Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics
Copyright © 2004, Catholic Answers.
All Rights Reserved.
HOW THIS VOTER’S GUIDE HELPS YOU
This voter’s guide helps you cast your vote in an informed manner
consistent with Catholic moral teaching. It helps you avoid choosing candidates
who endorse policies that cannot be reconciled with moral norms that used to be
held by all Christians.
On most issues that come before voters or legislators, the task is selecting
the most effective strategy among several morally good options. A Catholic can
take one side or the other and not act contrary to the faith. Most matters do
not have a "Catholic position."
But some issues concern "non-negotiable" moral principles that do not admit
of exception or compromise. One’s position either accords with those principles
or does not. No one endorsing the wrong side of these issues can be said to act
in accord with the Church’s moral norms.
This voter’s guide identifies five issues involving "non-negotiable" moral
values in current politics and helps you narrow down the list of acceptable
candidates, whether they are running for national, state, or local offices.
You should avoid to the greatest extent possible voting for candidates who
endorse or promote intrinsically evil policies. As far as possible, you should
vote for those who promote policies in line with the moral law.
In many elections there are situations where all of the available candidates
take morally unacceptable positions on one or more of the "non-negotiable"
In such situations, a citizen will be called upon to make tough choices. In
those cases, citizens must vote in the way that will most limit the harm that
would be done by the available candidates.
In this guide we will look first at the principles that should be applied in
clear-cut races where there is an unambiguously good moral choice. These same
principles help lay the groundwork for what to do in situations that are more
Knowing the principles that are applied in ideal situations is useful when
facing problematic ones, so as you review the principles you should keep in mind
that they often must be applied in situations where the choice is more
difficult. At the end of the guide we will offer practical advice about how to
decide to cast your vote in those cases.
YOUR ROLE AS A CATHOLIC VOTER
Catholics have a moral obligation to promote the common good through the
exercise of their voting privileges (cf. CCC 2240). It is not just civil
authorities who have responsibility for a country. "Service of the common good
require[s] citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political
community" (CCC 2239). This means citizens should participate in the political
process at the ballot box.
But voting cannot be arbitrary. "A well-formed Christian conscience does not
permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law that contradicts
the fundamental contents of faith and morals" (CPL 4). A citizen’s vote most
often means voting for a candidate who will be the one directly voting on laws
or programs. But being one step removed from law-making doesn’t let citizens off
the hook, since morality requires that we avoid doing evil to the greatest
extent possible, even indirectly.
Some things are always wrong, and no one may deliberately vote in favor of
them. Legislators, who have a direct vote, may not support these evils in
legislation or programs. Citizens support these evils indirectly if they vote in
favor of candidates who propose to advance them. Thus, to the greatest extent
possible, Catholics must avoid voting for any candidate who intends to support
programs or laws that are intrinsically evil. When all of the candidates endorse
morally harmful policies, citizens must vote in a way that will limit the harm
likely to be done.
These five current issues concern actions that are intrinsically evil and
must never be promoted by the law. Intrinsically evil actions are those that
fundamentally conflict with the moral law and can never be deliberately
performed under any circumstances. It is a serious sin to deliberately endorse
or promote any of these actions, and no candidate who really wants to advance
the common good will support any action contrary to the non-negotiable
principles involved in these issues.
The Church teaches that, regarding a law permitting abortions, it is
"never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of
such a law, or to vote for it" (EV 73). Abortion is the intentional and direct
killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide.
The unborn child is always an innocent party, and no law may permit the
taking of his life. Even when a child is conceived through rape or incest, the
fault is not the child’s, who should not suffer death for others’ sins.
Often disguised by the name "mercy killing," euthanasia is also a form of
homicide. No person has a right to take his own life, and no one has the right
to take the life of any innocent person.
In euthanasia, the ill or elderly are killed, by action or omission, out of a
misplaced sense of compassion, but true compassion cannot include intentionally
doing something intrinsically evil to another person (cf. EV 73).
3. Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Human embryos are human beings. "Respect for the dignity of the human
being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human
embryo" (CRF 4b).
Recent scientific advances show that often medical treatments that
researchers hope to develop from experimentation on embryonic stem cells can be
developed by using adult stem cells instead. Adult stem cells can be obtained
without doing harm to the adults from whom they come. Thus there is no valid
medical argument in favor of using embryonic stem cells. And even if there were
benefits to be had from such experiments, they would not justify destroying
innocent embryonic humans.
4. Human Cloning
"Attempts . . . for obtaining a human being without any connection with
sexuality through ‘twin fission,’ cloning, or parthenogenesis are to be
considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the
dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union" (RHL I:6).
Human cloning also involves abortion because the "rejected" or "unsuccessful"
embryonic clones are destroyed, yet each clone is a human being.
5. Homosexual "Marriage"
True marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Legal recognition of
any other union as "marriage" undermines true marriage, and legal recognition of
homosexual unions actually does homosexual persons a disfavor by encouraging
them to persist in what is an objectively immoral arrangement.
"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is
proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has
a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against
it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral"
WHICH POLITICAL OFFICES SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT?
Laws are passed by the legislature, enforced by the executive branch, and
interpreted by the judiciary. This means you should scrutinize any candidate for
the legislature, anyone running for an executive office, and anyone nominated
for the bench. This is true not only at the national level but also at the state
and local levels.
True, the lesser the office, the less likely the office holder will take up
certain issues. Your city council, for example, perhaps will never take up the
issue of human cloning but may take up issues connected with abortion clinics.
It is important that you evaluate candidates in light of each non-negotiable
moral issue that will come before them in the offices they are seeking.
Few people achieve high office without first holding a lower office. Some
people become congressional representatives, senators, or presidents without
having been elected to a lesser office. But most representatives, senators, and
presidents started their political careers at the local level. The same is true
for state lawmakers. Most of them began on city councils and school boards and
worked their way up the political ladder.
Tomorrow’s candidates for higher offices will come mainly from today’s
candidates for lower offices. It is therefore prudent to apply comparable
standards to local candidates. One should seek to elect to lower offices
candidates who support Christian morality so that they will have a greater
ability to be elected to higher offices where their moral stances may come
directly into play.
HOW TO DETERMINE A CANDIDATE’S POSITION
1. The higher the office, the easier this will be. Congressional
representatives and senators, for example, repeatedly have seen these issues
come before them and so have taken positions on them. Often the same can be said
at the state level. In either case, learning a candidate’s position can be as
easy as reading newspaper or magazine articles, looking up his views on the
Internet, or studying one of the many printed candidate surveys that are
distributed at election time.
2. It is often more difficult to learn the views of candidates for local
offices because few of them have an opportunity to consider legislation on such
things as abortion, cloning, and the sanctity of marriage. But these candidates,
being local, often can be contacted directly or have local campaign offices that
will explain their positions.
3. If you cannot determine a candidate’s views by other means, do not
hesitate to write directly to the candidate, asking for his position on the
issues covered above.
HOW NOT TO VOTE
1. Do not vote based just on your political party affiliation, your
earlier voting habits, or your family’s voting tradition. Years ago, these may
have been trustworthy ways to determine whom to vote for, but today they are
often not reliable. You need to look at the stands each candidate takes. This
means that you may end up casting votes for candidates from more than one party.
2. Do not cast your vote based on candidates’ appearance, personality, or
"media savvy." Some attractive, engaging, and "sound-bite-capable" candidates
endorse intrinsic evils, while other candidates, who may be plain-looking,
uninspiring, and ill at ease in front of cameras, endorse legislation in accord
with basic Christian principles.
3. Do not vote for candidates simply because they declare themselves to be
Catholic. Unfortunately, many self-described Catholic candidates reject basic
Catholic moral teaching.
4. Do not choose among candidates based on "What’s in it for me?" Make your
decision based on which candidates seem most likely to promote the common good,
even if you will not benefit directly or immediately from the legislation they
5. Do not vote for candidates who are right on lesser issues but will vote
wrongly on key moral issues. One candidate may have a record of voting in line
with Catholic values except for, say, euthanasia. Such a voting record is a
clear signal that the candidate should not be chosen by a Catholic voter unless
the other candidates have voting records even less in accord with these moral
HOW TO VOTE
1. For each office, first determine how each candidate stands on each of
the issues that will come before him and involve non-negotiable principles.
2. Rank the candidates according to how well their positions align with these
non-negotiable moral principles.
3. Give preference to candidates who do not propose positions that contradict
4. Where every candidate endorses positions contrary to non-negotiable
principles, choose the candidate likely to do the least harm. If several are
equal, evaluate them based on their views on other, lesser issues.
5. Remember that your vote today may affect the offices a candidate later
WHEN THERE IS NO "ACCEPTABLE" CANDIDATE
In some political races, each candidate takes a wrong position on one or
more issues involving non-negotiable moral principles. In such a case you may
vote for the candidate who takes the fewest such positions or who seems least
likely to be able to advance immoral legislation, or you may choose to vote for
A vote cast in such a situation is not morally the same as a positive
endorsement for candidates, laws, or programs that promote intrinsic evils: It
is only tolerating a lesser evil to avoid an even greater evil. As Pope John
Paul II indicated regarding a situation where it is not possible to overturn or
completely defeat a law allowing abortion, "an elected official, whose absolute
personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support
proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening
its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public
morality"(EV 73; also CPL 4).
Catholics must strive to put in place candidates, laws, and political
programs that are in full accord with non-negotiable moral values. Where a
perfect candidate, law, or program is not on the table, we are to choose the
best option, the one that promotes the greatest good and entails the least evil.
Not voting may sometimes be the only moral course of action, but we must
consider whether not voting actually promotes good and limits evil in a specific
instance. The role of citizens and elected officials is to promote intrinsic
moral values as much as possible today while continuing to work toward better
candidates, laws, and programs in the future.
THE ROLE OF YOUR CONSCIENCE
Conscience is like an alarm. It warns you when you are about to do
something that you know is wrong. It does not itself determine what is right or
wrong. For your conscience to work properly, it must be properly informed—that
is, you must inform yourself about what is right and what is wrong. Only then
will your conscience be a trusted guide.
Unfortunately, today many Catholics have not formed their consciences
adequately regarding key moral issues. The result is that their consciences do
not "sound off" at appropriate times, including on Election Day.
A well-formed conscience will never contradict Catholic moral teaching. For
that reason, if you are unsure where your conscience is leading you when at the
ballot box, place your trust in the unwavering moral teachings of the Church.
(The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an excellent source of authentic
WHEN YOU ARE DONE WITH THIS VOTER’S GUIDE
Please do not keep this voter’s guide to yourself. Read it, learn from
it, and prepare your selection of candidates based on it. Then give this voter’s
guide to a friend, and ask your friend to read it and pass it on to others. The
more people who vote in accord with basic moral principles, the better off our
country will be.
CCC Catechism of the Catholic Church
CPL Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Notes on Some
Questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life
CRF Pontifical Council for the Family, Charter of the Rights of the Family
EV John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)
RHL Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for
Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation
UHP Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding
Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons