In 1960, then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy sought to quell fears that his faith would dictate his policies should he be elected president.
Speaking to an audience of unconvinced Protestant ministers, he said: “I believe in an America … where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. … I believe in an America … where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source.”
Is JFK’s statement, questionable in its validity for a Catholic president of the United States, a guideline for the Catholic voter? Are Catholics are obliged to take their faith into the voting booth?
Bishop William Lori, of the Diocese of Bridgeport, in his recently published Pastoral Letter, “Let Freedom Ring”, http://www.bridgeportdiocese.com/folder_bridgedocs/let-freedom-ring.pdf, addressed the issues of religious freedom and the Catholic vote in Connecticut. Appealing to the Catholic voting conscience, he instructs: “We are free not merely to do what we like but rather to do what we ought. God created us free so that we could embrace the truth in love and to do good for ourselves, our families and loved ones, and the larger society. Freedom and truth go together, as Pope John Paul II reminded us, just as freedom and responsibility also go together.”
What makes a Catholic voter Catholic? Is it church attendance? A Baptismal certificate? A Confirmation name? Many Catholics possess these things, but fewer have the necessary element: an informed conscience.
Truth in the 21st century means something different to each person. It goes something like this: “my truth may not be your truth.” This is a conscience that has moved away from natural law. “The natural Law,” Bishop Lori says, “is that sense of right and wrong, etched in the human heart by the Creator.” The natural law, Lori states, while not specifically Catholic, is “a sound framework for entering more vigorously into debates over cultural and legal challenges.” He advises Catholics to familiarize themselves with natural law tradition so Catholics are equipped to face the hard questions and issues with a prayerful Catholic understanding. A Catholic’s responsibility includes seeking the truth that is for the good of the larger society.
These questions are increasingly more urgent as technology and science continue to evolve. Venerable John Paul II, repeatedly reaffirmed that lawmakers have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” any law that attacks human life. For lawmakers, as for every Catholic, it is problematic to promote such laws or to vote for them.
What are the issues that attack human life? Tim Staples, of Catholic Answers, a Catholic evangelization organization from California, categorizes those life issues into “Five Non-Negotiable Issues” facing the Catholic voter today. These are some hot button issues that have polarized our society. However, Staples explains, “These are things that are intrinsically immoral, and no Catholic, be they a politician or a Catholic who is voting for a politician, can ever support in any way.”
The Five Non Negotiable Issues are: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and same-sex “marriage”. All of these issues attack human life on some level. These issues are the ones where the call to examine and contemplate natural law are needed to honestly form the Catholic conscience.
Abortion is a direct and intentional killing of a human being, and is therefore, homicide. The Catholic Church and many other Christian denominations are in agreement that abortion deprives an innocent human being of its basic right to life. For more on when life begins, visit here. http://www.abort73.com/abortion_facts/fetal_homicide_laws/
Euthanasia is also a form of homicide. The Church teaches that suicide or taking the life of another person, even disguised as a merciful act, is no one’s right but God’s (Dt 32:39). Compassion is false if its modus operandi is intrinsically evil. For more on Euthanasia visit here-http://catholiceducation.org/articles/euthanasia/eu0006.html
Embryonic stem cell research is another misplaced form of compassion at the expense of human life. The human embryo is also human life, and deserves dignity and rights under the law. The United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) condemns embryonic stem cell research as an assault on human life, asserting that "science does not have to kill in order to cure." This is especially true, since the field of adult stem cell research is a valid and effective scientific field of research. For more on the Embryonic Stem Cell debate visit here-http://www.insidecatholic.com/feature/eight-questions-about-the-stem-cell-debate.html
Human Cloning is a dual life issue because the act of “conception” occurs through technology, rather than through the marital act. Additionally, human cloning ends up being a form of homicide, through the destruction of rejected or unsuccessful clones. For more on human cloning visit here: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=2968&CFID=55796463&CFTOKEN=73462741
Same sex “marriage” is a difficult issue to understand as Catholics, being such a popular issue of the day. Reiterating Catholic teaching, Bishop Lori says, “Sacramental marriage is ordered toward the procreation and education of children.” The institution of traditional marriage is crucial to the continuation of the human race.
But not only Catholics understand it as a life issue. Gandhi had clear opinions on sexual intercourse outside of procreation. In 1930, he said “If mutual consent makes a sexual act moral, whether within marriage or without, and, by parity of reasoning, even between members of the same sex, the whole basis of sexual morality is gone and nothing but misery and defect awaits the youth of the country… There is hope for a decent life only so long as the sexual act is definitely related to the conception of precious life.”
For more on traditional marriage visit here-
The Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC), a Hartford-based organization, works to encourage and strengthen the family as the foundation of society, an endeavor which advances the Catholic Church’s view of the family as the “primary and fundamental cell of society.” FIC strives to promote sound ethical and moral values in Connecticut culture and government, with a lobbying arm, a political action arm, and an education and research arm. While not exclusively Catholic, FIC’s director, Peter Wolfgang, works to educate and form the Christian conscience to aid Catholics and all people of faith to make right decisions in the voting booth.
“In spite of all the opposition we face in this bluest of states,” says Wolfgang, “our influence is remarkable and continues to grow. We are excited about our success [with] … issues concerning the traditional family, the sanctity of life, and faith issues in Connecticut. We have made tremendous strides in defending religious liberty, promoting strong pro-family legislators, and lobbying on behalf of our cherished values.”
Wolfgang and Bishop Lori have defended religious freedom side-by-side in “the bluest of states” where, over the past three years, the freedom to exercise religion, especially the Catholic faith, have been under constant attack. To equip voters to make informed choices, the FIC has published candidates’ stances as they relate to the "five non-negotiables". Find the information here: http://www.ctfamily.org/FIC%20Action%20Committee%20Endorsements%202010.pdf and http://www.ctcatholic.org/documents/Surveyresults2010.pdf
While there are “five non-negotiables”, the Church has clear teachings on many key issues that face society and the world today. Evangelium Vitae attempts a small but formidable list of violations of the right to life, human dignity and the integrity of the person. Among them, respect for every life, including criminals and unjust aggressors, murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed.
What is the remedy? Bishop Lori instructs, being intellectually, morally, and spiritually equipped as citizens and believers, with well-formed and informed consciences, “we need to bring into the public square a keen awareness of our rights to assert and bear witness to that moral truth which protects human dignity and makes for a just and peaceful society.”
Among Catholic voters, there is work to be done. Bishop Lori impels Catholics to take steps to know what the Church actually believes and teaches, not just what late-night comedians ridicule. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once commented "There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.” This is true even among Catholics.
“It is our glory and our responsibility as citizens to conscientiously exercise our right to vote. We need to ask our candidates where they stand on the issues … illumined by the Church’s social teaching,” says Lori. Armed with the knowledge of our faith, the issues of the day and how they relate to Catholic social teaching, Catholics can bring a culture of life back to the “bluest of states”, and instruct and inform family, friends and colleagues what the Church really teaches.
Venerable John Paul II says, “The Gospel of life is not for believers alone: it is for everyone. Although faith provides special light and strength, this question arises in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which cares about the future of humanity.”
And who knows, maybe a Catholic politician or two will have a new understanding of what it means to be a Catholic in office and at the polls.
Linda Gaboardi is a mom of three, music teacher, writer and lecturer on women’s health. Along with her husband Kevin, Linda is a certified Natural Family Planning instructor through the Couple to Couple League International, www.ccli.org, where she instructs couples to monitor fertility naturally, without medication or hormones. Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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