A final look before Election Day at the U.S. Bishops’ guide to forming conscience
(Read the original four-part series here)

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

The voting booth and the confessional have a lot more in common than a curtain. Both are sacrosanct. The sins one tells in the confessional and the candidates one votes for in the booth are private, and made public only if one wishes to do so.

Both should also involve the conscious effort of deciding what is right and what is wrong, overriding mere self-interest.##M;[readmore]##

Alone in the voting booth, one’s moral convictions can and should come into play, as one decides who should be the leaders of the country, state, or municipality.

Every four years, as the nation prepares for a presidential election, the Catholic Bishops of the United States issue a document that highlights the moral issues at stake in order to assist voters as they prepare to elect leaders whose administrations will hopefully reflect the Gospel’s demands of charity and justice proclaimed by Christ.

The current document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” issued last November, does not endorse any party or candidate. It discusses issues.

“Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth,” the Bishops say.

“We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each inspanidual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.”

It is also states, “[T]he obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church by Jesus Christ.”

This concept has never been alien to America, a country whose foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, speaks of a people “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Almost a century later, the forceful moral teaching by mostly Protestant clergy was a central ingredient in the bringing about the abolition of human slavery in the United States.

In this context, the Catholic Bishops present Church teaching for the faithful citizens of today and the issues our country faces.

Ten goals voters and candidates should consider
Today, the Bishops in “Faithful Citizenship” list ten goals both voters and candidates should consider:

1. Address the preeminent requirement to protect the weakest in our midst – innocent unborn children – by restricting and bringing to an end the destruction of unborn children through abortion.

2. Keep our nation from turning to violence to address fundamental problems: a million abortions each year to deal with unwanted pregnancies; euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with the burden of illness and disability; the destruction of human embryos in the name of research; the use of the death penalty to combat crime; and imprudent resort to war to address international disputes.

3. Define the central institution of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and provide better support for family life morally, socially and economically, so that our nation helps parents raise their children with respect for life, sound moral values and an ethic for stewardship and responsibility.

4. Achieve comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, treats immigrant workers fairly, offers an earned path to citizenship, respects the rule of law and addresses the factors that compel people to leave their own countries.

5. Help families and children overcome poverty: ensure access to and choice of education, as well as decent work at fair, living wages and adequate assistance for the vulnerable in our nation; help to overcome widespread hunger and poverty around the world, especially in the area of development assistance, debt relief and international trade.

6. Provide health care for the growing number of people without it, while respecting human life, human dignity and religious freedom in our health care system.

7. Continue to oppose policies that reflect prejudice, hostility toward immigrants, religious bigotry and other forms of discrimination.

8. Encourage families, community groups, economic structures and government to work together to overcome poverty, pursue the common good and care for creation, with full respect for religious groups and their right to address social needs in accord with their basic moral convictions.

9. Establish and comply with moral limits on military force – examining for what purpose it may be used, under what authority and at what human cost – and work for a “responsible transition” to end the war in Iraq.

10. Join with others around the world to pursue peace, protect human rights and religious liberty, and advance economic justice and care for creation.

Life: The fundamental human right
All of the 10 goals trace back to the right to life, which the Bishops’ tell us, “implies and is linked to other human rights – to the basic good that every person needs to live and thrive. All of the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any inspanidual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life.

The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors – basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education and meaningful work – is universally binding on our consciences and may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best way to respond to these needs.”

But all principles are not of equal value.

“The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death,” the Bishops teach, “is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.”

In his letter on Oct. 23, Cardinal Rigali writes, “Our own common sense tells us that not every issue is of the same importance. At various times in history a people or nation is confronted with an issue that transcends others in importance and demands a courageous response.

“We wish with all our hearts that no candidate and no party were advocating this heinous act against the human person. However, since it is a transcending issue, and even one supported in its most extreme and horrific forms, we must proclaim time and time again that no intrinsic evil can ever be supported in any way, most especially when it concerns the gravest of all intrinsic evils, the taking of an innocent human life.”

Bishops address conscience, morality and voting
In “Faithful Citizenship,” the Bishops teach that, “Catholics often face difficult choices how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-informed conscience that perceives the proper relationship between moral goods.

A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such a case, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.”

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position, for example on life issues, may decide to vote for that candidate for other serious reasons, the Bishops explain.

“Voting this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.