The Civic Duty of Catholics toward the Common Good
By Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
Voting and the common good
Considering all of the necessary social conditions to provide for the common good, among which the concerns regarding human life, and marriage and the family must have the first place, what guidance does the Church’s teaching offer for the prudential decision of the Catholic in voting? What help does the Church’s teaching offer to the Catholic voter who must consider the positions of each candidate for office to see which candidate, in his or her prudent judgment, will best promote the common good?
First of all, the Church teaches that we have an obligation, in justice, to vote, because the welfare of the community depends upon the persons elected and appointed to office. Secondly, we are morally obliged to vote for a worthy candidate. Depending on the importance of the office which the candidate seeks, careful consideration must be given to the principles and positions for which he or she stands.
The “Baltimore Catechism” gives a good summary of the Church’s teaching regarding the duty to vote, in its response to Question 246, “How does a citizen show a sincere interest in his country’s welfare?”: “(a) Citizens should exercise the right to vote. This is a moral obligation when the common good of the state or the good of religion, especially in serious matters, can be promoted. “(b) Citizens should vote for the candidates who in their judgment are best qualified to discharge the duties of public office. Mere personal gain or friendship does not justify one’s voting for a candidate. It would be sinful to cast a ballot for one who, in the judgment of the voters, would do grave public harm” (Rev. Francis J. Connell, C.Ss.R., ed., The New Confraternity Edition: Revised Baltimore Catechism and Mass, No. 3, New York: Benziger Brothers, 1949, page 145). The “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” in more summary fashion, reminds us: “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country” (No. 2240).
If all candidates uphold the moral law in its integrity, especially with regard to the intrinsically evil acts considered above [Day 4 & 5 of this Novena of Truth], then it is a question of voting for the candidate on the basis of his or her character, ability to lead, record and practical plans for attaining goods proposed. I have no special competence in judging these more practical and technical questions about a candidate. After a study of the issues and with the help of civic discussion, a voter is prepared to make the prudential judgment about the most worthy candidate for each position.
If one candidate alone upholds the moral law in its integrity, then the decision to vote for him or her is clear. But, what does a Catholic do, if no candidate upholds the moral law in its integrity, that is, if all candidates hold some position which is in opposition to the moral law, as is so often the case in today’s society? When all candidates for a particular office fail, in some regard, to support the moral law and thus foster the common good in its entirety, some Catholics simply decide not to vote at all. The decision not to vote at all, however, fails to take responsibility for any advancement of the common good, even if limited by some false positions taken by a candidate.
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.