As Catholics we are called to participate in the public square and to work toward the common good. And that includes being active in the political sphere. But in a time of deep political division, how should we approach politics? And is it possible for our political beliefs to be sinful?
Recently on Go Ask Your Father™ a listener called in to ask whether our vote is private or whether we would have to take our political beliefs into account when examining our consciences for Confession. Msgr. Stuart Swetland responded:
“The vote here is a private act, but of course we should always vote as Catholics. Do we have a live relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and are we living in accordance with His Body, the Church?
The Church has this whole body of teaching called Catholic Social Teaching, which is its teaching in the socio-economic and political sphere. And we should always attempt to apply that teaching to our actions in the world. In the political, economic, and social world we should be living Catholic Social Teaching personally and communally. And we should be voting in accordance with Catholic Social Teaching.
To exercise the franchise in a way that is inconsistent with Catholic Social Teaching – to vote for people who are opposed to the most fundamental principles of the Catholic faith – is incoherent from a Catholic perspective. And any incoherence in action is potentially sinful.
I don’t think anybody, or very seldom at least, should vote a straight ticket. They should look at each race, at each individual putting himself or herself up, and look at what they stand for. There are plenty of people in both parties that stand for things that a good Catholic should never vote for. There are plenty of people in both parties who stand for things that Catholics should embrace and promote.
What I tell people, and I’m quoting a bishop when I say it, is that ‘Catholics are not single-issue voters, because issues do not hold office. People hold office.’ We should vote for the person, or persons, who will best be able to put forward the necessary conditions for the common good. That’s the sum total of conditions in which every person can flourish.
Now, as soon as I say that I have to say that if a person puts himself or herself up for office and would exclude part of humanity for consideration – they are unqualified for the office for which they are putting themselves up. So if someone put themselves up for office and they excluded a particular race, or a particular religion, or a particular sex, saying ‘They don’t count, I’m only going to promote this race, religion, or sex.’ I would never vote for such a person.
Or if a person were to only include part of the human race in their consideration for justice – like not counting the unborn in their consideration – then that person is equally unfit for the office that he or she puts themselves up for. So one should not vote for such a candidate.
The only way one could vote for such a candidate is if all the other candidates were equally abhorrent. And then we’re in the situation that some call ‘the lesser of two evils.’ I call it ‘the evil of two lessers.’ Because they would both be substantially deficient in their view of justice. Anybody who would say that only some humans count in the moral calculation of a society is a person unfit for political office.”
Listen to the full conversation below:
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