Preparing for Nov. 6 not a cut-and-dry exercise

Most polls show that American voters have already made up their minds for which presidential candidate they will cast their vote on Nov. 6. Most pundits agree that President Obama and Governor Romney are arm-wrestling over a handful of undecideds out there. Probably true.

But there are also a host of other races — U.S. Senate and House, gubernatorial, state and local — and ballot initiatives from Hawaii to Puerto Rico that are on the ballots. There is a lot more at stake than the White House. Catholic voters have a lot to consider this fall.

In this month’s issue of The Catholic Answer, published by Our Sunday Visitor, veteran journalist Russell Shaw says in his cover story, “How Catholics Should Prepare to Vote,” that there are five key principles to help voters discern important matters before they step into the voting booth. Shaw, a keen observer of the American Catholic experience, bases his point not on the current passions of one group or another, but on church documents, especially “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a statement of the U.S. bishops meant to help Catholic voters.

Catholics have been participating in American political life since the beginning of the republic, and today there are some new challenges to consider. Shaw reminds us that voting remains an important responsibility of being a Catholic and a citizen, and his five principles help remind us how serious that responsibility is.

How do you discern how to cast your vote? How do you consider your faith at the ballot box?

22 Responses

  1. A prominent conservative commentator, reminds us frequently that liberals are liberals before they are anything else. I’ve had this confirmed recently in a discussion with a Notre Dame U graduate, current active member of my own parish, and one in full agreement with the “progressive” aims of the current president.

    Such people are not impressed by Constitutional arguments regarding freedom of religion, see nothing wrong with Catholic institutions being required to provide “health” services that are not such, and insist that the Church must change its views concerning marriage.

    Given the almost total lack of leadership from cathedrals and parish pulpits for forty years, we should not be surprised today that we find efforts being made to find some justification for continued support of the political party that has done most to undermine traditional values and Constitutional guarantees.

    This, I submit, explains some of the empty spots in the pews. Many feel that practices adopted by bishops and local clergy demonstrate a failure of the Church to be the Church.

  2. No Catholic may vote for a pro- abortion candidate. To do so is a grievous sin. Hence Catholics should not vote for Obama. In addition the HHS Mandate is an attack on religious freedom and a direct attack on the Catholic church.

  3. What you say is true, but it is irrelevent in American politics. We see this to have been true in recent decades because a majority of Catholics vote Democrat despite the party’s clear position on moral and cultural values–the party doesn’t believe in them.

    There’s been scarcely a peep out of the hierarchy regarding these matters until very recently. I venture to say that many of the bishops do not go along with Cardinal Dolan’s remarks in recent months.

    A failure in Catholic catechesis in recent decades, together with the liberalism of Catholic seminaries in those same decades producing the bishops and priests we have today–well, now we have the results.

    I’ll be very surprised if the worm turns on election day.

  4. Speaking of turning worms, I am amazed to see only three responses to this article. Albeit, I come to this discussion late myself, having only recently stumbled upon the piece by Tony Spence. Nonetheless, I must imagine that many members of the Catholic Church of today are struggling to formulate answers to questions that have become more complex than they have been educated to confront in religious terms. It is of little help that those leading the parade — notably the bishops, cardinals, and the Pope himself — hold varient views and few arguments that stir the hearts of the faithful.

    I am particularly fond of Mr. Lamers’ recall that “liberals are liberals before they are anything else.” I would say the same is true of conservatives, of agnostics, of Yankees’ fans. Part of the human condition appears to be to grab hold of an idea or way of life that gives comfort and a sense of security and hang on for dear life. This often eliminates the ability to examine continuously and to be on a constant and open lookout for challenges to those dearly held ideas and principles: Critical Thinking 101.

    As a conscientious and devoted liberal lifelong Catholic who has not been able to have a genuine discussion with many of his very conservative family members for years without the threat of bodily and/or emotional duress, I try to instill in my students the freedom to think and imagine past the limitations of the expectations placed upon them by those who would see life in very authoritative, black-and-white, self-protective terms. Such thoughts may be comforting, but they do little to encourage wisdom, nothing to encourage growth.

    I have little confidence that the Catholic voters of this nation are up to the challenge facing them. I would hope to be proven wrong.

  5. Prof. Katsbold raises an important point: Are Catholics prepared to think deeply about the political choices they are asked to make? Too many resort to sloganism or, worse, mindless judgment while ignoring the complexities of American Catholic life in a larger society.

    Today at CNS we had a visit from a reporter from La Croix, the French Catholic weekly, who is exploring this very idea of how American Catholics participate in the public square. There is no facile answer to that.

    Mr. Shaw makes smart, thoughtful points. For another finely reasoned essay on how Catholics might approach the November ballot, read “Your Conscience and Your Vote,” by Mercy Sister Pateicia Talone in the currentissue of Health Progress, the journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. She is CHA’s vice president for mission services.

    Here is the link: http://www.chausa.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=9957

    Again the question, how do apply your faith to your decisions on voting?

  6. Mr. Katsbold, I agree that education must include teaching students to think for themselves. However, if one abandons the notion that there are objective truths, then one finds himself accepting as “truth” only what he “feels” comfortable with. This, I submit, is what contemporary liberalism is all about.
    By the way, the conservative perspective is not necessarily “comforting,” but it is an acknowledgment that there are ideals for which we must continually strive and frequently feel shame or embarrassment at not having striven sufficiently to attain them.

  7. My thanks to Mr. Spence for his response and for the reference to Sister Talone’s excellent article. I enjoyed it very much and shall refer it on to my colleagues and students. I particularly appreciated her insightful comments on conscience, the “training” of which has always been a hot topic in Catholic Ethics and Moral Theology discussions. And thanks to him, also, for the wonderful work being done by CNS.

    Which brings me to Mr. Lamer’s response. I suspect that our differences in discussion would arise from his notion that “liberalism” is somehow nothing more than a gooey, sentimental, feel good slobber. On the contrary, I would say that his second paragraph above could refer to liberals as well as conservatives (and probably those poor,struggling Yankees’ fans, as well). Sister Talone’s reference to Thomas Aquinas and his emphasis on commitment to conscience brings to mind that other Saint Thomas, Thomas More, as he is rendered in Robert Bolt’s marvelous stage piece “A Man for All Seasons.” His fetching lines in the court to Cromwell ring through to our own day: “In matters of conscience, the loyal subject is more bounden to be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing.” But such loyalty is valid only when that conscience has been trained in carefully tested realities and well-founded objective principles, not in the goo of emotional rhetoric.

    Good and insightful contemporary liberalism is vastly more than Mr. Lamer portrays. It is, I would posit, an interpretation of life that looks forward to progress, growth, and wisdom — as may some strains of contemporary conservative philosophies and, of course, those poor Yankees’ fans.

  8. Mr. Katsbold, please take note that I modified the use of “lberalism” with the adjective “contemporary.” The liberalism of old–even as late as the era of JFK, is not the liberalism we have today. You modify the term “liberalism” in your reply to me by attaching the modifier “good” to it. I agree with that modification.

    The proiblem today is that most liberals do not function on the intellectual level. Get them in a conversation regarding culture, values, and politics and this becomes patently evident. At most one gets “Times are different,” “We have evolved,” “Most woment practice birth control,” and so forth. This is the sum and substance of the contemporary liberal perspective I always encounter as a “response” in a conversation.

    Perhaps it is, Mr. Katsbold, that you and I have the same understanding of liberalism if we reject what that liberalism has become over the past four decades and define liberalism as we once knew it. I doubt that “progress, growth, and wisdom” mean to you and me what the concepts mean to most liberals today who attend church and vote. Today’s contemporary liberals have no problem attending Church and rejecting even some of the most fundamental of moral precepts. I see this everyday. We know how they vote, as is evidenced by who now holds the office of Executive of the country.

  9. I will never to be able to vote for a pro abortion candidate. I also disagree with what should be charitable money being funnled through the government. It’s the whole teach a man to fish philosophy. Catholic social services, and Christian churches in general do more for individuals than government hand outs ever could… By helping the spirit of the individual, not just the physical needs. If we all tithed to our churches as God instructed, this world would be a much better place! I could never vote for someone who funnels tax dollars to planned parenthood! It’s individual responsibility and compassion that will lens to the greater good.

  10. The following quote from a marvelous article in Sunday’s New York Times may be of help in this discussion:

    “Mr. Biden is not a ‘cafeteria Catholic’ who chooses his beliefs according to convenience. He stands in the tradition of the Rev. John Courtney Murray, the Jesuit theologian who asserted that the foundation of modern pluralist society is not perfect agreement but continuing ‘public argument’ based on shared values. The laws that frame this evolving conversation cannot always align with religious teachings. ‘It is not the function of civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong,’ he wrote in a 1965 memo advising the church to support the decriminalization of artificial contraception.” Molly Worthen, New York Times, 9-16-2012

  11. The article from the NYT is utter nonsense, as is most anything the NYT publishes relative to cultural, moral or religious themes. This is more slop from the liberal left.

    Let’s be clear: In the Constitutional order of things in this country, the Executive is responsible for enforcing laws, including laws that same Executive disagrees with. The legislators vote on proposed legislation, and Catholic legislators have no business as Catholics supporting immoral legislation. They ought to vote against it, no matter their own minority status on the issue. This cuts no ice with Biden–nor with Kennedy, Kerry, Leahy, Pelosi, and how many other “progressives” infesting Capitol Hill.
    Likewise, the Executive has a duty to veto such legislation. Onlyif the veto is overridden is the Executive compelled to enforce it once it takes effect.

    Would Fr. Murray say “no problem” with Obama’s refusal to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill passed by Congress and signed into law? I suspect he would. After all, we have a liberal doing as he will regarding laws on the books, which is perfectly acceptable in liberal circles.

  12. The New York Times op/ed piece that Mr. Lamers and Prof. Katsbold are referring to is “The Power of Political Communion,” published in yesterday’s Sunday Review section. It was written by Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

    Here is a link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/opinion/sunday/catholics-and-the-power-of-political-communion.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

    For another engrossing reflection on Catholic voters’ responsibilities in the November election, read “The Single Issue Trap” by University of Notre Dame law professor and theologian Cathleen Kaveny, published in a recent issue of Commonweal magazine and on dotCommonweal. Prof. Kaveny discusses the dilemma that single issue voting presents for voters who have a larger responsibility for the common good.

    Here is the link: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/single-issue-trap

    An interesting discussion string would be how people of faith mightresolve this dillemma. It is something with which both classic liberals and classic conservatives must grapple. By Nov. 6.

  13. Today’s liberals are not “classic liberals,” Mr. Spence. It matters not that Ms Kaveny speaks of “the common good.” That’s a phrase that is elastic enough to give cover to those who want their contemporary-liberal views advanced.

    It is the pursuit of “the common good” that has led to the sad state of this country at this time. Where is “the common good” to be found in the ongoing judicial refusal to honor the words of the Constitution? Where is the “common good” that has led to a president deciding that religious bodies must provide abortion services despite the Constitution’s protection of religion? Decline in civility, decline in educational standards, etc. Yes, the “common good.”

    I could go on, but a further listing of “common good” absurdities will do nothing to change the mind of persons committed to the contemporary liberal perspective. Notre Dame? Commonweal? NYT? Why was Chris Matthews at MSNBC left out? He’s “Catholic,” you know.

  14. What’s so embarrassing about being a chosen people? The Jews hated the moniker despite the humility being chosen by God entails. Catholics, and especially our Catholic politicians, embrace anything but the Magisterium (Whoever that might be indeed).
    We are the religious cowards of the world and since we stand for nothing we fall for anything. The only obedience i.e. faith the majority of Catholics have today is to the cultural makers of today.
    Being liked is our summum bonum.
    God is going to ask each and every Catholic, how could you not hit, no let me rephrase that, not even swing at the softballs I lobbed underhanded to you; Life and Family?

  15. Joe, thanks for expressing more delicately what I suspect are common sentiments.

    I’m rather tired of today’s “liberal” Catholics trying to find the smooth words that, ultimately, mean capitulation to the prevailing secular liberal ethos. Today it is quietly called “the common good” by Catholic liberals ensconced in “Catholic” universities that have all but abandoned their charge.

    It seems to me that what they have learned is the “etiquette” of contemporary liberal journalists and news readers such as Dan Rather, Brian Williams, and the late Peter Jennings: speak softly, smile–and push the secular liberal agenda.

    As the most popular radio commentator for almost 25 years asks, “Do we know these people?” Indeed, we do. It’s time we confront this treachery in our own ranks. Going along to get along has done nothing but contribute to the decline in values and the coarsening of our culture.

  16. Since both Romney and Obama are pro-abortion, who should I vote for?

  17. Duane, Thank you Thank you! I love your insight! The Lord has blessed you with both intellect and faith, you are a true follower:)

  18. Robert, Romney has since repudiated his former pro-abortion position. Obama has never repudiated his position. Bear in mind, too, that as a state legislator Obama voted to change state law so as to give medical personnel permission to allow to die those babies that have survived abortion procedures.

    Even if Romney allows for abortion under some circumstances–the Church does as well–we should recognize that he places restrictions on it that Obama does not.

    We know what we’ll get if Obama is reelected, for we’ve seen how the first four years have gone, and he’s already stated–without knowing that his microphone was still on–that he would have freer rein if he wins another term.

    Interesting, isn’t it, how many Catholics can ignore evil as long as it is dressed up in a pleasant voice with accompanying smile and impeccably tailored. Yep, it is fuddy-duddy and outdated to hold to enduring principles.

    As the campaign wears on, look for more slop from Catholic liberals attempting to justify voting for more of what we’ve already seen since January ’09.

    Meanwhile, the silence will continue from the hierarchical bench, save for a couple voices. Born Democrat, determined to stick with it, and not about to be influenced by any facts.

  19. Having benefited from a 12 year parochial education in the Catholic school system of Philadelphia,Pennsylvania .I have a clear and deep personal affection for Holy Mother Church and the teachings of the Magisterium This has enabled me to have a life of clear and direct path of values. I realize many did not have this advantage. BUT !!!! What is complicated about killing unborn,born, old and special needs persons. To make it simple,you need go no further in making a decision of whom to vote for in this election. To support a person who has no respect for human life and religious freedom is to support evil and in doing so you are in essence contributing to the culture of death. This is plain as the nose on your face. If we really care for the common good which for Christians is the salvation of souls. That is what Jesus Christ died for and called us to do .VOTE AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST

  20. Christ left no doubt about his followers: “Either you are with me or against me,” he said. He enjoined the Apostles to preach to those who
    accept your (his) words, or leave them. There should be not doubt about what faithful Catholics should do this next election. There are many prominent “Catholics” in public office – many of whom vote
    contrary to the Church’s teaching. If they, or anyone else, call themselves “Catholic,” it would appear to be in name only. True Cathoics are obliged to follow this rule. To do otherwise would be
    unfaithful to God. Oremus.

  21. Mr. Robles is correct. But there is another element involved here: Church discipline. There isn’t any. Church leadershp in this country abandoned its duty long ago, the result being, as the late and lamented Fr. Richard John Newhouse used to say, “Here Comes Everybody” (or HCE).

    For the Catholics in the upper reaches of political leadership in this country, we might say “Here Comes Nobody.”

  22. Correction: it is Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.

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