If you’re Catholic, you have a duty to participate in civic life, including the obligation to vote when you can. Each of us is called to assess our individual strengths, abilities, and passions, so that we might apply them, in the name of the God who entrusted them to us, to benefit not just ourselves, but all of those around us. At a minimum, we must ensure that everyone around us is encouraged and enabled to seek truth, which is God.
There are many ways to participate. Each of us is a unique part of the living body of Christ: some of us are teachers, others laborers, others nurses, doctors, engineers and designers. Some of us are housekeepers, and others write software. We each have gifts we can use for the benefit of others and of society.
In a democracy, a part of what we have been given is a voice in government. At a minimum, Catholics living in democracies must themselves and vote responsibly. Those who are able should also join parties and use their voices to influence platform development and candidate nominations. We can each of us also write letters to those who have been elected, to remind them of options for the common good and promises they may have made in campaigning.
The duty to vote includes an obligation to vote according to your own properly-formed conscience. That means familiarizing yourself with the social teachings of the Church, and using those teachings to inform your own interpretation of responsibly-reported news items.
Except in extreme circumstances, no one – including the Church – should tell you specifically who to vote for, or which way to vote on most issues. Rather, you should constantly consult – and support – responsible news sources to find out what you can about the candidates, parties, and issues; consider what the candidates say and how they relate to the Gospels and the Church’s teachings; pray; and vote in accordance with your own best conclusions – your conscience, in other words.
PRINCIPLES, VALUES, AND VIRTUES
OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL LIFE & TEACHING
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) sets out a comprehensive framework for participation of Catholics in the life of the world, both as individuals and as the Church, based on the Gospels and other sources. This includes voting and political participation as well as participation in society as a whole.
An over-riding concept is proper stewardship, which Christ taught us to practice both as individuals and as societies. His parable of the talents and his explanation of the judgment of nations are fundamental.
Our Catechism, the Popes, and our Bishops have also provided guidance.
Within the over-riding context of stewardship, the Compendium sets out four permanent principles and four fundamental values. We should be familiar with each of them, and put them into practice in our daily lives. In addition, we should be guided in all things by our familiar Catholic virtues.
This means that we should always consider at least the following issues when making voting decisions and other public choices.
The Permanent Principles of Catholic Social Teaching
- Dignity of the Human Person
- Sanctity of human life
- Human Rights & Duties
- Dignity of work
- The Common Good
- Care for the environment
- Environmental sustainability
- Economic justice
- Economic sustainability
- De-militarization & peace
- Citizenship and participation in society
- Subsidiarity: things should not be bigger than they have to be
A tough one. Corporations, governments, and other organizations should not be bigger than necessary; and decisions should be pushed as far down to lower levels as possible.
- Solidarity: Interdependence between peoples and societies
- Citizenship and participation in society
The Fundamental Values of Catholic Social Life
The Parable of the Talents & the Judgment of the Nations
- God made everything.
- God still owns everything: the gifts he has entrusted to us are meant to be used on behalf of their Creator, for His purposes.
- We hold our gifts in trust, as stewards, and we will be called to account for their use.
Time – we must be personally involved in the work of God, by giving our time to others, in love, and to causes that will please Him
Talent – we must use the talents (the skills, passions, and intelligence) he has entrusted to us with all our strength, for God’s work
Treasure – we must share the resources that have been entrusted to us, in ways that will please God.
When our time comes, we must return each of these gifts to the Lord, with increase.
In warning us of the impending Judgment of the Nations, Christ explains clearly that we are meant, as individuals and as societies, to care for one another: to look out for and nurture one another, so that we can each grow in strength and ability, and contribute ever more worthily to God’s work.
The duty of Catholics to participate actively in society, including the duty to vote wherever and whenever possible, may be traced to a number of sources:
Christ taught repeatedly that we have a duty to love and care for one another. This duty is central to Christianity, which is meant to be a way of life and not merely a religion; and is a distinguishing characteristic of Christianity. The most elegant and authoritative statement of this duty may be found in Christ’s statement of the Greatest Commandment.
In Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ expanded on the meaning of the duty of loving one another, and warned of the consequences of failure to do so.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Christian duty of loving and caring for one another includes an obligation to participate in society, and specifically to participate by voting.
The Catechism explains that support for the duty to participate in society can be found even within the Ten Commandments.
In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI observed that every Christian is called to strive toward public institutions that provide for the real needs of our neighbors, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and ability, including the degree of influence he wields in society.
Other Popes have offered similar statements.
Various conferences of Catholic Bishops, including both the American and Canadian Conferences, have provided information on both the duty to vote and frameworks for doing so.
Materials provided by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops may be found here.
Materials provided by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops may be found here.