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Bishops Remind Catholics to Approach Elections With Well-Formed Conscience

Voters in Atlanta cast their election ballots Oct. 13, 2020. (Photo:CNS/Elijah Nouvelage, Reuters)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CNS) — The Catholic voter “bears responsibility for connecting the dots between what our faith teaches and which candidates will best serve the common good,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City said in a recent column for The Catholic Missourian, the diocesan newspaper.

The Catholic Church and its leaders — clergy, religious or lay — do not tell people how to vote, because the church’s responsibility “in addressing political and social issues is to assist Catholics in forming their consciences,” he said, pointing to the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

“As the document explains, the Catholic social teachings we hold clearly have political implications, whether they concern the dignity of human life, marriage and family, racism, the environment or the economy,” Bishop McKnight said.

“For this reason, I have and will continue to take positions on important ballot measures and issues that touch upon these teachings,” he added.

“However, the responsibility I carry as a bishop does not mean I tell people for whom they should vote. … The obligation to preserve the authentic teachings of our Catholic faith is not the same thing as making a prudential decision on how these teachings are best applied in the political process,” he said.

Much is “at stake in the upcoming election,” he said, and Catholics “are obliged to be informed of and to engage in the political process.”

“We each have an important role in creating a society in which every human life is respected and valued, and in which the freedom to practice religion is guaranteed,” he added.

But he also expressed deep concern for the country after Election Day.

“What I see happening in our nation, unfortunately, is a strident, rancorous discord that tears not only at the fabric of our society but also at the communion of the church,” Bishop McKnight said. “And this disharmony endangers the salvation of souls.

“I am more concerned about the aftermath of the upcoming presidential election than I am about the election itself. What kind of people are we becoming because of today’s political climate?”

He urged Catholics to look ahead to Nov. 3 “with the end in mind — our place in eternity.” To that end, we must “always treat other people according to their dignity as fellow human beings, perhaps especially those who espouse contrary political opinions from us,” he said, ”

“As Christians engaged in the political process, we are obliged to reflect first on the shortcomings of our own political party and candidates before casting aspersions on others,” he said, adding that after the elections, people will still be hurting from the pandemic and a host of socioeconomic issues.

“They will need our mercy and charity. We will need to find a way to heal our political divisions and to work side by side with all people of goodwill to ‘form a more perfect union,'” he added.

In a statement published on the website of The Southern Cross, his diocesan newspaper, San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy said the “comprehensiveness of Catholic social teaching points toward an understanding of justice, life and peace that refuses to be confined to narrow boxes or relegated to partisan categories.”

“Taking a profoundly moral and spiritual perspective, it asks the question: How should humanity move in transforming the world to reflect more fully the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” he said, pointing to “10 salient goals” emerging from the Gospel and the Catholic faith to be considered in this election:

— The “promotion of a culture and legal structures” that protect the life of unborn children.

— The reversal of climate change, which “threatens the future of humanity and particularly devastates the poor and the marginalized.”

— Policies that safeguard the rights of immigrants and refugees “in a moment of great intolerance.”

— Laws that protect the aged, the ill and the disabled “from the lure and the scourge of euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

— Quality health care for all Americans.

— “Vigorous opposition to racism in every form, both through cultural transformation and legal structures.”

— The provision of work and protection of workers’ rights across America.

— Systematic efforts to fight poverty and “egregious inequalities of wealth.”

— Policies that promote marriage and family, which are so essential for society.

— The protection of religious liberty.

“At this moment in our history, three of these issues constitute particularly strong claims upon the Catholic conscience,” Bishop McElroy said.

“The killing of more than 750,000 unborn children each year demands legal protection for these most vulnerable among us. The impact of climate change threatens humanity itself if changes in global policies are not undertaken in the coming years,” he said.

“And the growing culture of exclusion in our nation, built upon racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, religious prejudice and social division, is crippling our very ability to function effectively as a society and nation.”

He added: “The challenge to faith-filled voters in conscience is to weigh these issues and evaluate them as Christ would in advancing the common good at this moment in our national history.”

In Florida, Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine said in an Oct. 7 statement the elections “at both the federal and state level, will shape the future of our nation for generations to come.”

“Some would prefer that Catholics and others of faith remain silent, or they will say that such beliefs have no place in the public square,” he said, but politics is “a fundamentally moral activity.”

As Catholics, he said, “our belief is that there are fundamental truths about the human person and society that are accessible to both faith and reason.”

He focused especially on the right to life, saying “even the Founding Fathers knew that the right to life surpassed all others in importance,” having listed it as the first of three inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“This order was no mistake,” because “without the right to life, none of the other rights could be protected,” he added.

“Pope Francis has made it clear that if we fail to protect life, no other rights matter. He also said that abortion is not primarily a Catholic or even a religious issue: It is first and foremost a human rights issue,” Bishop Estevez said.

“All too often, we hear people say: ‘As a matter of faith, I am against abortion, but I cannot impose my belief on others.’ It is not a matter of imposing a belief, but of being committed to the truth about human life, which, as biological science confirms, begins at conception,” he added.

Some will claim that “by focusing on the preeminent issue of abortion, the church is promoting single-issue voting that will tend to support a particular candidate or party” but “the church will always act to promote the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death,” he explained.

“We care about both mothers and their children, born and unborn, as well as the poor, the immigrant, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, those who are marginalized, and those on death row,” Bishop Estevez said. “We seek to promote a culture of life through our teaching and through our ministries, some of which are threatened by the extreme positions taken by some on issues of life and the family.”

In a column in the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of St. Louis reminded Catholics that “after the election, our mission to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel will remain.”

But heading into the Nov. 3 elections, he, too, recommended Catholics study “Faithful Citizenship,” with its “robust treatment of how a Catholic should approach elections — it’s detailed and nuanced in a way that meets the complexity of our situation.”

He highlighted two points from the document.

“First: If you don’t hold that abortion is the preeminent moral issue of our time, and if you don’t struggle to justify voting for a candidate whose record or policy would favor or even expand abortion, then you probably aren’t forming a Catholic conscience in preparation to vote,” Archbishop Rozanski said.

“Second: If you think that other serious issues like race, immigration and the environment can be dismissed or ignored, and if you don’t struggle to justify voting for a candidate whose record or policy would be contrary to Catholic teaching on these matters, then you probably aren’t forming a Catholic conscience in preparation to vote,” he said.

There are plenty of other issues “to be placed on the scales,” he said, but “those two points are enough to challenge everyone for the moment. The conclusion to be reached after giving all the issues their appropriate weight? That’s not mine to say for anyone but myself.”

Editor’s Note: The full text of “Faithful Citizenship” in English and Spanish can be found at