Printer Friendly

Does the church tell me how to vote?

"I believe in an America where ... there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote," declared John F. Kennedy. But today some wonder whether U.S. Catholic bishops are trying to create a political bloc by telling Catholics how to cast their ballots.

The bishops have repeatedly dismissed the question, especially in extensive statements issued before each presidential election since 1976 to educate Catholics about civic responsibilities. Before the 1996 elections the bishops declared that it would be "pastorally inappropriate, theologically unsound, and politically unwise" for religious leaders to tell people how to vote. In their 2003 "Faithful Citizenship" statement, the bishops reaffirmed that they are only concerned "to form the consciences of our people ... [and] do not wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates."

Like its predecessors, this statement encourages Catholic voters to "examine the position of candidates on the full range of issues, as well as on their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance." It also highlights a comprehensive catalog of moral principles that affect current political issues. Even the most suspicious of critics would find little evidence of bishops coercing votes.

However, even if such collective statements avoid telling Catholics how to vote, individual bishops in their dioceses and pastors in their parishes, along with some religious spokespeople on national television, are sometimes less careful. The line between forming conscience and imposing an obligatory vote is easily crossed by a zealous church leader. In the national election two years ago, the message certainly seemed to circulate widely that a conscientious Catholic couldn't vote Democratic. A few bishops even questioned whether any Catholic who voted for John Kerry should be allowed to receive Communion.

So there have been regrettable attempts by at least a few church leaders to tell Catholics how to vote. But most of our bishops and pastors would insist that the choices we make on Election Day are our own. They can help us to clarify our religious concerns, but we all need to draw upon our understanding of the world, the government, the political parties, the issues, and the candidates to vote responsibly.

Should we expect that our shared faith would make us come up with the same answers in the voting booth? On the contrary, the diversity of our Election Day decisions only illustrates Kennedy's belief that "there is no Catholic vote" and confirms our bishops' boast that "the Catholic community is a diverse community of faith, not an interest group."

By JIM DINN, a freelance writer retired in Pennsylvania.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Claretian Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:glad you asked
Author:Dinn, Jim
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Previous Article:Autocratic Pilate: though the gospels seem to soften his image, the man who signed Jesus' death warrant was no Mr. Nice Guy.
Next Article:It's how you play the game: professional athletes who plagued the sports world with scandals this summer somehow missed the message that winning...

Related Articles
Taxing their patience.
S.C. Sheriff Told To Stop Giving Tax Aid To Churches.
On the Santa Fe trail: Americans United urges IRS to investigate partisan politicking by Catholic Archdiocese in New Mexico.
Pope notes difficulties on gay clergy issue.
John Kerry, the American election, and Catholic bishops.
Politics, abortion, and the Church Part II.
Pope on board?
What's the matter with Catholic voters?
Congo's cautious hope: churches play a positive role in the first democratic elections in more than 40 years.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters