From the Bishops Voting, conscience go together

My dear friends,

As you might have noticed, election season is upon us. Candidates are debating, pollsters are predicting and columnists are commenting.

Everyone is focused on the so-called “horse race,” especially during a year when so many candidates are running from each party and no one seems to have an advantage.

The bishops have jumped into the fray, too, but not by throwing their support to any individual candidate. Instead, back in November, we issued “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” an updated version of a document we have been issuing every four years since 1976.

The goal of our “faithful citizenship” campaign is to help Catholic voters make informed choices at the voting booth. Our basic premise is that voting is the responsibility of every citizen, an obligation that must be taken seriously in a democratic society. That responsibility becomes all the more serious given the moral implications of many of the issues facing our nation today.

As teachers of the faith, we believe it is our responsibility to talk about these issues, to explain what the church teaches and why, and to help Catholics form their own consciences in preparation for voting.

The term “forming consciences” means that Catholics have studied and understood the church’s teachings, rather than merely reacted to what the media has reported or others have said.

Similarly, voters should study the various candidates’ records, what they have said about these issues and how they have voted on them in the past. Elections should not be decided by who looks better on TV or whose last name sounds more familiar.

Voting according to one’s conscience would be so much simpler if candidates’ positions on each and every issue were in accordance with the moral teaching of the church.

Unfortunately, that has not been true in any election as far back as I can remember. In 2008, a candidate who pushes draconian measures against illegal immigrants might be pro-life; another who is for the death penalty might be a staunch supporter of legislation aimed at helping the poor.

For whom should you vote? The bishops will not tell you. We do not support or oppose any particular candidate. What we do say is that you must consider a candidate’s positions on a wide range of moral issues, some of which are fundamental to our natural rights as children of God’s creation. You should seek to know what the church teaches about these issues and why. Then make the best decision possible in keeping with your conscience.

“Faithful Citizenship” is not a difficult document to read. But the bishops are so convinced of its importance that we have asked that it be broken down into a format that can be published in parish bulletins in the weeks before the November election.

Right now, the document is available online at, the U.S. bishops’ Web site, or, the Web site of the Florida Catholic Conference. Our staff in Tallahassee has even developed a three-part series — “Considerations Before Heading to the Polls” — that talks about why it is necessary to form our consciences and offers tips for how to go about it.

As we vote now in the primaries and prepare to vote this November in the presidential election, I urge all the people of the archdiocese to read the bishops’ document on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and take to heart what is said there.

The orginal column can be found at Florida Catholic.

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