October 28, 2008
In 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States, his narrow defeat over Nixon was a broad victory for Catholics. Catholics had finally triumphed over more than a century of misunderstanding and suspicion for their faith. In that election, eight out of ten Catholic voters cast their ballot for Kennedy and ushered him into the White House. The Catholic vote was no fiction. Some pollsters report that, since 1972, the candidate who won the Catholic vote has also won the presidential election.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Catholic immigrants coming to the shores of America faced the prejudice of groups such as the Know-Nothings. Some non-Catholics wrongly believed that Catholics could not be American because of their loyalty to the Pope. At that time, Catholics tended to join the party that was open to minorities. They joined forces with those who supported Catholic social teaching.
However, the political allegiance of Catholics has changed. The 1973 Supreme Court’s
. Wade decision has made a difference in the way committed Catholics view the moral issues of the day. In our society, some individuals see the right to abortion as a litmus test for political viability. Some even recognize the evil of abortion and admit that personally they are against abortion. But, then they vote to allow it. They suffer a loss of logic and rational integrity. Some say that the Church has not clearly and always taught that abortion is wrong. At best, this is ignorance of the teaching of the Church.
Prior even to the Church’s teaching on morality, there is an objective order of right and wrong. Reason can recognize this order. Reason can embrace this order and build a just society.
Within this objective order of right and wrong, some rights take precedence over another. For example, the right to defend one’s own life against an unjust aggressor takes precedence over the rights of the aggressor. In the objective order of truth, the right to life is fundamental.
The taking of the life of the innocent child within a mother’s womb is an intrinsic evil. No reason can justify it. No other value takes precedence over it. In the order of justice, the right to life trumps all other rights. It is inherently good to protect human life, especially at its weakest moments.
Today, Catholics blend into the political landscape. Catholics seem to vote like the rest of Americans. The economy, the war, illegal immigration, tax benefits, terrorism, global warming, trade, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and same-sex marriage: all these issues play a part in attracting the Catholic vote. A few say that there seems to be nothing visibly discernible that distinguishes the Catholic vote. The bishops’ teaching on the importance of the obligation to participate in the political process clearly states: “a candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support”
(Faithful Citizenship, 13).
Deep within each of us, a voice is “ever calling [us] to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil… a law inscribed by God. . .” (
Lumen Gentium, no. 16). This inner voice in every person is conscience. Conscience is non-partisan. Good naturally appeals to a well-formed conscience. Evil offends it.
Is a well-formed conscience offended by the call to repeal the Hyde Amendment that bans the spending of tax-payers money for abortions? Is conscience upset by the call to do away with the Mexico City Policy which bans U.S. foreign aid to organizations that promote or perform abortions as a matter of family planning? Does the campaign to provide unlimited access to abortion through the
Freedom of Choice Act offend the conscience of decent people?
Many pollsters have published their findings on how Catholics vote on different issues. But there is a difference on how individuals who are Catholic vote and how a Catholic vote is defined. Ultimately, the question is not whether the Catholic vote is fact or fiction. Rather, what is at stake is wider than politics and deeper than religion. By the law that the Creator has placed within the human heart, all people are called to live the truth of creation. For this, there is needed a
The adjective “
catholic” comes from the Greek καθ ολου, “according to the whole.” It means “all-inclusive,” “all-embracing.” A
catholic conscience, therefore, not only sees all the issues as parts of a whole but also judges them by the measure of the objective order of truth in which the right to life is fundamental. When a “
catholic” conscience directs moral and political choices, the good of society is advanced.