The Gospel of life must be
proclaimed, and human life
defended in all places and all times. The arena for moral
not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well.
“Living the Gospel of Life”)
Prior to the recent primary election I received a heartfelt letter from a member of the Diocese who had just discovered that the candidate for whom she had intended to vote was “pro-choice and for same-sex marriage.” She wrote: “Dear Bishop Tobin, for whom do I vote? Do I vote at all?”
I responded to my letter-writer that it wasn’t appropriate for me to suggest candidates for whom she should or shouldn’t vote, but that it was important for her to become well-informed about the candidates and their positions, pray about it, and then vote according to her conscience. I told her that I often faced the same dilemma. I also sent her a copy of the American Bishops’ document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” that places in a broader context some of these important political decisions.
It’s a real problem that many faithful Catholics face these days – how to vote when all of the candidates are pro-abortion. (Candidates euphemistically call it “pro-choice” but it’s really a stance that enables and promotes abortion, isn’t it?)
The dilemma is more excruciating when the candidates profess to be lifelong Catholics. As I said in my recent statement about Catholic politicians and abortion, “It is always disappointing when a Catholic candidate for political office abandons the teaching of the Church on the dignity of human life for the sake of self-serving political gain. Such actions demonstrate an inexcusable lack of moral courage . . . Abortion is a sin, and those who provide it, promote it, and support it will be held accountable by Almighty God for the unjust death of unborn children.”
What a pathetic spectacle Catholic candidates present when, having to choose between Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Church, they choose Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in our nation. Do these candidates have no respect for the religious heritage of their parents and grandparents? Have they no appreciation for the sacraments, the solid education, the communal support, and the moments of comfort and guidance the Church has provided for their family over many generations? And I wonder – when in the future these candidates are in need of prayers and blessings, the Last Rites of the Church, and then finally funeral services – will they turn to Planned Parenthood or the Catholic Church to stand by their side?
The Bishops’ document to which I’ve already referred gives some guidance in these questions. It explains, first of all, the importance of the virtue of prudence. “The Church fosters well-formed consciences not only by teaching moral truth, but also by encouraging its members to develop the virtue of prudence. Prudence enables us to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” (#19)
The Bishops then get a little more specific about voting. “Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. That is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience.” (#34) And this: “When all the candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma.” (#36)
And that brings us back to the question posed by my letter writer: “Bishop Tobin, for whom do I vote?”
If we distill the guidance of the Church, it seems to me that when no candidate presents an acceptable position, especially about critical moral issues like abortion, the voter has three options.
The first is to choose the candidate who, in traditional terms, is the lesser of two evils. Let’s just say, for example, that one candidate promotes an extreme position on abortion, welcomes the endorsement of and eagerly embraces the evil agenda of Planned Parenthood, supports partial-birth abortion, and disdains the sincere convictions of pro-lifers; and another candidate would restrict abortion in some circumstances, opposes taxpayer funding of abortions, and is willing to work with and respect pro-lifers – a voter might properly choose the second candidate even though the position is flawed.
Secondly, as a kind of protest, a voter could decide to write-in the name of someone who represents pro-life values. In this scenario, one might vote for St. John Paul, Pope Francis, Mother Teresa, or our own local pro-life hero, Baby Angela! Even though this person surely wouldn’t be elected to office, a vote in that direction would send a clear signal that at least some voters won’t settle for anything less than a pro-life candidate. Contrary to what critics will charge, it’s not a wasted vote; it’s a sincere expression of conscience that upholds moral truth. And that’s never a waste!
Finally, a voter might well decide to skip this year’s election and not vote at all, or at least not vote for a particular office. Although Catholics have a general moral obligation to participate in the life of our nation, there are many ways to do that, and there’s certainly no obligation to vote in each and every election, particularly when the options are repugnant to the well-informed conscientious Christian voter.
I know, it’s a tough time to be a moral, pro-life voter. The field is narrow and the options are few. But, vote according to your conscience, pray for our state and nation, and sleep well. Remember, God’s still in charge!