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Catholicism demands ‘faithful citizenship’

Peter Quaranto | Tuesday, October 28, 2003

According to a recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey, 52 percent of Catholics intend to vote to reelect President Bush in 2004, while 31 percent intend to vote for a Democratic candidate. As far as I am concerned, the 83 percent of us voting Catholics and maybe even the other 17 percent not represented by this study are going to hell.

Surely, such a statement is extreme and inflated, but my point is that the approaches of many Catholics, even most Catholics, to the political arena are misguided and immoral. There is a tremendous need as we approach the important upcoming election for us Catholics to examine our consciences and our actions in the American political structure. There is a need for true faithful citizenship.

First, the majority of devout Catholics who vote Republican vote based on one single issue: abortion. At first glance, this seems like a legitimate reason for voting Republican, considering that over 40 million abortions have taken place in the United States since 1973. While the Republicans remain committed generally to an anti-life agenda on other issues, the numbers seem to suggest that a utilitarian-for-life would vote Republican. But here’s the problem: Catholics cannot accept utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism espouses the notion that individuals and nations can judge their actions by weighing the positive results against the negative results. In other words, throw the relationship between means and ends out the door. Catholicism, to the contrary, espouses a definite right and wrong in regards to means and ends to which Catholics are called to adhere and witness. Catholics cannot accept the sort of moral relativism that goes hand-in-hand with utilitarianism.

For example, the utilitarian would support an action of killing three million people if it would end world hunger, because the number of people who would not die from world hunger would be greater than the three million. Another example is that the utilitarian would vote for a candidate who limits abortion even if that candidate supports the death penalty, harmful economic policies for the poor, and disregard for the just war theory. From a Catholic standpoint, this is unacceptable.

The many Catholics who vote Democrat also have their own faults. Democrats make their own utilitarian arguments as they vote for candidates who will promote the welfare of the poor, a more humane foreign policy, and promotion of civil rights, but dismiss the issues of abortion, cloning and assisted suicide. Again, this is not wholly consistent with true Catholicism.

An analysis of the motivations and patterns of Catholics in the American political framework highlights the need for the Catholics to reevaluate their current course of action and embark on a new road of Catholic faithful citizenship. But what will such a road entail?

A week ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a document titled “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.” In this document, the bishops write, “Faithful citizenship calls Catholics to see civic and political responsibilities through the eyes of faith and to bring our moral convictions to public life.” They pose a number of provocative questions concerning the modern challenges of Catholic Social Teaching and the ways in which Catholics are challenged to stand up for the poor, the unborn, the voiceless and the suffering.

The major message of this document is that Catholics have a moral obligation to become politically involved. Catholics have to seriously evaluate and challenge political leaders on protecting human life, promoting family life, pursuing social justice and practicing global solidarity. This is an important opportunity to bear witness.

As I see it, this call to Catholic faithful citizenship should manifest itself in three ways in the coming election. If Catholics are not careful, our actions can be extremely misguided and harmful.

First, if you do not have a solid grasp on the issues and the way in which your faith can guide your voting, do not vote. This is not to say that people should be apathetic; rather, uninformed or indecisive Catholics should turn in blank ballots as a symbol of not accepting the system. Dorothy Day refused to choose a candidate because she felt that Catholics could not find a place in the American political framework.

Second, Catholics should present a Catholic candidate who is consistent on issues of Church teaching and doctrine. Obviously, such a candidate would have little chance of succeeding in the political race, but this could also be an important symbol to political parties that they need to take the social beliefs of Catholics seriously.

Finally, the position most clearly advocated by the USCCB and myself is that we Catholics should become politically engaged and vote in a principle-based manner rather than a utilitarian-based manner. Catholics need to be clear on where they stand on the many pressing issues of our time, and then Catholics should vote for the candidate that most clearly represents a direction most consistent with Church teaching, human dignity and the realization of the kingdom of God in this world.

Only if we do this can we curb our current road to hell.

Peter Quaranto is a sophomore political science and international peace studies major. He is involved with the Notre Dame Peace Coalition. Contact him at pquarant@nd.edu.The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.