The process of electing, of making choices, has been with us from the very beginning, when the man and the woman were put to the choice of (a) rejecting God and seeking power for themselves by eating the fruit or (b) choosing to embrace God, who is Love and Truth, and rejecting the lie of relativism.
Similarly, in elections today, we are faced with a choice -- do we choose (1) that which is most consistent with authentic love and truth or (2) that which we believe will lead to the most power or personal gain?
As they have in years past, the bishops of Virginia have written a letter, Faithful Citizenship: On Election Day and the Other 364 Days, providing guidance and teaching in this area --
“Love God and love your neighbor.” That is what the Gospels and our own baptism call us to do in every situation. Whether at home, the office, the grocery store, the mall, or the movie theater, we make choices every day about how we live our faith.
Another arena where each of us is faced with the challenge of loving God and one another to the best of our ability is the public square. Participating in the political process is an integral part of who we are as people called to be faithful citizens – that is, Americans who practice civic virtue guided by their Catholic faith. But before engaging in such an important venture, we must first form our consciences thoughtfully, prayerfully, and correctly – just as an athlete practices thoroughly before entering an event. And the “venture” or “event” for which we are called to prepare ourselves is not merely the day of an election, although elections are certainly critical. Rather, exercising faithful citizenship means bringing our principles, guided by Gospel values, to bear on decisions that are shaped and made every day of every year.
As bishops, we do not tell Catholics for whom to vote. Our role is to teach, and the upcoming Election Day (November 2) provides a “teaching moment” for us to reflect on timeless truths in a timely way. It is the duty of each individual voter to receive the Church’s moral and social teachings with an open mind and heart and to make decisions by applying those teachings.
Unfortunately, the decisions we all must make are in the context of a culture that does not fully embrace our values. Party platforms are far from perfect; most candidates do not agree with the Church on every issue; and a candidate may support some aspects of the Catholic moral framework but not others. There are so many issues that require our attention:
- How can we build a culture of life when others propose abortion to deal with difficult pregnancies, euthanasia to address illness, embryo-destructive research to seek cures, and capital punishment to combat crime?
- How can our economy create more jobs?
- What assistance can be provided to people who cannot afford housing or health care?
- How can we protect the institution of marriage against efforts to redefine it?
- Can our nation’s broken immigration system be repaired?
- What can governments do to help parents, as primary educators, offer their children the best educational options?
- What are the best ways to achieve greater security and lasting peace in our region and our world?
Faced with these questions and so many more, it is essential to remember that not all issues have equal moral weight; we must be able to discern differences in moral gravity among them before we vote. While most issues debated in the public square are matters of prudential judgment about which people of goodwill can legitimately disagree (e.g., deciding on the best way to ensure access to health care), some practices permitted by government (and sometimes even funded with taxpayers’ money) are intrinsically evil – that is, always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. As the U.S. bishops’ statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (www.faithfulcitizenship.org) makes clear, “[T]he moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions.”
Among acts that are intrinsically evil, those that directly attack life itself are the foremost threats to human dignity. The right to life is the foundation upon which all other human rights are based and without which no other right could possibly exist. Therefore, violations of this right are more serious than any other human rights violation. And sometimes these violations occur with almost unimaginable frequency. Such is the case with abortion, which extinguishes the lives of nearly 4,000 children per day (and well over one million per year) in the United States alone.
It follows, then, that protecting life to the maximum degree possible should be our highest consideration when we vote. Many issues deserve our careful attention. When the issue is whether to protect or deny the fundamental right to life, however, it outweighs other matters.
The other 364 days
Once we vote, we are not free to “leave the scene” until the following November. When it comes to exercising civic responsibility, voting is just the tip of the iceberg. No matter who gets into office, he or she will be making decisions that determine whether families thrive or struggle, whether individuals are respected or exploited, and even whether people live or die. We must take an active role in influencing these debates throughout the year, especially by letting those who represent us know how we want them to vote on legislation they are considering.
To highlight the baptismal responsibility we all share to advocate for just policies throughout the year, we have instituted a statewide “Advocacy Sunday” campaign to boost enrollment in the Virginia Catholic Conference Email Advocacy Network. In an August 30th letter we sent to all parishes in our two dioceses, we encouraged every parish to conduct a sign-up drive for the Conference’s network during the weekend of November 13-14.
This network provides alerts about key respect-life, social-justice, and education bills being considered by the Virginia General Assembly and the U.S. Congress and provides an easy way (in under a minute) for participants to email their legislators before they vote for or against these bills. The staff of our Conference has repeatedly found that these very simple constituent messages to their representatives’ offices play a decisive role in outcomes, especially on close votes. Over the last several years, contacts to elected officials made by users of the Conference’s network have restricted state abortion funding, excluded embryonic stem-cell research from new state biotechnology programs, thwarted death-penalty expansions, and preserved policies to protect the mission and values of religious institutions that serve those most in need.
These communications – from constituents to those who represent them – have truly saved lives and improved the quality of life for the poorest and most vulnerable. But imagine just how much could be accomplished if many more of the hundreds of thousands of registered parishioners in our two dioceses participated in the Conference’s network. Surely, we could much better build a culture of life in our Commonwealth, much better assist the poorest and most vulnerable in our midst, and much better enhance family life and educational opportunities for our state’s children.
We renew our appeal to every Virginia parish to conduct a sign-up drive to expand the Virginia Catholic Conference Email Advocacy Network the weekend of November 13-14. Many parishes have ordered postcards provided by the Conference for use in this “Advocacy Sunday” campaign. If your parish has not ordered these postcards (designed to make the sign-up process as easy and effective as possible), the Conference’s website (www.vacatholic.org) contains an order form, as well as other materials that were previously mailed to parishes to facilitate these campaigns. These resources can all be accessed via the “Materials for Sign-Up Campaign” link, and we highly encourage their use. During the Conference’s Catholic Advocacy Day on January 27 (see Events link at www.vacatholic.org), we will personally present awards to representatives of the parishes whose sign-up drives yielded the best outcomes.
We also encourage individuals to volunteer at their parishes to help make these drives successful. And if you are not currently enrolled in the Conference’s network, we invite you to sign up, either during an “Advocacy Sunday” drive at your parish or in advance by visiting the Conference’s website, clicking the “Join the Network!” icon, and completing the short electronic form. In addition, please consider inviting others to join. Are there family members, friends, or coworkers who would be interested in advocating for just policies to protect human life, enhance human dignity, and advance the common good?
Importance of Prayer
We conclude by emphasizing the importance of prayer in forming our consciences as we prepare to vote whenever elections are held and to advocate for just policies on all 365 days of the year. Prayer should be our solid foundation in these activities, just as it should be in all of our endeavors. By opening our minds and our hearts to the Lord in the Eucharist and in our daily prayer lives, we enable Him to mold and fashion us into the faithful citizens He calls us to be.
As together we seek to participate faithfully in the political process as voters, advocates, and followers of Christ, let us pray for each other, for our Commonwealth, and for our country.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington
Most Reverend Francis X. DiLorenzo, Bishop of Richmond