Near the tail end of the most fire-breathing American presidential campaign in memory, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Doylestown provided a respite from the inferno with a presentation Oct. 6 for parishioners titled “Voting Your Conscience,” a guideline that touched on the values that Catholics must weigh before casting their vote.
The meeting was what Father Robert Ianelli, parochial vicar at the parish, called a healthy, respectful and open dialogue, followed by wine and cheese for refreshments.
“There were no fights,” Father Ianelli joked.
About 80 people attended the gathering and Father Ianelli was careful not to mention any candidate’s name, but instead urged his audience to reflect on how their choices should reflect the common good while adhering to the fundamental teachings of the Gospel.
“This wasn’t a campaign,” Father Ianelli said of the session. “The church is in the middle, not taking sides. We do have an obligation to vote, to build up our society, but this meeting was not aligned to one candidate or the other.”
The electorate will come out to vote Nov. 8 in local, state and national offices, and all election platforms need to be considered, he said.
Topics that generated discussion were: Religion and Politics; Faith in the Public Square; the “Tension” of the Christian; We, the People; the Importance of Voting; a Well-Formed Conscience; Four Principles of Catholic Social Teaching; the Dignity of the Human Person; the Common Good; Solidarity and Subsidiarity and Advice from the Pope.
Catholics preparing to vote can start with Pope Francis’s simple advice on voting: “Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.”
“Conscience is part of who we are, but conscience has to be formed to seek good and avoid evil,” Father Ianelli said. “We do have an obligation not to be aligned with one candidate or the other, one party or another.”
His presentation included issues Catholics need to consider:
• Human rights — Abortion, euthanasia, destruction of human embryos, direct and intentional killing of noncombatants in war, the death penalty;
•Promotion of peace — Avoidance of unjust wars and preventative use of force
•Marriage and family life — Protection of God’s plan for marriage between one man and one woman; just wages, education;
•Religious freedom: Protection from government coercion to violate religious beliefs;
•Preferential option for the poor
•Affordable and accessible health care
•Just and humane immigration reform
•Care for creation
•Promotion of morality in media
•Global solidarity/sound diplomatic relations with other countries
Father Ianelli said Catholics have a moral obligation to vote because the Gospel calls for the faithful to contribute to the common good, and because voting influences such fundamental issues as care for the poor, protection of marriage, and right to life for all.
America is not perfect, he suggested, but each candidate’s platform should be examined with the view that all people are created in the image and likeness of God, and that our rights come from God, not the state, Father Ianelli said.
Prayer and the teaching of the Gospel are valuable tools in making choices. Of all the issues Catholics confront, the right to life is the one non-negotiable, he added.
“Don’t vote because you want to benefit. Don’t vote to become rich. It is important to consider how to maintain our society,” Father Ianelli said.
But he still had advice for the disappointment, perhaps anger and frustration that many will feel if their candidate doesn’t prevail on Nov. 8: Don’t set the tone for political polarization. Instead, regroup and begin working from the ground up with elected officials on the local level. Work to open a dialogue on things that people can control.
For parishioner Helene Haus, the discussion provided a resource on how to apply a Catholic perspective while voting according to one’s conscience. Pulling together a slate during a chaotic campaign isn’t easy, but it is just as important to pay attention to the down-ballot candidates – those not running for president — who could have an impact on one’s life and beliefs.
“You have to know who the candidates are, who’s giving them money and how they dovetail with the issues you consider important,” Haus said. “For me, first and foremost is the right to life.”
See CatholicPhilly.com’s package on voter education resources for national, state and local races in our 2016 Elections guide.