Church and state

Column: What will our vote tell the world about Catholics?

by Michael Schuttloffel

To whom much is given, of him will much be required. — Lk 12:48

Americans have been given much, and, in fewer than four weeks, they will go to the polls to do the very least they can do in return: choose their own leaders. In 2000, nearly half of eligible Americans decided that there were better things to do with their time than vote. The momentous decisions that have been made in the intervening years, and the fact that a mere 537 people in Florida determined who would make them, should be sufficient answer to the question: Why vote?

The Catholic Church, a friend to democracy, exhorts its congregants to vote, but does not direct them how. It does, however, seek to form the consciences of the faithful so they might bring their values to bear on public policy. Many of the issues debated in the political arena have a moral dimension, and Catholics’ views on those moral issues cannot help but be influenced by their faith.

So it is that their political views are necessarily influenced by their religious views. This is not to say that shared religious views translate into shared political views, for they do not, nor should they.

For example, while the church teaches that all people should have access to health care, Catholics can and do differ over what policies would best serve that cause.

Despite rumors to the contrary, however, there are some issues where Catholics of good conscience do not — indeed cannot — disagree. This is not a case of church teaching violating the much-misunderstood separation of church and state. Rather, it is recognition that the ballot box does not somehow exist outside the moral universe and that Catholics do not check their convictions at the door. The church is right to insist that Catholic voters give special consideration to issues, such as abortion, that hold transcendent importance.

Could a Catholic vote for a pro-slavery politician? Could he say, “Well, I find slavery repugnant, but I really like what this candidate has to say about education”? If not, then how would this be different from voting for a “pro-choice” candidate who likewise supports policies that treat human life as less than human?

Reflecting life’s unfairness, Americans share equal rights but bear unequal burdens. Some will be asked to do no less than give what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion. Others have less onerous duties to discharge, like showing up on Election Day. History records what the men who fought at Gettysburg stood for.

On Nov. 4, when Catholics join their fellow Americans in exercising the authentic right to choose, what will the results tell the world of their beliefs?

About the author

Michael Schuttloffel

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