How to Vote Catholic (Or, Faithful Citizenship in 3 Bullet Points)

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By Sara Knutson

With midterm elections coming up next week, most Massgoers have received a bulletin insert summarizing USCCB’s Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Given that the full document is a hefty 45-page PDF, the 2-page summary that showed up in most bulletins is a big help. (Both versions can be found here.)

Even so, the type is awfully small and plenty of us have enough trouble getting through the bulletin itself, let alone bonus reading. So I’ve condensed the insert further into 3 critical points. Here are my key takeaways:

  1. Get out and vote. “Participation in political life is a moral obligation,” the bishops write, which builds up the virtue of responsible citizenship. Feeling depressed about your options? Me too, enough that it’s tempting to sit this election out. The bishops address that point and respond that if this is the case, we should work toward creating better options by voicing our concerns or even running for office. Fair enough.
  1. Vote in a way that upholds life and dignity. The bishops urge Catholics to be guided by a “consistent ethic of life,” which takes into consideration the unborn, the elderly, the poor, and other marginalized people whose lives are undervalued.

One framework for thinking about a consistent ethic of life and what it includes is covered in the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching. An explanation of these themes comprises a good portion of the insert, indicating their importance to the bishops.

  1. Abortion is a critical issue but not the only issue. Faithful Citizenship clearly states that “as Catholics we are not single-issue voters,” and Catholics are not obliged to vote for a candidate based on his or her position on any one issue, including abortion.

That said, when an issue involves an intrinsically evil act, of which abortion is one along with issues like euthanasia, torture, and racism, Catholics may legitimately not vote for a candidate who supports it on the basis of that issue alone.

Abortion is mentioned several times in the summary. It is a top issue for the bishops and the church. But they do not demand that Catholics vote according to a politician’s position on abortion alone. Abortion matters—a lot—but it’s not everything.

The bishops conclude by calling for a “renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak, and the pursuit of the common good.” Tuesday is our next opportunity to bring that renewed politics about.

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