DAY 7 – VOTE WITH AN INFORMED CONSCIENCE
Family, Community, Participation
The family is the basic building block of society, according to the Catholic Church, even being called the domestic church (CCC 2204). A key consideration during this election is to consider what each of the parties are doing in order to maintain and strength the role and place of the family in society.
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops state in their document on voting, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: “The family—based on marriage between a man and a woman—is the first and fundamental unit of society and is a sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children. … Respect for the family should be reflected in every policy and program. It is important to uphold parents’ rights and responsibilities to care for their children, including the right to choose their children’s education.” With the domestic church as its building block, communities and volunteer organizations are formed that seek to look after one another. It is more often than not that through those communities and volunteer organizations we participate in the wider goal of the building up of society. The family, the fostering of a sense of community, and participation in society are interlinked.
It is important, though, not to think too narrowly when we consider what the parties are doing for families, as it is not only our particular family that we as Catholics should be considering. Here, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops notes the wider questions when it comes to families. What are the various parties doing to: create greater pay equity between men and women, provide access to greater hospital care, facilitate the integration and unification of immigrant and refugee families, and promote restorative justice and support for victims of crime. These are a few of the things, there are others, our bishops have pointed out are important to keep in mind when deciding for whom to vote.
DAY 6 – VOTE WITH AN INFORMED CONSCIENCE
Right to Life & Dignity of the Human Person
At the centre of Catholic moral and social teaching lies the dignity of the human person. As people of faith and reason, we have an obligation to preserve the sacredness of every human life and bring this truth into the public square.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, he writes “charity must animate the entire loves of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity'” (no29).
We are called to be merciful, loving and compassionate towards our neighbours and our enemies; to share our riches with those in need; to promote well-being and equality for all; and to protect the dignity of the week, the ill, the vulnerable and the voiceless.
DAY 5 – What is the Common Good and why is it important?
The common good is a crucial idea in social ethics, one of the basic principles of Catholic social thought, and should be a important consideration when thinking about for who to vote. At its base, the common good refers to those goods we all share in common, and which should be used for the benefit of all.
According to the Second Vatican Council, the common good is defined as “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment (Gaudium et Spes, 26)”. But what does this mean? In this understanding, the environment is a common good, as Pope Francis has noted in his “On the Care of Our Common Home.” If the government allowed someone to buy a national park, and the buyers planned to exclude everyone from using the park but their closest friends, that would be against the common good. The park was created for the benefit of everyone, not just for a few; it is a common good.
The principle of the common good, though, serves to raise up each member of society, so the basic building block of the common good is respect for the integral development of the human person. What does this mean? It means working to create a society where peace, order, and good governance allows for an individual the freedom to find work that empowers, raise a family with minimum interference from the government, and feel free to join groups that help build the community. This can only be done, though, by making sure that all people are able to enjoy this life. If someone is poor, have been raised in conditions of poverty, it is more difficult to live life to the fullest. That is why the Church has repeated made social justice and a preferential option and solidarity with the poor a cornerstone of Catholic teaching.
One question to ask in this election is: what is each party doing to make sure no one is left behind? What are they doing to ensure that everyone has access to our shared common goods so that everyone can realize their full potential?
DAY 4 – Who is the perfect candidate for a Catholic to elect?
The odds of finding the perfect candidate to vote for in the upcoming election, are about as good as betting that the Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup this season, and I’m a Leafs fan!
So how does one select a candidate to vote for on Election Day? First and foremost we must understand what it means to vote with an informed conscience. We must apply Catholic moral teaching to the important issues of our society and our lives today. We should not reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two issues but acknowledge the interconnection of the issues which impact a wider community not simply our personal interests.
We should form our conscience in light of our Catholic faith, examining our moral principles in light of the debates and decisions proposed by the candidates. In some cases, this means clearly objecting to the intrinsic evils present in our political laws; in other cases, this means seeking justice or promoting the common good through political action. Carefully and prayerfully discern issues of life, justice and neighbour when evaluating a candidates platform.
DAY 3 – Why does the Church teach about issues affecting public policy?
If you are not sure if your leg is broken, you probably will go and see a doctor. If you are trying to understand a scientific theory, you will likely ask your science professor or google a good science website. If you are not sure what the moral implications are of a policy the government is suggesting, a great place to start is with the teachings of the Magisterium.
We have many experts in various different fields that we regularly trust to help us make sense of the world around us. The theologians, pastors, social workers, counsellors, nurses, doctors, philosophers, and others that make up the Church, all contribute to helping shape the Church’s stance on important issues. No Church document is written only by one person, but a team of people, all trying to figure out – not necessarily if a particular policy should or shouldn’t be supported – but what are the deeper issues at stake in a given issue. Even the Pope asks people what they think before publishing a major document. In so doing, the Church is trying to teach all of us how to be more aware of what it means to build a more just society.
The Church, as an expert in moral matters, has a duty to point out possible moral or ethical issues that might arise from a particular course of action. If we accept what a group of scientists say about the impact building a particular pipeline might have on the environment, listen to economists about the economic impact, it only makes sense to listen to what the Church might have to say regarding possible deeper moral concerns and considerations.
DAY 2 – WHO IS INVOLVED WITH POLITICAL ACTION
Every Catholic – whether they are a priest or lay person – is called to play their full role as citizens of their country (CCC 2240). In a democratic society, part of that is voting. But for lay people, it also includes doing our best to change society for the better more directly.
Unlike priests who only in extreme situations can hold political office, it is precisely us as lay people who are called to take an active role in politics and social change within society. As the Holy See’s document on The Participation of Catholics in Political Life says, “By fulfilling their civic duties, «guided by a Christian conscience», in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values, all the while respecting the nature and rightful autonomy of that order, and cooperating with other citizens according to their particular competence and responsibility.” But it is also important to remember that Catholics can have different views as to how to best create a society that fosters those Christian values.
This does not mean that there are no underlying truths that we should expect a candidate we vote for to hold. What it does mean is that there are Conservative, Liberal, New Democrat, and Green supporters who are good Catholics, and see those parties as offering the best way to change society. An example might be in order. As John Paul II noted, “when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. (Evangelium Vitae, 73)” But what such an act looks like in practice, especially where we place the emphasis, can be varied. Which is more important, which do you put the majority of your time and energy towards: pushing for a sex education curriculum that fosters a greater awareness of the long-term dangers of abortion, or on a social program that aims to assist single mothers with educational training they may otherwise lack? It is not always possible to do both, but both seek to contribute to creating a Christian culture.
The same holds true for us as we choose whom to vote for: we are trying to figure out who can best foster the development of authentically human and Christian values (they are one and the same) within society. For one that might be very public support for certain explicitly Christian views, for others it might be someone working behind the scenes to create programs based on Catholic social teaching. As every government has to deal with an array of issues that faces the country, no one party’s political platform will likely address all important issues for a Catholic voter. In the end, we have to know our local candidates (you are electing the person who will represent you in parliament, not just the party’s leader), but also what we think is the best way to foster authentic Christian values. Once you have figured out that, find the candidate that best matches.
DAY 1 – WHY VOTE?
In a world where many countries struggle to hold free and democratic elections and the right to vote is restricted or limited, Canadian Catholics have an important choice to make on October 19th. To vote or not to vote?
The Church acknowledges and encourages “the political freedom & responsibility of citizens” to vote. Our faith community has a long tradition of action and teaching on issues of human life and dignity, marriage and family, justice and peace, care for creation and the common good. It is necessary for us to exercise our right to vote to ensure our moral convictions are principles are preserved so that we might carry out the Church’s mission in the public sphere.
 Second Vatican Council, The Church in the Modern World, no. 76.3
For more information on things to think about as a Catholic trying to exercise your duty to vote, check out these links:
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops: 2015 Federal Election Guide – Making Our Voices Heard
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales: Election Letter