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Pope Francis: Pray, study, vote conscience

Published: October 15, 2016

By Sister Joan Pytlik, DC
Minister for Religious

We’ve already heard the pundits say there is no longer a “Catholic vote.” Should there be? Voting has gotten more complicated recently since we learn from our Catholic leaders that we should no longer rely just on voting on a single issue.

Joshua McElwee of National Catholic Reporter reported that in a press conference aboard the papal flight back to Rome Oct. 2, Pope Francis was asked what counsel he might give to Catholics who are unhappy with both Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.

“I never say a word about electoral campaigns,” the pope replied. “The people are sovereign. I will only say: Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.”

“The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith. It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.”

In a dialogue with Bishop Anthony B. Taylor at the religious jubilee celebration, he said regarding elections, “The most important thing is that Catholics must vote. It is everyone’s civic duty.”

Every four years the U.S. Catholic bishops issue a document on the political responsibility of Catholics called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”. Their purpose is to help in forming consciences and understanding major issues from a Catholic standpoint.

They start by quoting Pope Francis, “An authentic faith always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.”

The bishops relate that the issues we face are complex: the right to life, peacemaking, terrorism, racism, violence, poverty, lack of health care, immigrants and refugees, family life breakdown, climate change, etc.

They say, “The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith. It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.” They tell us that our responsibility is to form a human family of love in a world weakened by our personal and structural sin.

A starting point in the document is as Pope Francis reminds us, “Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.” First clue: look for the candidate who is most for the common good, not for a certain class or ethnicity.

The bishops write, “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. For Catholics, this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church.”

In light of the blessings we share as part of a free and democratic nation, the bishops vigorously repeat our call for a renewed kind of politics: focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls; more on the needs of the weak than on benefits for the strong; and more on the pursuit of the common good than on the demands of narrow interests.

So, is there a Catholic vote? Should there be? I would say yes, but it doesn’t mean one uniform response. Rather each Catholic must search their conscience, study the many issues in light of Church teaching, seek the common good, pray and then be sure to vote.

This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic October 15, 2016. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.