is the defense of human life and dignity and the protection of the weak and vulnerable.”
If you have not yet received a summary in your parish, you can get it as well as the complete USCCB document and if you prefer, a 32-minute video which provides a basic overview of the “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” at: www.faithfulcitizenship.org
Another resource New Jersey Catholics can access for information on issues can be found at the website of the New Jersey Catholic Bishops: www.njcatholic.org/issues. Respect life, family life, social concerns and education are the major sections included, each of which contains several specific topics. It is a place where you can obtain up to date information on key issues.
While it may seem burdensome to research these issues, it is a very important election and so your vote will be important. I ask you to do exactly what Pope Francis suggested, study the issues. The candidate’s positions can be found on his or her website. Then prayerfully consider them through the lens of our Church’s teachings and your informed conscience.
While this election is disappointing in so many ways, I have been heartened by the interest our faithful have shown in wanting to do the right thing in this coming election and pray we will all avail ourselves of the resources which can help us in making the best choice at the ballot box.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen