Following is the fourth in a six-part series by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on forming our consciences as Catholics prior to the November presidential election.
I hope that many of you have already joined me in prayerfully reflecting on the recently published Virginia Catholic Conference (VCC) voter guide describing the positions of the presidential candidates on issues that are so important to us as faithful and engaged citizens.
The range of issues addressed in that guide clearly dispels the notion that as Catholics we are “single issue” voters. The fact is, as Catholics, we are concerned with a broad spectrum of issues.
Yes, we consider abortion and marriage to be issues of the highest priority, but we also affirm that there are other issues that need to be considered in determining our choice of a candidate for whom we will vote.
The VCC voter guide considers such issues as the death penalty, religious freedom, health care, immigration, poverty and the treatment of refugees, among many others. Indeed, respect for human life and dignity is at stake in all of these.
I am thinking that many of you, like me, are arriving at the conclusion that neither candidate’s positions completely reflect our Catholic values, and in some cases, their positions appear to be opposed to what is objectively true and good.
So what are we to do when the choice between two candidates is not obvious?
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the USCCB document I joined my brother bishops in writing, reminds us that “two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity: The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. ... The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity” (no. 27, 29).
We bishops continue: “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed” (no. 28).
We also observe that with regard to the other issues worthy of our consideration, “although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues. … Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues” (no. 29).
The complexity of the discernment process inspires us to renew our prayer and fasting so that we may be open to the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In the midst of this discernment, one more observation of the bishops will also serve us well: “A well-formed conscience … recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and … the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions (no. 37).