(This is the full version of my essay on checking one’s conscience for the coming election. The previous election post, “2022 Elections Coming: Is your conscience ready,” was condensed from this so it could be submitted for publication in the Richmond Diocesan Newspaper, The Catholic Virginian, and was published on September 19, here.)
Pope St. John Paul II noted, “It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all inalienable rights are founded and from which they develop.”
Primary season is over around the country. That means that the general elections are just around the corner. Although this is not a presidential election year, the number of state and national offices that are involved make this election cycle extremely important, even without a presidential candidate on the ballot. Some might think that with the overturning of Roe vs Wade that the fight to protect babies is not as intense as it had been for the last 49 years, but they would be wrong. If anything, it is even more important to elect pro-life legislators as control over abortion has been returned to the states, where it belongs.As such, it is important for us to look both outside and inside ourselves to prepare to exercise our constitutional right and responsibility to vote. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that we are morally obligated to vote (CCC 2240). The Catholic Church teaches that we have to follow our properly formed conscience in all that we do. The US Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issues a document every four years to help Catholics in this endeavor; entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, hereafter referred to as Forming Consciences. It states, in part, “Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith.” Even without instruction by the Church, people for generations have known the difference between right and wrong. As the Catechism states, “But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.” (CCC 1860) In other words, we have an innate sense of right and wrong, which we should not allow to be muddled by the secular society that wants to control us and our thoughts. As Bishop Sheen said, “Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right.”
“The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics, this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices.” (emphasis added) Forming Consciences
Unfortunately, the decades of moral relativism have had their effect, causing many to suppress this natural understanding of good and evil, right and wrong. Their consciences have become corrupted by our “woke” society, much like a piece of software becomes corrupted and no longer functions properly. To paraphrase Pope St. Paul VI, the “woke” of Satan has infiltrated our society. Thus, it is even more important these days for us to make sure our consciences are properly formed. This is done by familiarizing oneself with the teachings of the Church and helped by such guides as that provided by the USCCB and local dioceses. Other Catholic organizations provide guidance as well, sometimes with more detail and specifics about a particular candidate or election than the generalities found in many of the Church-provided documents (e.g., EWTN, Catholic Vote, etc.).
The USCCB guidance says, first and foremost, that, “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.” Why? Why is the issue of abortion important – for everyone? Because every abortion contributes to the culture of death, to the destruction of the family (the basic social unit which comes before any government), advances moral relativism, and thus to the disruption of the moral fiber of society. At one time we were told that abortions should be legal, safe and rare, thus acknowledging its undesirability. Now these same groups tell women they need to celebrate their abortions. Abortion is contrary to the common good which “concerns the life of all:” respect for the human person, social well-being and development, peace. (CCC, 1906) Besides not being Christian, it violates the basic necessity to protect human life and denies the humanity of a class of humans, much like the Nazis and slave owners denied the humanity of classes of human beings. But abortion isn’t the only intrinsic evil that weighs on our consciences. Other intrinsic evils include euthanasia, human cloning, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and research on human embryos. Many will argue that, although the ethics of some of these things may be dubious, they are policies and actions that help people. Thus, they come up with lies like “death with dignity,” to support euthanasia and assisted suicide. But there is no dignity in murder be it murder of oneself or done by a doctor under the auspices of the state based on a claim that such a life that is no longer worth living. But every life has some value and needs to be cherished.
The claim that new medicines and transplant parts may result from cloning and embryonic research, or these procedures may allow someone to have a family. But consider, each fertilized egg is a human entity with its own unique DNA and procedures such as IVF often end up with the killing of unused embryos or the need to abort some of the “excess” babies, as multiple eggs need to be implanted to increase the probability of success. Again, we’re back to murder and evil. The Catechism tells us what we know intuitively, “One may never do evil so that good may result from it.” (CCC 1789) These things are sins and being compassionate toward sinners does NOT mean we condone their sin. We have to shine our light on these sins because they are evil. We cannot vote for candidates who advocate for evil. Jesus came into the world for this reason to shine His light on evil. This is why transparency is so important because it shines light on the deeds of those in power. “For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (Jn 3:19)
Other issues that complicate election decisions are other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, environmental concerns, poverty and the death penalty. Add to this the need to consider the unintended effects of many policies such as those that are occurring with unchecked immigration, including human trafficking for slavery, organ harvesting, and the sex trade, often affecting minors (children). None of these add to the common good, which should be our overarching goal and guide.
As happens so often at this time the issue of the “Seamless Garment” (SG) or a Consistent Life Ethic (CLE) is brought to the fore. Cardinal Bernadin spoke at length on the CLE in a number of lectures in 1983 and 1984. The issue has been addressed in a number of other forums, as well, and discussions can be found on various Catholic web sites.
The CLE strives to bring all life issues together, from “womb to tomb,” so to speak, and develop a philosophy of how we and the church should deal with them. The problem with the CLE/SG discussion is not the philosophy itself but the way it is applied. Cardinal Bernadin addressed this concern in his 1984 lecture at St. Louis University when he stated, “A consistent ethic of life does not equate the problem of taking life (e.g., through abortion and in war) with the problem of promoting humandignity (through humane programs of nutrition, health care, and housing).” I recommend that those concerned with CLE read the entire statement at https://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bernardinwade.html and commentaries at https://dominicantrad.blogspot.com/2020/03/the-political-consequences-of-heretical.html and https://www.catholic.com/video/issues-with-the-seamless-garment-philosophy.
This brings up the necessity to discuss and understand the difference between negotiable and non-negotiable policies. Non-negotiable policies address those issues affecting intrinsic evils which cannot be directly supported by Catholics, period. The USCCB and local diocesan guidelines may allow for a situation whereby one can support a pro-abortion candidate for a variety of reasons because, while you disagree with his or her abortion stance, you may prefer their other positions to that of their opponent. This, to me, is a cop-out if the opponent is pro-life and does not have any other intrinsic evils in his or her baggage.The application of the CLE concept by many politicians, public figures and even bishops, et al., conflates the issues of intrinsic evil (abortion, euthanasia, etc.) with issues that are more appropriately affected by differences of opinion with regard to implementation; i.e., conflating negotiable pragmatic applications with intrinsic evils. So, for instance, one side contends that we should have open borders, while the other takes the position that immigration should be controlled as necessary for the security and well-being of the nation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) supports the latter position (CCC 2241). The consequences of each approach and their impact on the common good need to be considered. So, is it better to allow uncontrolled immigration which has brought tons of drugs, drug lords, criminals and human traffickers into the country or is it better to observe a policy such as “remain in Mexico” whereby immigrants are vetted as to the facts of a claim to asylum or their impact on society?
Similarly, the two sides disagree in terms of implementing healthcare. Some say that healthcare covers a broad range of issues, including abortion, contraception, gender issues, etc., while the other favors increasing competition among healthcare, pharmaceutical, and insurance providers along with some deregulation in order to make healthcare more affordable and effective for all. Just saying one side supports universal healthcare, while the other does not, avoids the real issue. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Many of the issues within the “universal healthcare” umbrella are diametrically opposed to the CLE.
Additionally, a closer look at the platforms of the two parties reveals other life issues that should be of concern to Catholics. One side avidly supports freedom of religion while the other has removed God from its platform. Furthermore, that side wants to subjugate religious beliefs to secular opinions. One side supports school choice (which is both a religious freedom issue as well as supporting underprivileged families) while the other adamantly wants to prop up failing public education. But neither of these examples rises to the level of intrinsic evil.
As noted above, Forming Consciences states “it is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices.” So, while the secular society advocates for several things that are opposed to Catholic teaching, some may not seem to be truly bad on the surface, so it is incumbent on us to delve deeper into an issue. The current trend in transgenderism would appear to fall into this category. However, once one looks into the issue, one finds that the Church is correct in opposing transgender therapy and operations. Studies show that the claim that we need to support those with transgender tendencies in order to reduce the potential for suicide, continued anxiety and depression are false. A study by the secular community reports that, “There is a consistently observed higher risk of poor physical and mental health outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender subpopulations compared to the general population. These outcomes include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and most alarmingly, suicide. For example, among the transgender subpopulation in the United States, the rate of attempted suicide is estimated to be as high as 41%, ten times higher than in the general population.” (The New Atlantis, Fall 2016) They also report that, “Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.”
The rest can generally be effectively dealt with by psychiatric therapy. The country of Sweden after looking at this and similar research now prohibits chemical and surgical transgender treatment for minors as they do not solve the problem. Their National Board of Health has basically eschewed chemical therapy for minors as being ineffective and potentially harmful. Consequently, they have determined that the first line of treatment will be “mental health support and psychological care.”
The Arlington Diocese (among others) has published a document which presents Church teaching (and diocesan guidelines) about gender dysphoria: https://www.arlingtondiocese.org/Communications/Bishop/Public-Messages/A-Catechesis-on-the-Human-Person-and-Gender-Ideology-Catholic-Diocese-of-Arlington.pdf
Similarly, one needs to look at the truths of the various arguments of each candidate. While many claim to be following science, is it real science or their politically relativized science? For example, many candidates want to deny the humanity of the child in the womb, which biology has clearly shown to exist from the moment of conception. Others want to deny the complementarity of men and women or wish to promote the idea that gender is indeterminate. Again, biology and physiology are very clear, through chromosomes and bodily structure defining the differences between men and women.
So, as the elections come closer we need to ask ourselves a few questions, in light of Church teaching (and keep in mind, most politicians will vote party lines, despite their constituent wishes, so know about their party, too).
- Which candidate supports policies the Church has identified as intrinsic evils?
- Which party supports items of interest to the Church (and society), such as religious freedom, school choice, free speech, etc.
- Which candidate has a record of truth and transparency?
- Which candidate supports the fullness of human sexuality as taught by the Church (e.g., the complementarity of the sexes, reality of birth gender, etc.)?
- Which candidate supports the sanctity of the family?
- Which candidate supports the sanctity of the elderly?
- Which candidate supports personal responsibility?
- Which candidate supports the sanctity of marriage and marital relations?
- Which candidate takes you further from God?
We must not be taken in by those who try to convince us that they are not personally in favor of these evils but don’t want to inflict their views on others. Every time they pass a law it inflicts their views on others, particularly if it is contrary to the will of the majority. For example, the majority of parents want to be informed about what is happening with their children, including transgender tendencies, abortion, sex indoctrination, etc., yet all levels of government have tried (and in many cases succeeded) in keeping parents in the dark.
Moral relativism, which declares that we each make our own truths, is a lie and destructive and must be opposed. Following that logic, there would be no need for any laws, as we could do whatever we pleased. But everyone knows that would not work. We all know there are limits. They are written into our hearts by God.
“In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.” Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 16
Intrinsic evil can never be supported.
The temptation to moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity is destructive and contrary to the Gospel and Church teaching. “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” Forming Consciences, 28 (emphasis added)