Every Catholic in the United States, who is eligible to vote, has a serious obligation to exercise this right and responsibility with a conscience formed by the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
A Pastoral Letter
The Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., STD
Bishop of Belleville
October 1, 2012
St. Thérèse of Lisieux of the Child Jesus
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
On November 6, 2012, the American people will once again participate in the process of electing the Chief Executive who will govern our country for the next four years. After all of the campaign speeches and conflicting television advertisements are silenced, we will each stand alone in silence and select the person we feel is most qualified to guide our nation in a rapidly changing world amidst complex challenges at home and abroad.
This year, as in past years, both candidates are imperfect human beings. The American political system does not produce saviors for the nation or knights in shining armor who fulfill all of our hopes and expectations. Neither candidate nor either party espouses positions consistent with fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church on important moral, social, and economic issues. Each candidate is shaped and influenced by his personal history, life experiences, education, religious convictions, influential members of his political party, the results of political polls, the expectations of major donors, and the pragmatic decisions shaped by the desire to be elected president.
Many people have strong opinions about each of the candidates and, paradoxically, many of those same individuals will be among the 40% of Americans who are eligible to vote but will not do so. As your Bishop, I wish to remind you that every Catholic in the United States, who is eligible to vote, has a serious obligation to exercise this right and responsibility. We must each do so with a conscience formed by the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church. I urge you to take the time needed to go beyond superficial sound bites and “liberal” and “conservative” labels in order to study carefully the issues facing our country and to determine which candidate’s character, commitments, integrity, and leadership abilities afford our nation the best opportunity of progressing on a path consistent with the vision of the founders of the Republic, the moral vision of the Word of God, and the needs of this critical juncture in history.
The discernment required in making the decision for whom to vote cannot be accomplished simply by arguing with your friends of a different political party, switching the television news from one biased channel to the next, or reducing the candidates to caricatures. This discernment requires turning to God in prayer and asking the Holy Spirit to assist you with your decision process. When I urge you to be prayerful about your decision, I mean more that saying a quick Hail Mary as you walk into the voting booth. I mean genuine prayer during which you are open to be guided down a path different from mere party affiliation to a truly informed decision about what is best for the common good.
In your discernment, you must examine pressing national issues and fundamental problems, including the Christian’s responsibility to oppose intrinsic evils. Some of these pressing national issues are:
• Continuing destruction of unborn children through abortion and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick, or unwanted;
• Renewed efforts to force Catholic ministries—in healthcare, education, and social services — to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need;
• Intensifying efforts to redefine marriage and enact measures which undermine marriage as the permanent, faithful, and fruitful union of one man and one woman and a fundamental moral and social institution essential to the common good;
• An economic crisis which has devastated lives and livelihoods, increasing national and global unemployment, poverty, and hunger; increasing deficits and debt and the duty to respond in ways which protect those who are poor and vulnerable as well as future generations;
• The failure to repair a broken immigration system with comprehensive mea- sures that promote true respect for law, protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants and refugees, recognize their contributions to our nation, keep families together, and advance the common good;
• Wars, terror, and violence which raise serious moral questions on the use of force and its human and moral costs in a dangerous world, particularly the absence of justice, security, and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.
Every four years the Bishops of the United States receive numerous lengthy mailings instructing us to tell our people for whom they should vote. One recent letter informed me that I should excommunicate any Catholic in my Diocese who voted for the candidate the writer opposed, without indicating how I would ever know for whom an individual Catholic voted. As you know, Catholic Bishops do not issue a “voter’s guide” or formally endorse specific presidential candidates or parties. I have never made a statement in public or in private supporting a specific candidate. Our priests, deacons, and religious are well aware that they should also refrain from publically endorsing candidates from the pulpit or other positions of church leadership. This does not mean, however, that we should be hesitant about raising our voices in urging all of our people to vote. We should not hesitate to call to their attention, forcefully, the moral issues that should confront all Catholics as they cast their ballots.
Instead of issuing a “voter’s guide,” the Bishops provide a moral framework to assist the Christian faithful in their decision making. That moral framework is the document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. This document has already been made available to parishes and to individuals through a variety of sources. It does not offer a voter’s guide, scorecard of issues, or direction on how to vote. It applies Catholic moral principles to a range of important issues and warns against misguided appeals to “conscience” to ignore fundamental moral claims, to reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters, or to justify choices simply to advance partisan, ideological, or personal interests. It does not offer a quantitative listing of issues for equal consideration, but outlines and makes important distinctions among moral issues acknowledging that some involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified and that others require action to pursue justice and promote the common good. In short, it calls Catholics to form their consciences in the light of their Catholic faith and to bring our moral principles to the debate and decisions about candidates and issues.
(Please click on the graphic at right to go to the document.)
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is the only document that I am approving for distribution in our parishes to assist our people as they prepare to vote. I urge every
parish to make this document available to the parishioners, and provide appropriate opportunities for the parishioners to gather and discuss the moral principles and specific issues addressed by this document approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Please join me in praying for our candidates for President and Vice President and for their families. Pray as well for the Catholics of our Diocese and our country. Pray that we will not be guilty bystanders who do not bother to vote. Pray that we, like St. Thérèse Lisieux, may strive to do ordinary things in an extraordinary manner, in that when we vote we will do so armed with in-depth knowledge of the issues studied under the purifying light of the Gospel of the Lord.