Presidential elections, at their best, elicit a chorus of voices articulating with passion and civility competing visions for the future of our country, its place in the world, and the best path to follow in pursuit of the common good.
But this year, especially this year, the public’s voice that we hear is an anguished cry of disgust and dismay. The major party candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, are the most disliked candidates to ever run for the presidency in our country’s history. Many have given up in frustration and decided to vote for neither, opting either for a minor party candidate with no chance of winning or not voting for president at all.
For Catholic voters, trying to weigh which candidate best reflects our values and vision of the common good, this race features two seriously flawed candidates.
With a choice like this, it’s easy to understand the frustration a Catholic voter might feel. Neither of the major party candidates match what the Church teaches on all issues. Maybe it’s time to demand more of our candidates.
Before every presidential election, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops updates the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” as a guide for Catholics as they exercise their rights and duties as participants in our democracy. The goal is to encourage Catholics to use the document as a guide to educate themselves about Church teaching and the issues, to form their consciences, and “to shape political choices in the coming election in light of Catholic teaching.” The document doesn’t discuss specific candidates or endorse anyone. Instead, it is designed to help Catholics examine issues of public importance in light of Church teaching.
As the bishops remind us in “Faithful Citizenship”: “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. … The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.”
The bishops quote Pope Francis, who wrote in “Evangelii Guadium,” that “an authentic faith . . . always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, it hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church, ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’”
The Church urges us not to give in to our frustration with the political process, but to continue to engage in the process so we can help elevate the debate. In “Evangelii Guadium,” Pope Francis wrote, “Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. … I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!”
As the bishops look at various issues, including protecting life, promoting peace, religious freedom, economic justice, health care, migration, Catholic education, promoting justice and countering violence, combatting unjust discrimination, caring for the environment, and others, they view them through the prism of Catholic social teaching, which rests on four principles: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity.
In “Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops remind us, “The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. A candidate that would put protecting and respecting human dignity at the forefront of the public discourse is one that would benefit not only Catholics, but every American.
But a candidate that would embody that vision won’t be conjured out of our dreams. We must continue to speak up, to advocate for our view of humanity, to vote. We cannot shrink from the task, but take it on with vigor and determination. We may never get the candidate of our dreams, but we might find one who doesn’t make us question whether it even matters.
To read “Faithful Citizenship” visit www.usccb.org.