Central to the concept of “Faithful Citizenship” is our obligation, as Catholics, to act in service to the common good when casting our votes.
Does that mean we may not consider the impact that elections, and subsequent public policies, will have on ourselves and our families? No, it does not mean that. Especially in these difficult economic times, we cannot be faulted for taking into account how the records and policies of candidates for office may impact on our needs and those of our loved ones. Indeed, both the virtue of personal responsibility and the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity — that those closest to an issue or problem, beginning with family, are often best suited to address it most effectively — would seem to make it obligatory that we consider our own and our family’s needs when deciding how to vote.
What we should not do is think exclusively of our own needs and interests. Often, what we deem to be in our own best interest will seem to dovetail with what we perceive as best for the common good. No problem there. But if there are times when our personal interest seems to conflict with what might be best for others, we need to try to strike a balance, giving consideration to what sacrifices we might be able to make to better assure just treatment for others and the common good of all.
Then there is the question of which issues should be paramount in influencing our vote. There is no shortage of very serious issues that impact on the common good: the full range of economic issues, of course; war and peace; criminal justice; health care; education; the environment. How do we sort them out and prioritize them?
As Catholics, we should do so by referring, as Msgr. Daniel Hamilton reminded us in last week’s TLIC, to the natural law principles that God has imprinted on every human heart, and made discernable to us through the gift of reason. And it should be self-evident that the first of these principles — on which all others necessarily hinge — is the sanctity of every human life, created in the image and likeness of God. On every issue listed above, upholding the sanctity of human life is absolutely essential to achieving the goal of “social justice.”
And, again returning to first principles, it is undeniable that respect for life must begin at the beginning — with absolute protection for the right to life of human beings at their most innocent, most defenseless stage — pre-born children in their mothers’ wombs.
This is so not because abortion is the only issue, but because it undermines respect for all human life — first by compromising the natural right to life which must, in a just society, be upheld for every human being, at every stage of existence; second, because the abortion mentality promotes a “destroy the victim” approach that threatens all vulnerable people: those who are poor, sick, elderly, abused, disabled.
As the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, author of the “seamless garment” approach to life issues, emphasized (quoting a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops document):
“Precisely because all issues involving human life are interdependent, a society which destroys human life by abortion under the mantle of law unavoidably undermines respect for life in all other contexts.”
“It follows from this,” Cardinal Bernardin continued, “that the consistent ethic should not discourage an emphasis on abortion in individual Catholics’ political activity.”
Something to think about for those Catholics who erroneously invoke Cardinal Bernardin as an advocate for de-emphasizing the abortion issue, in order to justify voting for candidates whose concept of “social justice” finds no room for innocent unborn children within the protective folds of their seamless garment.
As we approach Election Day, those who would have their votes guided by the social teachings of the Catholic Church will do no better than to heed the words of Blessed John Paul II, delivered here in the United States in 1999:
“If you want peace,” he quoted Pope Paul VI, “work for justice.”
“If you want justice,” John Paul added, “defend life.”