Serious Catholics more likely to vote their beliefs

By Thomas Peters Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke both recently characterized voting as a moral act with … Continued

By Thomas Peters

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, and recently said that Catholics should use their vote “for the promotion of the common good.” 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?

Catholics believe their faith should inform their vote.

To answer the question simply, voting is both a spiritual and political act. After all, how could something as important as voting not be a part of our moral life, how could it not be part of what we are called to do well? Catholics believe we have a moral obligation to be good citizens, and that our faith should guide us to help make good political choices.

One of the important distinctions to make when talking about Catholics and voting is between self-described Catholics and “active Catholics” (defined as individuals who attend Mass at least once a week on Sunday as they are supposed to). Catholics serious about practicing their faith are more likely to attempt to form their political beliefs according to their religious ones.

It should therefore be no surprise that active Catholics are more likely to support candidates who, like the Church, place a special emphasis on the rights and dignity of unborn life, on the importance of safeguarding traditional marriage, promoting religious freedom, attending to the needs of the elderly and poor, etc.

By the same token, active Catholics take the guidance of the pope and their bishop seriously, even as less active Catholics are more likely to ignore the pope and bishop’s advice. It is true that there is an intense debate taking place within the Church about what it means for a Catholic to be a good citizen and what “voting Catholic” means in action, but the pope and American bishops have been very clear: all Catholics have a responsibility to form their conscience according to the teachings of Christ and the Church. So what the pope says definitely matters.

A last point: many people have the idea that the only thing the pope and bishops do when they try to guide Catholics in voting is to say “no” to some candidates and proposals. In fact, the pope and bishops only say that individuals (and they do not mention names) ought to vote for candidates that will truly work to promote the common good. In other words, behind every “no” of the Church is always a deeper “yes” to man’s flourishing – a vigorous yes to the opportunity of achieving a better, more just society for all of us, Catholic or otherwise.

Thomas Peters is the founder of, where he discusses the intersection of faith and politics.

  • emonty

    I am a ‘more than serious’ Catholic who attends Mass frequently, even when I am not ‘supposed to’. I have a master’s degree in pastoral studies and will be installed as a lay ecclesial minister by my bishop soon. So much for my credentials.I see Mr. Peters’ article as yet another attempt to separate ‘good Catholics from bad’ based on how they vote. He simply substitutes ‘serious’ instead of ‘good’. He more than hints that ‘good (read serious)’ Catholics will vote according to the guidelines promoted by such people as Archbishop Burke. He couldn’t be further from the truth.I hate the ‘talibanization’ of American Catholicism by certain ‘serious’ Catholics and I hate the presumption of others when they tell me how to vote or hint that my vote will not be in accordance with what ‘God wants’. Actually, if they are so presumptive as to know exactly how God wants me to vote, they are setting themselves up as God, presuming they know the will of God as they do.I have a pen name, but you can consider me ‘disgusted’.

  • bmariner

    Of course a believer has to vote according to his/her faith! Vote cannot be given to somebody who plans to remove the foundations of your building. It would be suicidal! The scariest thing of this age we are living is that the Ten Commandments are not seen as a reference, a summit point of Human Rights any more. You know them? You shall not kill, and so on? Instead of protecting the weak new laws are shifting towards enforcing the jungle law… in the name of tolerance! Then what do we need politics for?For a Catholic –and I hope for any Christian, Jew or Muslim as well- key social issues are among others: human life, the family and children education. We need air to breath, freedom to behave according to what our conscience says that’s the best for the human beings. You can discuss about Economy, Foreign affairs, Employment programs, Government size, Healthcare system, subsidies, etc. etc. But not about removing the pillars of humankind. People are persons, not statistics.

  • william27

    The Gospel, the Word of God read at Mass, always reminds me to render to everyone his or her due, to side with the poor always, and to look for Christ in the least person of society. As a serious Catholic, I feel that I am bound by this message (and nourished by Communion) to do carry out this task, for want of a better word, as best I can. With that said, I’ll vote for representatives who try to put this message or mandate into practice in public programs, policies, etc., especially for the poor. Their good will and my effort with others — together — put me on a firm platform on which to stand before Christ every day. This makes me a very serious Catholic. I will also listen and read Bishop Burke’s letters and/or articles, but will ultimately follow my conscience as a serious Catholic.

  • usapdx

    Why is that these religious groups who always want to direct their flock and anyone who will listen how to vote? Then they turn around and claim tax exempt in violation of the tax exempt rules. Maybe it is time for congress to repeal the tax exempt law so these religious groups that speak out politically won’t be sinning by claiming tax exempt as a dishonest claim. They are stealing from the country but not paying their just tax.

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