Knights of Columbus Bishop Busch Council 4863


  Home Page



About the Knights of Columbus



Voting and the Catholic Citizen

Brian H. Gill

The same thing happens before every election.

There's advice on how to vote on every television screen, in every newspaper and most magazines, and all across the Web. Each candidate says, "vote for me," and political action groups say, "vote for this legislation or that candidate."

All of this, and a culture which has been, at best, vague on how faith should affect voting, leaves many Catholics puzzled. As an adult convert to Catholicism, I've gotten into the habit of looking up what the Catholic Church teaches before I make important decisions. So, when elections came up, I started finding out how Catholic belief and democracy mix. Here's some of what I learned.

October 2004


Do Voting and Catholicism Mix?

Yes. In fact, Catholics definitely should vote.

This idea doesn't violate the "separation of church and state."

What the Constitution's First Amendment actually says is, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The folks who wrote the Constitution didn't say that people with Christian beliefs should be quiet. Those words say that Congress shall make no law about a religious establishment. The Constitution prohibits an official state-sponsored religion.

Because of rights established in the Constitution, we have a choice to make in each election.

When we vote, or when we decide not to vote, we affect who is in office. So, we share in the good or evil that they do.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (published in 1994) says, "sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

  • by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
  • by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
  • by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
  • by protecting evil-doers." (1868)

Voting for a candidate who has promised to promote acts which are not permitted by Catholic Church isn't right. That would be participating directly in their acts, just as someone who knowingly drives a robber to the bank participates in the bank robbery.

Not speaking out about what the Church teaches when there is an opportunity isn't right either.

Not speaking out would be "not disclosing" the truth when we have an obligation to do so, and not voting would be "not hindering" those who have promised to do what the Church teaches is wrong.

In 1998, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) made it clear that Catholics should vote in their Living the Gospel of Life. They made these points:

  • "Every voice matters in the public forum."
  • "Every vote counts."
  • We must use our votes to defend human life, particularly the defenseless: the unborn, the disabled, all who are vulnerable.
  • "We get the public officials we deserve."
  • "Democracy is not a substitute for morality. Its value stands - or falls - with the values which it embodies and promotes."

"Because of this," the Bishops wrote, "we urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest."

They also warned against "cooperating in a false pluralism." The secular culture here lets believers have any moral values they want: as long as that morality is kept out of sight: in their consciences, homes, and churches.

The NCCB warns that American Catholics have tried so hard to be part of the USA's culture that "we have too often been digested." Instead of changing to fit the culture, we should be trying to change the culture. "If we are leaven, we must bring to our culture the whole Gospel, which is a Gospel of life and joy."

The NCCB's publication isn't the only place where we learn that Catholic citizens in this country have a moral duty to vote.

Father Heribert Jone's Moral Theology, first published in 1929, says, "voting is a civic duty which would seem to bind at least under venial sin whenever a good candidate has an unworthy opponent. It might even be a mortal sin if one's refusal to vote would result in the election of an unworthy candidate"

Finally, the Catechism says, "service of the common good requires citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community. 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." (Catechism, 2239, 2240)

Since we have a duty to vote, we need to decide which candidates to vote for, and how to vote on issues.


Vote Smart

here are 3 basic steps in deciding how to vote:

  1. Learn which issues are vital, from a Catholic point of view
  2. Find out how each candidate stands on these issues
  3. If there is more than one candidate that has acceptable beliefs, pick the best one based on less important issues

If there are no completely acceptable candidates, a Catholic apparently may choose "the best of a bad lot."

It may be okay to vote for a candidate who doesn't hold a completely "Catholic" position. Pope John Paul II wrote, in Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), "…when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects."

It is reasonable to assume, based on what the Pope said about political leaders, that a voter may vote for the candidate who is most likely to limit the evils of abortion or any other moral evil.

What Political Offices are Important?

All of them. Local politicians can become national leaders. With very few exceptions, members of Congress and presidents get their start in local politics. The local candidate with unacceptable views today may become the Speaker of the House in a few years.


Five Issues

Some things that are always morally wrong, and must not be allowed or promoted by a government. Catholic Answers made a list of five issues that don't mix with Catholic belief.


The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, under Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), released a statement called "On Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion." This document mostly talks about how bishops should deny communion to Catholic politicians in certain cases. Near the end, it also has a few words about whether Catholics can, in good conscience, vote for candidates who support killing people who haven't been born yet.

Cardinal Ratzinger said that a "Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of a candidate's permissive stand on abortion."

That's pretty clear. A Catholic can't, in good conscience, vote for someone because that person is an abortion advocate.

But, what if there are other reasons for voting for what is politely called a "pro-choice" candidate?

The cardinal's statement covers that, too. A Catholic may vote for a pro-abortion/pro-choice candidate only "in the presence of proportionate reasons."

In other words, a Catholic could vote for a "pro-choice" candidate only if the other candidate supported a policy which is worse than allowing more than a million babies to be killed each year.

The Church teaches that "the fifth commandment [you shall not kill] forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful," and "doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person's death. The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason, as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger." (Catechism, 2268, 2269)

The Catechism makes sure that we understand that the unborn are including in this ban on killing. "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life." (Catechism ,2270)

Each embryo "must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being." Prenatal diagnosis is okay, if it is done for the safety or health of the unborn baby, but not if it is done to help decide whether kill the baby. (Catechism, 2274)

In other words, an embryo is a person. Like other people, embryos shouldn't be killed for convenience, or because they don't live up to someone's standards. They have the same right to life that any other innocent person has.

A Catholic can't support legalized abortion or stem cell research that involves killing embryos (or "fertilized female eggs" as one reporter put it) to get their cells.

And, a Catholic can't vote for someone who supports something that the Church forbids, unless not voting for that person would result in something worse than over a million murders a year.

The Church leaves Catholics a great deal of freedom to chose positions on the issues we face. Pope John Paul II pleaded for a non-military solution to the Saddam Hussein's threats. But he did not bind the conscience of Catholics to agree with his judgment about this matter. The pope did not say that it is morally wrong for Catholic soldiers to be involved in the war in Iraq. This agrees with what we read in the Catechism about "just war." Statesmen make a final judgment about whether military force is necessary, not church leaders. (Catechism, 2307-2317)


"Mercy killing" is a nicer way to describe this. The Catechism is clear on this point, too. "Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible. Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable." (Catechism, 2276, 2277)

In other words, it is wrong to kill people because they're sick, old, or inconvenient.

And, it is wrong to vote for someone who wants to legalize "mercy killing."

Fetal Stem Cell Research

It is "immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material." (Catechism, 2274, 2275, and Donum Vitae I, 5)

Again, each embryo "must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, … like any other human being." (Catechism, 2274) It is not okay to experiment on embryos, even if they were conceived in a laboratory. It is not okay to cut these little people up and use their parts.

The use of fetal stem cells is particularly disgusting, because legitimate research has shown that adult stem cells, which can be collected without hurting the people who provide them, are just as useful as those from butchered fetuses.

Human cloning

This is wrong, too.

Producing "a human being without any connection with sexuality through ‘twin fission,. cloning, or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union." (Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation, Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith I:6)

Another reason why human cloning is wrong is that clones who are rejected or unsuccessful are killed, even though they are innocent human beings.

Homosexual "Marriage"

As far as the Church is concerned, marriage is a lifelong bond between a man and a woman.

"Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.

"Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death." (Catechism, 2360, 2361)

"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral." (Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons 10, Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith)


Don't Vote This Way

Here's a short list of things that don't matter when you vote:

  • Whether the candidate is good looking
  • Clever (or dumb) sound bites
  • The candidate's public image
  • Putting "what's in it for me?" ahead of "what's right?"
  • Which political party you belong to
  • How your family's always voted
  • Whether the candidate claims to be Catholic

Remember "although personally opposed to abortion, I don't believe that I have the right to impose my values on someone else?"

That superficially tolerant phrase has almost disappeared, possibly because too many people have had time to think about it. Consider what you would think of someone who said, "although personally opposed to cannibalism, I don't believe I have the right to impose my views on others."

But candidates still try to pass themselves off as Catholic, while supporting policies which are clearly opposed to Catholic teaching.


A Good Conscience Isn't Good Feelings

Your conscience is not your feelings and opinions, at least not as far as the Catholic Church is concerned.

Your conscience is something you think, based on what you have learned. It is what makes it possible for you to think that what you do is morally right or wrong.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that "conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right…." (1778)

"Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act." (Catechism, 1796)

"A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience." "The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed." (Catechism, 1798, 1802)


Candidate Positions: Where to Find Them

The positions of candidates for national offices are usually fairly easy to find:

  • Read newspaper and magazine articles
  • Study voter's guides and candidate surveys
  • Listen to what the candidates say, if they speak in your area

Sometimes this doesn't work, especially for local offices. Campaign offices are usually willing to explain their candidate's position. If this doesn't work, write the candidate and ask.



When you use the following links, you are leaving the Sauk Centre Knights of Columbus website. I have made every effort to ensure that the these websites are appropriate for general viewing. However: I have no control over them, and therefore am not responsible for their content.
Brian H. Gill, Sauk Centre Knights of Columbus webmaster.

Getting Started


Official Sites

Brian H. Gill, Editor, Sauk Centre K of C Bulletin


"The Da Vinci Code:" History as it Never Was

Same Stone in Loreto Altar, Nazareth Grotto

Roe v. Wade and the Real World

Is Sally Fields Human?

Silent Night, Holiday Night

Father Michael McGivney and the Knights of Columbus

Mexican Martyrs and the Knights of Columbus

Katrina, Catholic Charities, and KC

Igor! I Need More Bodies!

Benedict XVI: From POW to Pope

Doesn't This Just Kill You?

John Paul the Great

Holy Father Back in Gemelli Hospital

Modesty: Living in Balance

"Healing the World"

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Voting and the Catholic Citizen

Chores Can Be Prayer, too

I Could Just Die!

Some Quotes for an Election Year

Current Chaplain's Report

Chaplain's Report Archive


Back to List of Articles


Brian H. Gill, webmaster

This page last updated December 19, 2010