Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke both recently characterized voting as a moral act with spiritual consequences.
The pope said that “decriminalizing abortion is a betrayal to democracy,” since he believes the procedure denies rights to the unborn. Burke called voting a “serious moral obligation” and added that Catholics “can never vote for someone who favors absolutely what’s called the ‘right to choice.’”
If Catholics largely disregard the church’s teaching (the 2008 Catholic vote for president went to pro-choice Obama), does what the pope says matter? Is voting a religious act or purely political?
Voting is neither a religious nor a political act. It is a human act, a moral act, and like every moral act it can strengthen or loosen one’s connection to God, to light up or darken the truth of human existence.
Voting for someone who advocates genocide, for example, would be immoral. Even to profess neutrality and not to vote at all in such a case would be to cooperate with something evil. People, including Catholics, might still vote for someone whose policies favor genocide, disregarding what the Pope or other religious leaders have to say.
Does that mean that what the Pope says doesn’t matter? No, it is because he is disregarded that he has to keep on saying it.
To use a different example, if everyone were to agree that euthanasia is wrong, and that facilitating it (i.e., voting for it) is wrong, then the Pope wouldn’t have to repeat himself on that subject.
The Pope tries to act as a voice of conscience for humanity, and he should continue to try to do so. Even if people decide not to follow the Pope’s advice, what he says matters. Otherwise, why would so many political leaders around the world, regardless of their political or religious philosophies, wish to be seen with the Pope? Stalin once famously asked, how many divisions has the Pope. The Pope has no divisions, but he does have moral authority.