By Most Rev. Gerald R. Barnes
In about a month our nation will hold a general election to decide a number of important matters facing California and the country. It is a great gift from God that we have the opportunity to elect our government leaders and help determine public policy by voting on propositions and initiatives. First and foremost, I urge you to accept this gift by participating in the election. Our Catholic faith calls us to this participation as a moral responsibility. The Bishops of the United States often refer to this as “Faithful Citizenship.”
Does this mean that I and my fellow bishops, or your local priest, for that matter, will tell you how you should vote? No, it does not. This is a great relief to some, who struggle to see a relationship between their faith and matters of public policy. Others, to the contrary, would like a detailed Catholic “voter’s guide” so that the matter can be decided neatly.
But what the Church asks of us in this area of political participation is something different. It calls us to reflection. It calls us to prayer. It calls us to set aside our grievances and prejudices and consider more lasting moral truths. In reality, it’s harder.
In our writings on Faithful Citizenship, the bishops have held that the formation and examination of our conscience is a crucial precursor to voting and political participation. So we are called to measure the many issues at stake in the election against our own moral convictions that are (I hope and pray) grounded in the teachings of our faith. This kind of application often does not conform to political party lines and it does not allow us to focus on one election issue to the exclusion of all others. We must look at foreign policy, the economy, healthcare, education, criminal justice and many others and ask ourselves fundamental questions. How is our belief in the inherent dignity of every human person being impacted? Or, how does this proposition or candidate promote the common good?
Sometimes the answers are not easy and we struggle. Our personal experience on a particular issue rightfully colors how we might respond at the ballot. I invite you to take these struggles to God and ask Him to give you patience and clarity.
We will not all come to the same conclusions, of course, and that leads me to a final thought as we enter the heated final stretch toward the election. We are bound to disagree with each other. It’s natural. It’s even healthy. But to judge and demonize each other over our political opinions is not healthy, is not civil and does not respect the dignity that God has given every human person. It’s not Catholic. Please be civil and respectful to all of your brothers and sisters in Christ during the campaign and after the election has been decided as we confront as one the many challenges that face us.
I offer you my prayers as you prepare for this important election. May God bless you, your families and our nation.