The Civic Duty of Catholics toward the Common Good
By Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
Voting as material and formal cooperation in another’s sin
Beyond the Catholic voter’s responsibility to vote for a worthy candidate, some particular cases can involve other very serious moral considerations. Candidates and their parties, at times, advocate social policies and programs which are themselves gravely immoral or they endorse laws which permit intrinsically evil actions which are gravely unjust. The question arises, then: Is a choice to vote for a candidate who actively promotes grave injustices always sinful?
Certainly, it is never right to vote for a candidate in order to promote the immoral practices he or she endorses and supports. In such a case, the voter, who assists the candidate in fulfilling his or her agenda by getting into office, intends the same evil endorsed and promoted by the candidate. According to Catholic moral teaching, assisting another to achieve evil in this fashion is called formal cooperation, which is never morally permissible.
The Church, however, also recognizes that it is sometimes impossible to avoid all cooperation with evil, as may well be true in selecting a candidate for public office. In certain circumstances, it is morally permissible for a Catholic to vote for a candidate who supports some immoral practices while opposing other immoral practices. Catholic moral teaching refers to actions of this sort as material cooperation, which is morally permissible when certain conditions are met.
With respect to the question of voting, these conditions include the following: 1) there is no viable candidate who supports the moral law in its full integrity; 2) the voter opposes the immoral practices espoused by the candidate, and votes for the candidate only because of his or her promotion of morally good practices; and 3) the voter avoids giving scandal by telling anyone, who may know for whom he or she has voted, that he or she did so to advance the morally good practices the candidate supports, while remaining opposed to the immoral practices the candidate endorses and promotes.
But, there is no element of the common good, no morally good practice, that a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which could justify voting for a candidate who also endorses and supports the deliberate killing of the innocent, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, human cloning or the recognition of a same-sex relationship as legal marriage. These elements are so fundamental to the common good that they cannot be subordinated to any other cause, no matter how good.
When considering the deliberate killing of the innocent human being, it is helpful to remember the Golden Rule which applies in every moral decision: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1789). In terms of the Golden Rule, we must ask ourselves whether it is fair to our unborn brothers and sisters to help put someone in office who will not lift a finger to save their lives because we favor that candidate’s position on health care reform, education, the death penalty or some other issue. If we were in their stage of human development, would we want them to make such a decision regarding us? The question is not peculiarly Catholic but derives from the natural moral law.
Excerpts from Pastoral Letter “On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good”, 1 October, 2004.
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Lord God, as the election approaches, I seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront my city, my state and my country, and how the Gospel compels me to respond as a faithful Catholic and a citizen of Heaven and Earth.
I ask for eyes that are free from blindness and a mind that is free from darkness. Please grant me the grace to love You more and to love my neighbor as myself. Make me truly a Christian without Borders so that I may cherish every teaching of the Catholic Faith and love each and every one of my brothers and sisters, especially those in most need.
Give me the strength to choose Your will above all things and to stand for what is right! I pray for the courage to defend the innocent, protect the helpless, and oppose abuse and deceit.
I ask for ears that will hear the cries of the millions of unborn children massacred through abortion. I ask for the grace not to be deceived by the voices of evil, error and darkness. I ask that my mind and heart may be open to the Truth; I ask for greater Faith and the strength and valor to defend the family and true marriage.
My dear Jesus, grant me discernment so that I may choose leaders who hear Your Word, live Your love, and walk in the ways of Your truth. Shed Your light and mercy upon us, and guide us to Your Heavenly Kingdom. Amen
At this crucial moment in the history of our beloved country, let us turn to Our Blessed Mother and pray:
O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, at this most critical time, we entrust the United States of America to Your loving care.
Most Holy Mother, we beg You to reclaim this land for the glory of Your Son. Overwhelmed with the burden of the sins of our nation, we cry to You from the depths of our hearts and seek refuge in Your motherly protection.
Under Your title of the Immaculate Conception, You are the Patroness of the United States. Look down with mercy upon us and touch the hearts of Your people. Open our minds to the immense value of souls and renew in us a profound respect for the sanctity of life. Bring an end to the merciless and senseless killing of the innocent and the defenseless. Please grant us the grace to understand the serious responsibilities that accompany human freedom.
May our voting in this election promote respect for all human life, safeguard the sanctity of marriage and the family, and foster the good of all.
Through Your intercession, may God bless our homes and our nation! Amen.