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Theology on Fire lecture examines Catholic voting

| Thursday, September 29, 2016

In an effort to help prepare students for the upcoming election, Saint Mary’s associate political science professor Sister Amy Cavender presented on what it means to “vote Catholic” at Wednesday night’s installment of the Theology on Fire lecture series.

According to Cavender, voting Catholic has multiple elements.

“It means approaching the process and our fellow citizens with appropriate respect and keeping in mind key principles that our faith tells us are vitally important in public life,” she said. “It’s being knowledgeable about the way our government works, being as informed about important issues as we can, asking the right questions and having respect for the process.”

Showing respect and having the right attitude is key when making decisions on politics, Cavender said.

“We want to be civil to one another, we want to respect one another and we want to presume good faith of others,” she said.

Cavender used the core principles of Catholic Social Teaching for students to use as a guide to help identify what issues they may want to focus on when researching candidates. The first principle she addressed was dignity of the human person, which focuses on issues such as abortion, racism, torture and unjust war. She then addressed subsidiarity, which focuses on which levels of government should be handling certain issues.

“A higher level of government should not take on an issue if a lower level of government can do as well or better,” Cavender said. “On the other hand, higher levels of government should step in when a lower level is not well-suited for the task.”

Third, Cavendar said, is the common good, which she said had many examples.

“Some are human rights, dignity of workers and care for our common environment,” she said.

The final principle Cavender addressed was solidarity, which she said is closely tied with dignity of the human person and concerns issues such as care for other human beings, welcoming strangers in reference to immigrants and caring for the poor.

“We need to be familiar with the principles we’ve just considered,” Cavender said. “We need to consider what they tell us. We also need to be familiar with who the candidates are and what a candidate is likely to actually be able to do if elected. Remember, we’re not only electing a president this time around.”

Identifying goals and how students can achieve them when taking a side on a political issue is a way to decide on a candidate, Cavender said. She used the example of abortion.

“Do we like candidates who are pro-life or do we want to reduce the number of abortions that take place?” she said. “We would like to say absolutely yes to both of those, but if we find ourselves in the situation where we don’t think we can have both, which one are we going to give priority to?”

Cavender said students can answer this personal question by evaluating what laws already exist and by looking at the issue from the opposing view.

“Consider why those who take the pro-choice position take that position,” she said. “What can we learn from what they say about that even if we don’t agree? Are there values that overlap with ours, and are there ways we may be able to work together to reduce the number of abortions?”

Cavender provided students with an additional online resource they could use to help them decide who to vote for based on their Catholic faith, called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

Senior Helen Kovach said she liked how Cavender said to look at the opposing view.

“As Catholics, it’s important to work for an end to abortion, but how do we do that?” Kovach said. “Obviously it would be ideal if we could eliminate it immediately, but it’s difficult. Realistically, we need pregnancy centers, laws that help women, paid maternity leave. I think it’s important to support women at all stages.”

Kovach also said students need to adjust their focus beyond the presidential elections.

“I think as millennials, we complain about the terrible presidential choices at the moment, but it’s more than just a presidential election,” she said. “It is true candidate always make all of these promises, but the question is if they can actually do that. It always depends on Congress and the courts.”

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