Question: The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that it is morally obligatory to exercise the right to vote. But this seems false since for most of history there have been no systems of voting and, even today, there are many who cannot vote. How can the Catechism claim that voting is a moral obligation?
— Jenna O’Neil, via email
Answer: The Catechism reads as follows: “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country” (No. 2240).
The Catechism speaks to a worldwide audience wherein people live under different forms of government. The principles must be adapted to specific situations.
To speak of a moral obligation to “exercise one’s right to vote” presupposes that one has a right to vote. Thus, the Catechism does not and cannot impose an obligation on those who have no right to vote.
Further, the moral obligations specified in this section of the Catechism, while generally binding, are not absolute. For example, the general obligation to participate in the defense of one’s country might be overruled or ameliorated if the engaged war is an unjust one. We should generally observe the civil laws, but not when they are unjust or contrary to God’s law; if, due to social unrest and threats of violence, one cannot reasonably vote without grave risk, they are morally excused, etc. Thus, not every moral obligation is absolute.
Question: If a Catholic member of my family gets married outside the Church, are there any rules about attending the wedding, bestowing gifts and so forth?
— Name withheld, Temple, Texas
Answer: As a general rule, one ought not attend wedding ceremonies where the couple invalidly marries. For a marriage to be valid, spouses must be free to marry, freely exchange consent, intend to marry for life with an openness to children, and must give consent in the presence of two witnesses and before an authorized Church minister. Without these criteria met — or without a proper dispensation — the marriage is not valid. We ought not celebrate what is invalid and, therefore, untrue. Further, it is sinful for a Catholic to enter into a marriage invalidly, and sin should not be celebrated. Because attendance at such ceremonies usually indicates support, we ought not attend such ceremonies, in most cases.
There is, however, some prudential judgment necessary in individual cases. If the failure to attend might so poison family relationships as to cut off the likely possibility of future conversion, one might decide to attend, while expressing concern and a hope that things are rectified very soon. On the other hand, too many Catholics are forever compromising the truth or remaining silent to “keep the peace.” At some point, mere silence becomes tacit approval. If one makes a judgment to attend an invalid marriage, there ought to be some greater purpose at work.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org.