Mark Lyons/Catholic News ServiceBeverly Moore helps her grandson Johnah Karman-Moore vote for the first time at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., in 2014.

Mark Lyons/Catholic News Service
Beverly Moore helps her grandson Johnah Karman-Moore vote for the first time at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., in 2014.

This is the first in a series on faithful citizenship, set to run until the general election in November. The series, offered in conjunction with Mater Dei Radio, will include on-air interviews with experts.

Catholic leaders don’t tell people to vote for this or that candidate, but Catholics can’t ignore politics. The church focuses on issues instead of office seekers.

“If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church, ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice,’” Pope Francis wrote in “The Joy of the Gospel,” his 2013 apostolic exhortation.

In their regularly updated document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. Catholic bishops call participation in political life “a moral obligation.”

In politics and other moral choices, the church has always taught that people must follow their consciences. But the conscience needs to be well formed if it’s to be a good guide.  

The U.S. bishops say that conscience must be formed in accord with human reason, enlightened by Christ’s teachings as it comes through the church. 

These ideas are prominent in a brochure created by the Archdiocese of Portland to be distributed to clergy and at parishes across western Oregon as the election nears. A summary of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the brochure encourages Catholics to “act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace.”

Priests of the archdiocese asked for the summary.  

“Both opposing evil and doing good are essential,” the archdiocese’s brochure says, citing the U.S. bishops.

Often, Catholics stand for moral principles, even when they are not popular. 

Catholics don’t need to respond to every social problem in the same way. But in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops say no Catholic can shirk the moral obligation to build a more just and peaceful world in which the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.

The church seeks to form consciences by offering good teaching and information. The archdiocese’s pamphlet lists current issues, including abortion, excessive consumption, religious freedom, poverty, immigration, war and violence. The flyer makes special mention of abortion as a prime example of intrinsic evil — those actions “always incompatible with the love of God and neighbor.”

Though abortion is the most flaunted currently in the U.S., there are other intrinsic evils listed by the bishops: racism, torture, euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, genocide, the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable and redefining marriage to deny its essential meaning.

Catholic voters are not to use the distinctions between intrinsic evils and other evils to downplay real threats human life and dignity, the bishops say.

The pamphlet goes on to say that Catholics are not single-issue voters and must examine candidates’ positions on all issues affecting human life, dignity, justice and peace.

Again citing “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the flyer says a candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. But voters can legitimately disqualify a candidate who supports an intrinsically evil act.

“The future of our Church and country demand that we become informed citizens and learn about the issues,” says Matt Cato, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Cato offered a reflection on politics in a recent office newsletter. “Though the Catholic Church will never tell people how to vote, it will dutifully remind us of the principles of our faith that frame the issues we face.”