by Most Rev. John T. Folda, Bishop of Fargo
“This election will determine the course of our nation’s life for the next decade or more. So, as people of faith, we should pray for our nation, and we should pray deeply before we vote.” – Bishop John Folda, Diocese of Fargo
Over the last months, I have heard numerous people, many of them Catholic, express frustration at the current state of our nation’s political life. We will make big decisions next month about the future leadership of the United States and of our state, and many are unhappy with the choices before us.
I could list a litany of flaws in each of our presidential candidates, but that is being done on a daily basis in the media. I won’t repeat what we have already heard or read many, many times over. This should remind us, however, that there is no perfect candidate, and there is no perfect political party. No one candidate or party fully represents the Church’s thinking on issues of public life.
For this and many other reasons, the Church does not endorse or identify with any particular candidate or party. To do so would limit our freedom to address and engage all people of all political persuasions.
But the Church does raise its voice on issues of public policy because the Church has a responsibility to promote human dignity, the care of creation, and the common good. For that matter, every Catholic and every citizen shares in that responsibility. This is why Catholics should be well informed and active in the public life of our community and our nation. Each of us has a contribution to make to the wellbeing of our fellow citizens and future generations.
As Catholics and as citizens, we also have a responsibility to exercise the right to vote and to do what we can to work for the common good. The realm of politics can be frustrating and disappointing, but it is that place where each of us can make a stand for what is right and good. As I have written before, there is a growing effort in our society to silence the public voice of believers and to thwart their involvement in the public life of the nation. All the more reason, then, to exercise our right to speak and act in accord with our most deeply held beliefs.
The issues in public life and in this year’s election are increasingly complex, but fortunately, there are good resources to help us as we prepare to vote in November. The North Dakota Catholic Conference, which acts on behalf of the Catholic bishops of North Dakota in areas of public policy and social teaching, has issued “Your Faith, Your Vote.” This resource offers pertinent questions to ask candidates regarding their positions on key issues, like the right to life, religious freedom, family life and care for the poor. It also gives us principles to follow as we discern how to cast our vote. “Your Faith, Your Vote” can be found on the NDCC website at ndcatholic.org.
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have also reissued their document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (available at usccb.org). It too contains important principles of Catholic teaching that we should consider when voting, including the dignity of the human person, the common good, solidarity, and the formation of conscience.
The role of conscience is especially important in carrying out our public responsibilities. Conscience is a judgment of reason that helps us to recognize and seek what is good, and reject what is evil. As Pope Francis states, “This does not mean following my own ego or doing what I am interested in or what I find convenient or what I like” (Angelus address, June 30, 2013). We have an obligation to form our consciences; it does not just happen.
Conscience formation requires openness to the truth as it is found in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church. It may be easier to base our voting choices on political ads or party affiliations, but rather than vote as members of this or that party, we should vote as Catholics. That means we submit our lives in faith to Jesus Christ and actually believe and act on what the Catholic faith holds to be true. A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote in favor of a program or law that contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. But when voting for a person to hold office, one may morally choose even a candidate with imperfect behavior or principles, if there are no alternatives.
This can be done, positively, by seeking the greater good rather than the “lesser evil.” A faithful Catholic may also choose not to vote for a particular office if major candidates are unacceptable. This also can be an intentional act for the good in exceptional circumstances.
As responsible voters, we need to look at all the issues, but we must recognize that not all issues are equal in weight or priority. The Church even tells us that some principles are non-negotiable. The right to life is foundational to all other rights, and it cannot be counted simply as one issue among many. The integrity of marriage and family life are written in the law of God, and cannot be subject to political whim or expediency. The Second Vatican Council tells us that religious liberty is a fundamental right of the human person, and must be protected.
There are other issues of grave importance, like care for the poor and the elderly, the proper treatment of visitors and immigrants, and the decision of whether to go to war. These too are rooted in our faith, for Jesus told us, “Whatever you did to these least ones, you did to me.” There are, of course, many legitimate ways to serve and to care for those in need, so there can be legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics about how to address these and many other issues.
This election will determine the course of our nation’s life for the next decade or more. So, as people of faith, we should pray for our nation, and we should pray deeply before we vote. Voting is serious business, and even when we are faced with imperfect choices, we cannot leave this responsibility to others, who might not share our faith in the divine law of God.
We must ask God for the wisdom and courage to choose what is right and good, what will be best for the people of this great country. The right to vote and to have a say in our nation’s governance was hard-earned and should not be taken for granted. Many people around the world would make great sacrifices to have such a right. Let us then be faithful citizens and do what we can to promote the Gospel of Christ and the common good for all our brothers and sisters.
Voting as a Catholic Citizen
by Most Rev. David D. Kagan, Bishop of Bismarck
“Our votes as Catholic citizens have to focus on who and what protects human life and dignity and therefore, who will strengthen and advance the common good of us all. Take your well-formed Catholic conscience into the voting booth and then vote.” – Bishop David Kagan, Diocese of Bismarck
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
You may recall that four years ago in October, 2012, I wrote to you about the right and privilege we have as citizens to vote. I write again in this “Year of Mercy” that each Catholic citizen has that privilege and duty to participate in our Nation’s governing by the exercise of our constitutional right to vote in national, state and local elections. As your Bishop I urge you again to exercise this cherished right.
I will not tell you for whom you should vote nor will I tell you for whom I intend to vote. However, I ask you to vote as a Catholic citizen who has properly formed his or her conscience. A properly formed Catholic conscience does not contradict the defined truths of our Catholic Faith in matters of faith and morals. I wish to explain what this means in relation to the issues on which your votes will have a lasting impact.
What is “a properly formed Catholic conscience?” The Catechism says: “A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience” (1798). The Catholic Church’s teachings are the means for us to properly form our consciences so that we seek always what is objectively true and good.
At the heart of all Catholic moral and social teaching is a single fact: the respect given to an individual human person must always be first and must govern every law and action so that the person’s life and dignity is always and everywhere protected and defended. In other words, from the first moment of human conception to the last moment of life on earth, the person must be respected without exception.
For the reason, there are some actions that are never acceptable and should not be made so by law, they include: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and not recognizing the unique and special role of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
All the other social, economic, and political issues only gain importance from the fundamental issue of the respect for the individual person and the inviolability of each person’s life and God-given dignity.
If there is no respect for the life and dignity of each person from conception to natural death, then every other moral and social evil can be justified. There are some things we must never do as individuals or as a society because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life as in abortion and euthanasia.
In this election year the positions of the major political parties and their candidates are well known and advertised. What I ask each of you to do before you vote is to consider carefully what our Catholic Church teaches about the issues, and then consider how your vote for a particular candidate will contribute to the common good of us all as persons with that human dignity which must be respected and protected in all circumstances.
Ours is a representative form of government and those whom we elect therefore are supposed to represent us. When you vote, please, I ask you to vote for the candidates who represent you as Catholic citizens. This is easily discovered by reading the public statements and votes and observing the actions of the candidates. Our votes as Catholic citizens have to focus on who and what protects human life and dignity and therefore, who will strengthen and advance the common good of us all. Take your well-formed Catholic conscience into the voting booth and then vote.
I close with a timeless quote from Saint John Paul II. He wrote: “The common outcry which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (Christifideles Laici, 38).
May our Good God bless and guide us at this important moment and may Our Blessed Mother continue to intercede for us!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend David D. Kagan
Bishop of Bismarck
Do you feel like you do not have a political home? Have you chosen a political party but wish it was a little more in sync with your Catholic faith? You can make a difference. Discussions about party resolutions and platform statements can help shape not only your party, but also the larger society.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference has prepared a list of positions on political issues that reflect Catholic teaching. Take the positions to your local party district meetings. Try to get them incorporated into the party’s position statements. Remember, even the discussion can plant important seeds.
Find out more, including how to contact your political party, at: yourfaithyourvote.org
Monday, October 29 at 1:00 p.m. (CST)
Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference will be on the Catholic Coach with Tim Mosser to talk about Catholic voting responsibility and Bishop Kagan’s soon-to-be released letter on the subject.
Tuesday, October 30 at 9:00 a.m. (CST)
Bishop David Kagan will be on Real Presence Live with host Roxane Solanen to discuss his letter and elaborate on why he sent it, what it means, and the Church’s teaching on conscience.
Real Presence Catholic Radio can be heard across the state at AM 1370 in Grand Forks, AM 1280 in Fargo-Moorhead, FM 91.3 in Bismarck-Mandan, FM 91.1 in Minot, FM 89.1 in Williston and FM 101.9 in Dickinson. The interview will also be available for listening online: http://yourcatholicradiostation.com
Still don’t know where your candidates for the North Dakota legislature stand on the important moral issues?
Now you can directly email your candidates a list of questions for them to answer.
- Go to: yourfaithyourvote.org/emailcandidates
- Find your district.
- Click on the candidate’s email address. Your email program will open with a sample letter ready to send.
- Add your name and address at the bottom of the email and send it.
But don’t stop there. . .
- Share the responses with others!
- Set up website where Catholics can share the candidates’ responses!
- Don’t let candidates get away without answering the questions!
- Remember to use the information when you vote!