Who is a Catholic to vote for? Depends on who you ask

By Scott Alessi| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog Ethic of Life Politics Social Justice

The presidential debates are upon us, Election Day is (thankfully) only a month away, and Catholics by now have probably heard more than enough about the "right" way for them to vote in accordance with the teachings of the church.

But just in case you haven't heard enough, there's always the U.S. bishops' helpful guide, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship." I've always found the bishops' document to be well balanced, with information on the importance of voting, the church's social teaching, and the bishops' policy positions on various issues. The document never tells Catholics who to vote for--in fact, it cautions Catholics that the church endorses no candidates or parties and offers positions that conflict both major parties' platforms--and stresses that there is no one single issue that should define how a Catholic votes. It is up to the individual, the bishops say, to form their own conscience and decide which candidate is the best choice.

Don't agree with that approach? Then you might want to try the Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics, distributed by Catholic Answers Press. Again, the guide cautions that there are no endorsements being made for any party or candidate, yet there are five "non-negotiable" issues given for Catholic voters: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and same-sex marriage. Other issues are considered as not having the same "moral weight," the guide says, such as poverty, the environment, immigration, war, and the death penalty, and Catholics can come to their own conclusions on these issues when voting. Not an endorsement of any party, but a pretty clear line is being drawn for which party Catholics should gravitate toward.

EWTN's "Brief Catechism for Catholic Voters" makes it even simpler by boiling it down to one issue: abortion. It is never "morally permissible," the document states, to vote for a candidate that is pro-choice, even if their policies would "do much more for the culture of life" than the other candidate. So according to this guide, Catholics are bound to vote for the candidate who says they oppose abortion, even if that candidate would sacrifice lives to war, capital punishment, or extreme poverty.

The Catholic Hispanic Leadership Alliance makes things even easier for you, scoring each presidential candidate on a variety of issues to determine which one is the better Catholic choice. Life issues, religious freedom, and marriage are the first issues listed in their guide, and after breaking down the candidates they inform Catholics that Mitt Romney is much more in line with church teaching, giving him a 52.2 percent score, compared to the 17.4 percent earned by Barack Obama.

But if these voter guides don't seem to suit you as a Catholic, fear not, there are plenty of others to choose from. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good breaks down the issues into the common good, the economy, pro-life issues, workers' rights, health care, immigration reform, foreign affairs, and religious liberty. That's certainly a more broad spectrum of concerns for Catholics to consider, and there's no list of "negotiable" versus "non-negotiable" positions.

Another handy tool for voters is this workbook by the Sisters of Mercy, which lists questions that voters should ask and gives you space to fill in your own findings on the candidates' positions. The issues it covers are poverty, the earth, immigration, nonviolence, racism, and women. Again, a whole different set of concerns than some of the other Catholic guides.

A quick Google search can find you even more advice on how you should vote as a Catholic. Most of these guides will include quotes from popes, encyclicals, scripture, theologians, and church leaders to back up their claims that certain issues should be of primary concern for voters. So how does a Catholic know which one to listen to?

Although they differ greatly in some cases, all of the guides do bring up issues that should be important for Catholics on Election Day. How they weigh those issues ranges from an unbiased, balanced view to thinly veiled partisan politics. It is up to the voter to figure out which is which, and that can be a daunting task.

How you vote should certainly be informed by your faith, and it is important for Catholics to know the candidates and the issues as best they can. Once they do, the best guide is to simply follow their own conscience. You can still ask someone else for their guidance, but be warned that they might just make you even more confused.