“In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.”
- Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship, 2015
Many organizations publish voter guides that are intended to point voters toward favored candidates, particular issues or officials who support a certain constituency. They contend to offer voters a shortcut approach to ballot decisions without expending the effort to research or understand candidates or issues in depth.Neither the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops nor the California Catholic Conference publishes a voter guide nor are parishes throughout California permitted to distribute guides without the approval of the local Bishop or the California Catholic Conference.
Why not? Aside from the legal implications of avoiding thinly veiled partisan endorsements and pushing the political regulations for not-for-profit organizations, the Bishops of the United States are following precepts firmly rooted in our Catholic faith:
Catholic social teaching is broad, covering an incredible array of how individuals relate to each other in society. Starting with the core message of life and dignity, for instance, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church encompasses topics ranging from our basic human rights to how we participate in civic affairs to economic life to war and peace.
“Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic social teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens “to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self- interest” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33).” - Faithful Citizenship, 2015
“Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.” - Pope Emeritus Benedict, Deus Caritas Est
Many guides oversimplify complicated issues. For instance, guides often ask voters a series of questions – one for life, one for environment, one for labor, etc. – and attempt to determine a voter’s preferences with a few clicks of a button. Such a process is questionable at best. At worse it can be deceitful.
“But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.” - Pope Francis Address to the U.S. Congress, 2015
Candidates process a range of positions during campaigns and often promise “immediate results” but a voter’s discernment must also be based on concrete actions. Officials and parties are often content to continue using an issue to attack the opposition and have little ability to or intention of making any concrete changes.
“Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.” - Faithful Citizenship, 2015
“In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character,
integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.” - Faithful Citizenship, 2015
Our faith teaches that we must follow our “properly formed conscience.” No one can decide that for us or has the right to question our faith if we do not agree with them on a political strategy or candidate.
“The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right” (no. 1778).” - Faithful Citizenship, 2015
Voting is only one part of being a faithful citizen. To change hearts and minds takes far more that a trip to the polling place. The Catholic Church endeavors to bring the truth of her teaching to the society through constant engagement, rational arguments and civil discourse.
“The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.” - Pope Emeritus Benedict, Deus Caritas Est
We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. We must exercise that power in ways that defend human life, especially those of God's children who are unborn, disabled or otherwise vulnerable. We get the public officials we deserve. Their virtue -- or lack thereof -- is a judgment not only on them, but on us. Because of this, we urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest. - The Gospel of Life, USCCB, 33