During the buildup to the recent Presidential election, someone asked Bishop Robert Barron whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. His answer was simple: “I am a Catholic”.
The reasons he gave for that answer was that there were many things in the party platform of the two Parties that he, as a Catholic Christian, supported; and that there were things, conversely, on both platforms that he disagreed with as a Catholic.
Like most Catholics, he based his reply on the principles embedded in our Church teaching that need to be protected. Once he knew what the two platforms contained, he was able to make a prudential judgment as to how he would vote.
A Catholic then could conceivably vote for one party in a presidential election and a different party in a more local election.
Where a Catholic draws the line is when a candidate’s positions are antithetical to one’s moral and ethical convictions as a Catholic. That is what makes the difference, not the party. Catholic teaching gives us the main principles. Then we make prudential judgments as to how we will vote.
The assumption here, of course, is that we are faithful Catholics who adhere to the Church’s teaching even when we might personally dissent from it. That requires from us an intellectual act of humility that declares that though we have a different opinion than what the Church teaches, we will trust the accumulated wisdom of the Church in her century’s old meditation on the Word of God more than our own opinions.
Dare I say that this kind of thinking runs contrary to the way most Americans think! The understanding of the modern person is that they know best what they should do and that no one has the authority to expect them to change their opinion or stance. No matter what.
This suspicion of authority is embedded in our history, from the Revolution of 1776 to the present!
A Catholic always needs to consider the underlying principles regarding individual issues when considering whom to vote for. The Church should not tell anyone whom to vote for, but must proclaim Her teaching involving those principles. That is guaranteed both by freedom of speech and freedom of Religion. The conversation regarding the direction of our country needs to be formed by our religious traditions so as to ensure that the laws that will govern our nation go in the right direction.
It is the responsibility of the individual citizen to take those principles and to evaluate who is the best candidate based on how they measure up to the principles involved. No one can or should give to anyone else that responsibility to make a personal prudential judgment. It lies with each citizen to make that decision. The Church can and should help with clarifying the issues involved but then it is the lonely and weighty action of the individual to ensure that he or she votes for the person who can best realize the moral vision that the Church proclaims.
This also sheds light on how we constitute our identity. The trend today, politically at least, is that people use their political party as an important and almost a defining part of their own identities. As I said before, I prefer to see things as Bishop Barron does. My political party is only a tiny part of who I think I am. I am a Catholic Christian first, perhaps only eclipsed by being a child of God. That is how I choose to see myself. My principles of how I live my life are given to me by my faith, and my relationship with God.
While I think politics is important (because it affects the lives of many people) it is not where I get my principles from. My faith directs everything and I try to make sure that nothing contradicts my faith.
As my mother used to say: First things first (in Italian of course!).