Catholics don’t want to be told how to vote

By Frances Kissling Seems like everyone is urging me to vote. I get a dozen or so messages each day … Continued

By Frances Kissling

Seems like everyone is urging me to vote. I get a dozen or so messages each day on my Facebook wall from friends who both want me to vote and are sure I’ll vote the way they would. These reminders – and those from religious leaders – are important in a country where only 37% of those eligible to vote turned out in the 2006 and 57% in the 2008 elections. Voting is one of the cornerstones of responsible participation in the political community. Catholic Cardinal designate Ray Burke called it a “serious moral obligation” and a “civic duty.” I’ll buy that. And I imagine most Catholics appreciate a Sunday morning reminder about voting even if they don’t consider every civic or political act religious or spiritual; even if they intend to vote for candidates who do not share the bishop’s or their parish priests’ views on any number of issues.

What many Catholics do not appreciate is being told how to vote. Cardinal designate Burke starts to sound like a Tammany Hall ward boss when he says he has an “obligation, in fact, to urge the faithful to carry out their civic duty in accord with their Catholic faith.” Some in the pews are going to get the message that Burke would like them to vote in accordance with Burke’s understanding of the faith rather than their own. And that sucks any sacredness or spirituality a Catholic might have felt right out of the polling booth — and the church.

What people consider religious or spiritual is highly subjective. For some every thought word and deed is spiritual. Some may consider voting a spiritual act; some may reserve the word spirituality for more intimate contact with the divine. Voting is perhaps an expression of call to do justice which is not exclusively a religious instinct. All Catholics, however, consider their parish church a spiritual place and the Mass a sacred event. If faith leaders turn that sacred place into a campaign stop, the people do care. More important the bishops’ squander their moral authority when they spend it on politics rather than spirituality.

A July 2008 poll of 1,003 Catholics voters by Belden, Russonello and Stewart found that “Seven in ten (70%) said that the views of Catholic bishops in the U.S. are unimportant to them in deciding for whom to vote and a similarly large proportion (73%) says they believe Catholic politicians are under no religious obligation to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend.”

I think it would be a good thing if Catholics seriously considered what their bishops say when they make all sorts of decisions about their lives. I also think it would be a good thing if the bishops had a bit more spiritual and less political guidance to offer.

Frances Kissling is a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania where she is writing a book on Ethics and Abortion. A Catholic feminist, she was the president of Catholics for Choice for 25 years.

Frances Kissling
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  • eezmamata

    when religious types demand their sheep vote one way or the other, they’re getting representation without taxation.But hey, the more the catholics demand their fools vote catholic, and we see more and more catholics voting their own consciences, the less influence we have to deal with from this foreign power in our politics.

  • MargotH

    Frances, your pride (not called a “deadly” sin for nothing) is showing. Your “I will not serve” sounds frighteningly familiar.

  • GiveMeThat

    The Catholic Church rightly upholds the sanctity of life which is under nightmarish attack. They are making “hybrid” embryos in Britain between human and animals. Scientist and secularists prove time and again that they cannot be trusted to make ethical decisions (I say this as a scientist). The author’s charge that the Catholic Church is telling people “how to vote” is absolute rubbish. Tamany Hall? Pleeeze. That is ridiculous. Why doesn’t the author become an Episcopalian if she doesn’t believe in the precepts of the Catholic Church?

  • Secular

    These catholic bishops and cardinals are nothing but the ayatollahs, imams, & muftis in robes. Ooops aren’t thye also in the robes? So much for the difference in attire. That scoundrel in Rome Mr. Ratzinger, would love for the 600 – 700 years of enlightenment to be erased and would love to send in his gullible Christian knights to start marauding through the middle east and may be the rest of the world. The only thing that keeps these rascals form doing that is the rest of the christian population will thoroughly trash any such megalomaniacal adventures.The gall of these morons to tell their congregants one way or another based on their theology and politics is nothing short of dictatorship of the pulpit. Not that I am a big fan of inerrancy of any scripture, this institution from one side of the mouth espouse it as dogma. Then from the other side blithely rewrites the so called ten commandments. Just mere 50 years ago a Catholic candidate for President of this country proclaimed that he would not look for dictates from Rome for his public policy decisions and then today the same scoundrels and rascals from Rome want to tell us how to vote!!! If you ask me Washington should sever all ties to that ex-nazi in Rome and issue warrants against him as an accessory after the fact for all the church related pedophilia cases outstanding not only in the US but rest of the world as well.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    The Supreme Court legalized abortion. How is being a one-issue voter going to change that?A whole string or Republican pro-life Presidents, and Congresses dominated by the Republican Party could not roll back the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion. So, how is the Catholic Church going to engineer such a thing?

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    GiveMeThat “Why doesn’t the author become an Episcopalian if she doesn’t believe in the precepts of the Catholic Church?” Oh the snobbishness of intolerance.There is no way around; religious orthodoxy requires a pretty big dose of snobbery.

  • GabrielRockman

    Danielinthelionsden:There are a few ways. One is through a constitutional amendment. One is through the alteration of the makeup of the supreme court by nominating and approving of pro-life judges when existing judges retire.And of course, there is the FDR way – try to change the number of justices on the supreme court if the constitution is an obstacle to your goals. Luckily, I don’t think the Catholic church is foolish enough to try that.

  • PSolus

    GabrielRockman,”So, how is the Catholic Church going to engineer such a thing?””There are a few ways. One is through a constitutional amendment.”Do you really believe that the pope can amend the U.S. Constitution?”One is through the alteration of the makeup of the supreme court by nominating and approving of pro-life judges when existing judges retire.”Do you really believe that the pope can nominate and approve pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court?

  • usapdx

    With all the violations of the tax exampt law’s rules, maybe it time that congress repeals the law so that these groups can have their total freedom of speech honestly.

  • schnauzer21

    GiveMeThat Thats it. Taken straight from “CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition”

  • shani2

    Ms. Kissling, Catholics for Choice is not a Catholic organization. Regarding abortion, the Catholic teaching is clear. One does not have the choice to murder an innocent under any circumstances. And about voting being a spiritual experience for some and not for others, I can guarantee it is 100% spiritual for Christ. The truth is the truth even if you don’t like it. And the truth is that you are not Catholic. Why expend so much effort trying to change Christ teaching to fit your needs? Just join another faith. I will pray for you – and the 3500 babies murdered everyday.

  • GabrielRockman

    Psolus – read Daniel’s post, too.We’ve not had a whole string of Republican presidents and Republican congresses together, so i was explaining how such a goal could be achieved by a Republican congress & President combination that was in power for a long time in a row. I disagreed with his assertion that a whole string of Pro-Life Presidents & Congresses could not change the status of Abortion in this country, and I indicated how it could be changed.

  • PSolus

    GabrielRockman,”I disagreed with his assertion that a whole string of Pro-Life Presidents & Congresses could not change the status of Abortion in this country, and I indicated how it could be changed.”One of the reasons that it has not changed, and probably will not change, is that pro-life republicans also sometimes need to have abortions.