Voting According to Catholic Principles, Not Partisan Politics

Election 2012 is upon us. Many are calling it the most important election in their lives. The candidates and supporters have routinely emphasized that the Presidential candidates, their platforms, and their voting records are complete opposites. The two main parties in the United States have extremely different visions on nearly every issue of importance. And so, as is the American way, the campaign spin machines and the rhetoric are ramped up in anticipation of November 6.

How do we cut through the rhetoric so that we might become aware of and guided by Catholic principles and priorities? In answering this, we must be aware that it is virtually impossible to address election related matters without being accused of partisanship. Even Bishops face this accusation when they, for example, speak out regarding the primacy of life, marriage, and religious liberty. It remains, however, that we must sift through the nonsense and vote responsibly.

I suggest taking a step away from the political scene in the United States to consider the teaching of the Universal Church. In 2002 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life in which the Church provides Catholics in democratic societies around the world principles that are a sure and non-partisan guide. Surely, the CDF is immune from claims of loyalty to either the Republican or Democratic parties?

Recalling the example of Saint Thomas More, the first point of emphasis made by the Congregation is that our politics cannot be separated from morality. In this we must refuse to compromise. We must each vote in conformity with our well-formed Christian conscience, bringing to the social realm the moral precepts found in natural law. We are not necessarily called to bring religious precepts, but moral precepts that are common to all human beings and binding on all.

The abiding concerns of the CDF in this document are cultural relativism, the disintegration of reason and rejection of the natural moral law in favor of passing cultural and moral trends, and the marginalization of Christians from the public square. Noting that “moral anarchy” and the “oppression of the weak by the strong” is the inevitable consequence of these trends, the Church calls Catholics to actively participate so as to uphold the dignity of all persons (6). A democracy can only succeed if it is rooted in a correct understanding of the human person. “It is respect for the person that makes democratic participation possible” (3).

With this as the backdrop, the CDF distinguishes between “temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person” and “non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society” (3). On the temporal questions, the Church claims no expertise in providing “specific political solutions” (3). While the CDF does not list specific examples of such temporal questions, these are understood to include economic policy, immigration law, and methods of providing healthcare.

The CDF prioritizes the “non-negotiable ethical principles” upon which democracy must be based. Quoting John Paul II, the CDF first addresses direct attacks on human life and notes that we “have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life…it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.” In the context of its discussion concerning such attacks on life, the CDF reminds us that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals” (4).

The CDF then highlights abortion, euthanasia, experimentation on embryos, and “modern forms of slavery” as evils about which we may not compromise. Additionally, it stresses goods that must be protected: “monogamous marriage between a man and woman,” “the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children,” religious freedom, peace, and “the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person” (4). The above evils, without exception, may never receive support from a Catholic voter. The goods must always be pursued, though how that is accomplished will vary depending upon the political situation and the common will.

Limiting acts that “attack the very inviolability of human life” is the highest priority in the formation of consciences of Catholic voters, and “the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility” when we face political candidates that support policies that offend “moral principles that do not admit of exception.” As we vote on November 6, we must be very clear on the positions taken by the candidates on the issues, and we must discharge our responsibilities according to the principles taught by the Church.

Arland K. Nichols


Arland K. Nichols is the founding President of the John Paul II Foundation for Life and Family.

  • Pingback: Voting According to Catholic Principles, Not Partisan Politics | Catholic Canada()

  • Nick_Palmer3

    How is one to apply this analysis with a Senate race (Massachusetts) where both candidates, although extremely different on most issues, are avowedly “pro-choice.”

    • Dave

      Well, how pro-abortion are we talking? If, say, one is pro-abortion throughout the whole pregnancy, while the other is pro-abortion only during the first trimester, then you’d go with the latter. Or if one is against partial-birth abortion while the other is for it, then you’d vote for the former. It’s not so much settling for the lesser of two evils but rather an attempt to limit an evil, which is actually good.

  • publiusnj

    The Democrat Party is THE Abortion Party. And THE Euthanasia Party and THE Gay Marriage Party and THE Embryonic Stem Cell Research Party. And THE “Shove Payment for Birth Control Down the Throat of the Catholic Church” Party. And almost the “Never Mention God in the Platform” Party. The current occupant of the Oval office is so bloody in his support of any and all kinds of abortions that he even opposed the Illinois Infants Born Alive Act.
    Even before the Democrats became the Gay Marriage Party, they were the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DA,DT) Party. They went to DA,DT back in 1993 when Clinton came into power and at first proposed admission of gays into the military but the Military revolted, so DA,DT became their back up plan. When even that produced pushback from the American Public, the Dems retreated and backed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which Bill Clinton ceremoniously signed. That didn’t stop the Democrats from looking for other ways to advance the Gay Agenda, which they have done for the last 17 years. At the outset of his administration, Obama put pressure on the Military to force through open admission of gays into the military and the repeal of DA,DT. Finally, despite the defeat of the pro-gay position in every single one of the 32 state referenda on Gay Marriage, the Democrat “standard-bearers” have this year “changed their minds” and supported Gay Marriage and have unconstitutionally refused to defend DOMA even though the executive is obliged to defend laws passed by the Congress and signed by the President.
    Of course, sometimes a Republican will also have positions inconsistent with the Catholic position but they tend to be rare exceptions. The pro-Catholic Democrats are even rarer. The last notable, supposedly “pro-life” Democrats in the Congress were the Catholic party led by Rep. Bart Stupak who gave Obama the votes he needed to pass Obamacare, once Obama gave him assurances that there would be no public funding of abortion. When that promise proved illusory, the Susan B. Anthony List backed off its plans to honor Stupak and instead backed his opponent.
    Rule No.1 should be: never, ever vote for a Democrat at least not until the Party supports the overturn of roe v Wade in its Platform. In other words: NEVER.

  • Keith Parkinson

    Thank you for a very well-reasoned and rhetorically pitch-perfect article.

  • Alecto

    Thank you very much for that well-reasoned guide on voting in these difficult times. Obviously, don’t vote for anyone who supports abortion, gay marriage, extortionist taxation, impoverishing debt burdens. My only problem with the Catholic view on voting is its continued insistence on declaring us a “democracy”. Factually, that is inaccurate. This is a constitutional republic, and that makes all the difference. Democracy is mob rule. We have an ordered sense of liberty. Forget for one moment that Americans have not lived up to the promise of the great republic they inherited. I have not had any trouble finding candidates to support whose values are consistent with my Catholic faith. I do have issues finding Catholics who are consistent with my Catholic faith!

  • Pingback: Catholic Principles Presidential Debate Catholic Vote | Big Pulpit()

  • zebbart

    People should actually just read the CDF document and interpret it for themselves. It’s not much longer than this post and written with great logical clarity. Mr. Nichols clearly is putting a partisan slant on it here. He carefully cuts out context that subtly slips in interpretations that are not in the text. Most importantly is the fact that the CDF document is addressed to Catholic politicians and their obligations regarding certian legisltation, not to Catholic voters and their obligations regarding certain politicians. But really just read the document and draw your own conclusions. I’m not saying an honest reading can’t yield the same interpretation Mr. Nichols has presented here, but I’m just saying it will be clear that this isn’t the only reasonable interpretation or a successful attempt at a non-partisan summary of the document.

    • since when has individuals interpreting for themselves ever been good for humanity? We have authorities and traditions preceding us so that we may draw from their wisdom to gain our own. Hence we have both written and oral teaching directing us towards truth. Its a bit presumptuous to throw out the oral bit, which good old C.K. called the Democracy of the Dead, upon which that of the Living ought to rely. Its political trickery to suggest that adhering to the former Democracy is a form of partisanship, though even if it is, I wouldn’t mind being in party with St. Thomas Moore

      • zebbart

        I think you missed my meaning here Mike. I’m saying people should go to the the teachings of the bishops rather than taking Mr. Nichols distorted interpretation of the bishops’ statements. I’m not throwing out any part of Catholic Tradition, I’m just calling out Mr. Nichols for misrepresenting it.

  • Guy McClung

    Way to go Arland! My view:

    Mortal Sin: Vote Democrat

    Is it a Mortal Sin to vote for Obama? Finally bishops,
    archbishops and cardinals across the USA are making it crystal clear:
    no Catholic can in good conscience vote for Obama or for a Democrat.
    Bishop John Paprocki of Springfiled Illinois, stating
    that the Democrat party platform planks “explicitly endorse intrinsic
    evils” said “a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors
    that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally
    complicit and places the eternal salvation of your
    own soul in serious jeopardy.”

    In 2008 the bishops’ words were twisted and distorted by dissenters and
    liberals in the Church to justify voting for Obama and other Democrats
    by focusing on
    issues less important than abortion and saying that “Catholics are not
    single issue voters.” But now it is clear that the Democrats are wrong,
    dead wrong, on not one, but on five separate issues. The liberals and
    dissenters will not be heard to say this
    time around “Catholics are not 5 issue voters.” The bishops have made
    it clear that there is no compromise on three non-negotiable issues –
    abortion, infanticide, and racism are intrinsically evil and no issue
    can morally trump them.

    A Catholic with a well formed conscience cannot justify voting for a
    Democrat because they like the Democrat’s position on an issue like
    poverty, war, the
    death penalty, women’s rights, “social justice,” or immigration. “This
    is a big moment for Catholic voters to step back from their party
    affiliation,” said Archbishop Lori of Baltimore. He also makes it clear
    that a Catholic cannot vote for Obama or for any
    Democrat: ““The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of
    either party, or independents, standing for something that is
    intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the
    case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation,
    shouldn’t be voting for such a person.” Other issues – although
    politically significant- do not rise to the level of moral significance
    of intrinsic evil such as racism, abortion, and infanticide. Obama and
    the Democrats not only promote abortion, they
    want everyone’s tax money to pay for abortions for any woman who wants

    Regarding infanticide-the killing of an
    already-born baby – Obama himself has advocated infanticide and he
    has said that no medical care should be provided to a baby born alive
    who has survived an abortion – to him and to
    the Democrats not letting this baby die an excruciating deaths might be a
    burden to a woman’s decision to have an abortion if she knew her baby
    might live and might need medical care after an attempted abortion –
    and the Democrat Platform in asserting what
    they view as the “absolute” nature of the court-created “right” to
    abortion supports infanticide. Recently the Obama campaign refused to
    state any limitation or restriction on abortion that Obama would
    support. – and this inlcudes the restrictions that would
    prohibit infanticide. Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida
    has condemned the infanticide of an already-born baby. “The taking of an
    innocent human life, whether inside the womb or not, and up until
    natural death, is always and everywhere intrinsically
    evil,” said the bishop.

    Obama and the Democrats advocate for
    and promote racism by funding racist Planned Parenthood with millions
    of dollars of our tax money – an abortion business that purposefully
    targets black and Mexican-American babies by locating
    its locations in or near minority neighborhoods and has accepted money
    on the racist condition that it will be used for killing only minority
    babies. This promotes the racist purposes of Planned Parenthood – in
    the words of its founder Margaret Sanger – to
    rid the world of “human undergrowth.” To racist Obama and the racist
    Democrats, black and Mexican-American babies are this “human

    Obama, who once supported traditional
    marriage before this election season, has a new “evolved” position to
    redefine marriage and to destroy traditional marriage – as is currently
    defined by federal law – as the union of one
    man and one woman. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has called the
    definition of marriage a “non-negotiable:” “Abortion and euthanasia are
    never allowed because they involve the direct taking of innocent human
    life. There is also no negotiating the God-given
    definition of marriage and family based on the permanent and exclusive
    union of one man and one woman.”

    Obama and the Democrats deny religious liberty to all Catholics.
    Archbishop Lori, who chairs the US bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on
    Religious Liberty, said the
    defense of religious liberty is “fundamental” and “transcends
    party….Many in the media have portrayed the HHS-mandate fight as a fight
    about contraception — as well as sterilization and abortion-inducing
    drugs . . . but this really is a fight about religious
    liberty.” Archbishop John Meyers of Newark N.J, makes clear the
    connection between efforts to re-define marriage and the inevitably
    ensuing denial of religious liberty. He states that a such a
    redefinition would “seriously undermine religious freedom…….How
    long would the state permit churches, schools or parents to teach their
    children that homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law if
    homosexual marriage were a civil right?” he asked. He notes that “hate
    speech” laws in other countries have already
    been used to arrest ministers who teach the Bible’s message on marriage.

    For Catholics this coming November there are five “non-negotiables,”
    five issues each of which is morally more important than issues like
    so-called “social justice”
    issues. True shepherds will care for the souls of their flock, guide
    them away from the Party of Death, and say, in plain unequivocal
    language, a good Catholic cannot vote for Obama or for anyone else who
    promotes intrinsic evil.

    Guy McClung Rockport TX 78381

    • zebbart

      Does that mean a good Catholic cannot vote for Romney, who promotes the intrinsic evils of abortion in the cases of incest rape and life of the mother, contraception, and torture of alleged terror suspects and informants?

    • Ron Jacobs

      What a great Christian man you are Guy McClung! When you handed my 85 year old mother your rabid diatribe against Democrats as SHE WAS LEAVING MASS last week, you left her shaking and near tears. She (and I) are life-long Democrats because MOST REPUBLICANS DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT POOR PEOPLE. Republicans also hypocritically push to execute retarded people, people who were raped and abused in their early childhood, and others who never had a chance in life. Republicans also WANT MORE AND MORE EASILY ACCESSIBLE GUNS, even though we have over THREE HUNDRED MILLION HANDGUNS ALREADY IN THE USA and life is cheaper than a pack of cigarettes in the inner city for that reason.

      An internet search reveals that you made your fortune by FRACKING OIL SHALE. Evidently you are not content to just make a killing by poisoning the environment; you need to poison the political and spiritual discourse as well.

      You need to pull the plank out of your own eye so that you can see the speck in the other guy’s eye, my hypocritical friend. Are you even a Catholic, I have to ask?

  • Pingback: Mere Links 10.18.12 - Mere Comments()

  • Pingback: PowerLinks – 10.19.12 | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog()