for Jesus and Mary

Morality, Voting, Catholics, Bishops, Personal, Collective Responsibility

On the Morality of Voting,

by Fr. Jim Anderson, M.S.A.

On 28 June 2010 Christopher A. Ferrara, a leading Catholic apologist and trial lawyer, wrote in the pages of The Remnant Online Edition that: The Church has always taught that Catholics living in a democracy have a duty to vote in order to avert grave harm to the common good. Hence in 1948 Pius XII bound Catholics under pain of mortal sin to vote against the Communists in the Italian election of that year, even though the opposition candidates were hardly orthodox Catholic statesmen. The Pope declared that it would be “a grave sin, a mortal offense” to abstain from that election. (   

               Pope Pius XII was following his predecessor, Pope Pius XI, for whom he had been a trusted aid in the Vatican Secretariat of State, and who, after years of vainly trusting in Vatican diplomacy to protect Christianity in Russia amid the Communist terror, genocide, persecution of the Church and the torture and murder of thousands of priests and bishops, and imprisonment or death of millions of the faithful, published on 19 March 1937 his incisive encyclical against communism, Divini Redemptoris.  He concluded there that "Communism is intrinsically perverse, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever." After Divini Redemptoris it was unthinkable for any in the Church to collaborate with communism in any undertaking whatsoever.   (That policy was reversed by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI.)

               In 2011 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reissued their 2007 teaching for Catholics on the morality of voting: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, accessible at

That document addresses six current and fundamental problems, some involving opposition to intrinsic evils and others raising serious moral questions:

— Abortion "and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick or unwanted."

— Conscience threats to Catholic ministries in health care, education and social services.

"Intensifying efforts to redefine marriage" or to undermine it as "the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman."

— An economic crisis that has increased national and global unemployment, poverty and hunger, requiring efforts to "protect those who are poor and vulnerable as well as future generations."

— The failure to repair a broken immigration system.

— Serious moral questions raised by wars, terror and violence, particularly the absence of justice, security and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.

This teaching is signed by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, USCCB president, and also by the chairmen of the USCCB pro-life, migration, education, communications, doctrine, domestic justice, international justice and peace, cultural diversity, and laity, marriage, family life and youth committees.  Those chairmen are respectively: Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Auxiliary Bishops Thomas Curry and Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, and Bishops Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Howard Hubbard of Albany, Jaime Soto of Sacramento, and Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.

               If we vote for politicians who have shown by their lives that they believe, trust and love God and humbly conform their policies and programs to God’s law of life and love, then we have cause to rejoice.  On the contrary, if we vote for politicians who plan to implement immoral policies and programs because we agree with them, then we share their moral guilt by what moralists call formal cooperation with those policies and programs.  If we vote for them, disagreeing with their sinful policies and programs, but believing that the good we otherwise expect them to do will outweigh the evil, then we might claim not to be complicit with the evil they intend because we intend only the good we hope for.  This may sound plausible in theory.  But we must consider the actual policies and programs at issue right now.  Abortion is killing of God’s innocents that cries out to God for justice.  Euthanasia is at best encouraging and assisting the infirm elderly to take their own lives.  Contrived wars not justifiable as necessary to protect fundamental national interests result in foreseen direct and collateral injuries and deaths to combatants and civilians, and damage to their property.  The promotion of sexual practices and civil unions that repudiate human partnering with God in creating and nurturing new human beings as alternatives to holy matrimony per the bible are an explicit repudiation of God and his law of life and love.  The coercion of religious institutions to practices that violate reasonable conscientious convictions accepted by them as divine mandates destroys the necessary conditions of social cooperation. 

To vote for one known to plan to implement any of the above policies, even without personally agreeing with them, would be to provide material cooperation to an immoral program.  Such a vote could only be morally justifiable if, on balance, the foreseen evil consequences of such programs would be outweighed by the foreseen good consequences of the other, moral programs the person voted for was known to intend to implement.  My personal judgment is that no possible good is proportionate to the evil of taking an innocent life, of repudiating the fundamental social structure willed by God for our partnering with him in the creation and nurturing of new human beings, or of coercing another to violate their reasonable conscientious convictions.  But apart from the issue of moral guilt on the part of the voter, one must take into account the punishment of the whole country because of the moral evil of the policies and programs its leaders have put in place in the name of all of the people.

               Our government leaders act in our name, whether doing their own will or the perceived will of the people.  The policies and programs they put in place become our policies and programs as a single people.  If these policies and programs conform to God’s law of life and love and they are carried out in a spirit of humility, obedience and love, then we can rejoice in the knowledge that as a single people we are living within God’s will.  On the contrary, if these policies and programs repudiate God’s law of life and love, especially if they are carried out in a spirit of pride, arrogance and indifference to God and the legitimate needs of others, then we must expect to experience God’s justice.

               May we vote for those who will lead us to live so as to incur God’s blessings!  God bless these United States.  Viva Cristo Rey.