And so we head into the 2012 election. Catholics logically are asking, “How can I prepare to vote?” The question has assumed a different cast this time around because anti-Catholicism has emerged again in subtle ways, especially as the bishops have called on lay Catholics to join them in defending religious liberty, both on the state and the federal level. The bishops are warning us that we are being offered freedom of worship rather than freedom of religion. In other words, we can worship our God in our churches, synagogues and mosques, but we cannot act on those beliefs once we walk out the doors. For Catholics, this is a direct violation of the Church’s right and obligation to influence the culture in which we live. As the bishops wrote in the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”: “The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith. It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition” (No. 9).
American Catholics have a particular obligation to bring their faith into the public square and to form their consciences according to the teachings of the Church. This is especially important because Catholics are preparing to vote. The bishops noted in “Faithful Citizenship” that there is a “corresponding moral responsibility of each Catholic to hear, receive and act upon the Church’s teaching in the lifelong task of forming his or her own conscience. With this foundation, Catholics are better able to evaluate policy positions, party platforms and candidates’ promises and actions in light of the Gospel and the moral and social teaching of the Church in order to help build a better world” (No. 5).
Note that the Church does not tell anyone for whom they should vote. Rather, the Church’s teachings give a sure and certain guide for the discernment of those candidates who will work best for the common good and the protection of the dignity of the human person. This discernment applies to the entire slate of candidates as well as the host of issues that they will be debating. In forming our consciences we make ourselves better Catholics, but we also make ourselves better Americans. Russell Shaw has provided key principles to use when considering candidates, basing these keys on “Faithful Citizenship,” which every American Catholic should read, and it can be found at www.usccb.org. Be sure also to read Elizabeth Scalia’s closing essay on this very topic. TCA