Talking Points on Political Responsibility and Elections

By Fr. Frank Pavone


The first thing we are saying to our people, therefore, about elections is that to participate in them is an aspect of our Christian vocation in the world. Neither politics, nor any party, platform, or candidate is our salvation. Yet an aspect of our response to the only savior, Jesus Christ, is in fact to be politically active and to shape our political choices according to his teachings. The Church does not write the laws, but the Church gives witness to the God to whose truth those laws must conform. The Church does not set up the voting booths, but the Church forms disciples in the conviction that when they enter those voting booths, they do not cease to be Christians.

Evaluation of the Issues

That point leads to a second key element of our teaching on elections, namely, that we have a responsibility to know what the moral duties of government are, so that we can evaluate whether political parties and candidates can meet those duties.

The Church has always taught that it is the dignity of the human person—and the protection and promotion of that dignity— that is the chief responsibility of government and the standard by which it is to be evaluated. That basic principle gives rise to a wide variety of issues that the Church articulates in many of her documents, including the series of “Faithful Citizenship” documents issued every four years by the United States Catholic bishops.

Applying these principles to the situation of our current culture, the Church asserts that the attacks on the right to life itself constitute the most urgent moral issue. Life itself, after all, is the most fundamental right and the condition for all the others.

Among the many documents in which this theme is articulated by the bishops is the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities (2001 Revision, A Campaign in Support of Life), which begins with a section on the “consistent ethic of life.” The bishops write,

Among important issues involving the dignity of human life with which the Church is concerned, abortion necessarily plays a central role. Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral (The Gospel of Life, no. 57); its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family. It is imperative that those who are called to serve the least among us give urgent attention and priority to this issue of justice. This focus and the Church’s commitment to a consistent ethic of life complement one another. A consistent ethic of life, which explains the Church’s teaching at the level of moral principle—far from diminishing concern for abortion and euthanasia or equating all issues touching on the dignity of human life—recognizes instead the distinctive character of each issue while giving each its proper place within a coherent moral vision.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin played the key role in articulating this “consistent ethic” in our day. He too pointed out that there is a hierarchy among the issues: “The fundamental human right is to life—from the moment of conception until death. It is the source of all other rights, including the right to health care” (Foster McGaw Triennial Conference, Loyola University of Chicago, May 8, 1985).

Evaluation of the Parties and Candidates

The parish priest likewise informs his congregation of the need to evaluate the political parties, platforms and candidates in the light of the teaching of the Church. This does not mean that there is a “Catholic position” on every issue or detail of public policy. It does mean, however, that a voter should be able to distinguish when a particular position of a party, platform or candidate does in fact contradict the moral law or when it either contributes to or takes away from the common good. In Living the Gospel of Life, the bishops stated, “ [W]e urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest” (34). [...]

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Five Non-Negotiable Issues
[From the Catholic Answers “Voter’s Guide”]

1. Abortion

The Church teaches that, regarding a law permitting abortions, it is “never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or to vote for it.” Abortion is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide.

The unborn child is always an innocent party, and no law may permit the taking of his life. Even when a child is conceived through rape or incest, the fault is not the child’s, who should not suffer death for others’ sins.

2. Euthanasia

Often disguised by the name “mercy killing,” euthanasia also is a form of homicide. No person has a right to take his own life, and no one has the right to take the life of any innocent person.

In euthanasia, the ill or elderly are killed, by action or omission, out of a misplaced sense of compassion, but true compassion cannot include intentionally doing something intrinsically evil to another person.

3. Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Human embryos are human beings. “Respect for the dignity of the human being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human embryo.”

Recent scientific advances show that often medical treatments that researchers hope to develop from experimentation on embryonic stem cells can be developed by using adult stem cells instead. Adult stem cells can be obtained without doing harm to the adults from whom they come. Thus there is no valid medical argument in favor of using embryonic stem cells. And even if there were benefits to be had from such experiments, they would not justify destroying innocent embryonic humans.

4. Human Cloning

“Attempts . . . for obtaining a human being without any connection with sexuality through ‘twin fission,’ cloning, or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union.”

Human cloning also involves abortion because the “rejected” or “unsuccessful” embryonic clones are destroyed, yet each clone is a human being.

5. Homosexual “Marriage”

True marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Legal recognition of any other union as “marriage” undermines true marriage, and legal recognition of homosexual unions actually does homosexual persons a disfavor by encouraging them to persist in what is an objectively immoral arrangement.

“When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.”

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