My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the months preceding Election Day, we have witnessed several elected officials who are Catholics publicly address the Church’s teaching on the grave matters of conscience formation, the inviolability of innocent human life and voting. Several of these Catholic politicians have cited the document of our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” in a way that misrepresents the intent of the document and the authentic teaching of our Catholic Church – misrepresentations that warrant clarification.
For many people in our increasingly secularized culture, conscience is erroneously reduced to a collection of personal preferences that are thoroughly subjective and relative. In this wrong understanding of conscience, every individual opinion is assigned moral correctness and the existence of objective truth is denied. Yet, the very mission of the Church as a teacher of right and wrong rests on the existence of objective truth and the conviction that this truth can be known by us.
In our Catholic moral tradition, conscience is not an inclination inside of us that allows us to justify doing whatever we want. It is not a mere feeling about what we should or should not do. Conscience is the voice of God in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil.
Before following our conscience, we are obliged to form our conscience. A well-formed conscience requires that we have a sincere openness to embrace goodness and truth. We must be students and learners, shaped and challenged by the Word of God and the teachings of the Church, rather than embracing a partisan position and then stretching for ways to justify it.
Conscience formation requires that we examine the facts and the background information on issues. Conscience formation requires that we evaluate each candidate’s past record on issues and the general direction each candidate would give to the issues. In forming our conscience then it is critical that we see beyond party affiliation, analyze campaign rhetoric carefully and choose according to moral principles rather than self-interest.
Finally, since a well-formed conscience seeks always and everywhere to discern the will of God in some matter, prayerful reflection is essential.
In summary, rigorous study, moral reflection and prayerful consideration are the primary elements in forming one’s conscience. When our Church takes a position on some moral issue, you can absolutely trust that these three elements have been vigorously involved.
Catholic moral teaching is not a hodge-podge of competing and equally valid opinions.
Granted that there are many and complex issues that are in our hearts and on our minds as we go to the polls on November 4th. For that matter, Catholics and all people of good will can arrive at different opinions and various solutions for such issues as the delivery of health care, the revitalization of the economy, the use of military force, taxation policies, and the many other issues that face voters in the upcoming election.
However, we must be aware that not all political issues carry the same moral weight and that there is a serious moral obligation on all of us to oppose in conscience and in action those issues that are intrinsically evil. We are not free to choose whether or not we shall oppose those things which in and of themselves are always and everywhere morally evil.
From this, it is clear that the defense of the sacredness of human life from the very moment of conception to natural death is THE paramount issue of our time. Abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research are intrinsic evils – actions that are always and everywhere wrong and no circumstance can justify their use. Each is a direct attack on innocent human life. The fact is that since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, every medical and genetic discovery has underscored the human personhood of the unborn from conception.
We have all heard fellow Catholics say that “I can not be a single issue voter.” Fair enough – there are many issues on all of our minds. But consider this. If someone were to break into your home – your place of security and well-being – and hold a scalpel to your throat with the intent to kill you, I suspect that you would in that moment become a single issue person. In that instant, everything would focus on the one question: What must I do to survive?” Everything else immediately becomes secondary. Many of the unborn are precisely in that situation. They cannot act in their own defense. You and I must.
Throughout the United States Catholic parishes have been praying The Novena for the Election, seeking God’s direction for our nation as Election Day approaches. In these final hours study, read, pray. As a faithful citizen, cast your vote. May the Holy Spirit guide all of us to act on consciences conformed to the will of God.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer
Bishop of Lexington