U.S. bishops: Vote your conscience
Catholics urged to weigh stands on all issues
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
BY JEFF TRENTLY
If you think you know how the Catholic Church in the United States wants its members to vote in the presidential election this year, think again. Single-issue voting, like simply choosing the anti-abortion candidate, is out.
Weighing each candidate's view on the entire spectrum of social issues -- including the war in Iraq, health care, housing, the plight of immigrants, as well as abortion -- is in.
"This is the most prickly point," said the Rev. Ronald J. Cioffi, director of the Office of Social Concerns for the Diocese of Trenton. "You may vote for a person who is pro-choice if you feel you have a moral reason to support the candidate for his stand on other issues
This is a change from four years ago, said Cioffi, who noted some Catholics believed former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry shouldn't take Communion because of his abortion rights stand.
Cioffi presented an outline of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" at a meeting of about 30 staff members at the diocese's Pastoral Center yesterday.
"It's hard to find a candidate who supports all of the church's teaching," Bishop John M. Smith admitted to his staff at the meeting.
"It's a difficult time to decide how we're voting, especially this year," Smith said.
And while the Catholic Church has not changed it stand on abortion -- it's still called "an intrinsic evil," as is racism -- the bishops clearly state a Catholic may vote for an abortion rights supporter, such as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, if that candidate's views on other moral issues outweigh his abortion stand in the voter's conscience.
"There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave issues," the document states.
For the more than 800,000 Catholics in the Trenton Diocese, including close to 32,000 in Mercer County, the new guidelines are a call to weigh their consciences, as well as the common good, Cioffi said.
"For those who want to be told what to do -- this document does not tell them," said Rayanne Bennett, chief communications officer for the diocese.
"The reason this is important is no candidate this year and few candidates historically have perfectly lined up with Catholic social teaching," she said.
For instance, conservatives who oppose abortion often support the death penalty, Bennett said. The Catholic Church opposes both.
Catholics who vote for Republican presidential candidate John McCain because of his anti-abortion record also are voting for a candidate who supports the war in Iraq -- a war Pope Benedict XVI clearly has opposed.
"If you vote for someone who supports the war, be actively involved in trying to change his mind," Bennett said of the bishops' stand.
The idea, Cioffi said, is to allow Catholics to vote their consciences.
"We're not interested in creating the United Catholic States of America," he said. "We're not into endorsing party candidates or parties. We want to focus on issues."
And, Cioffi said, a single issue, like abortion or war, should not be the sole reason to vote for or against a candidate.
"As Catholics, we are not single-issue voters," he said.
Still, the bishops' document does come out strongly against abortion.
"A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter's intent is to support that position," the document states.
In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of "formal cooperation in grave evil," the bishops said.
At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate's opposition to abortion to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity, the document states.
It's a message that goes beyond Election Day, said Mary Ellen Blackwell, director of the diocese's Office of Parish Social Ministry, because the church's teachings do not fit comfortably into the platform of either party.
"The goal is never Democrat or Republican," she said. "It's looking for the common good."
Catholics should vote their conscience but also know their own faith, said Linda Richardson, director of Family Life/Respect Life for the diocese.
"There's no perfect candidate," she said. "We don't want to tell anybody who to vote for. You can be a Catholic who's a Democrat, a Catholic who's a Republican, but be a Catholic first."