Catholic voters must demand respect for their moral convictions and the Church's freedom in 2012 and beyond, the head of the Knights of Columbus said in a June 22 speech.

The faithful "must have the courage to act boldly," by insisting that candidates "respect the integrity and mission of the Catholic Church and its institutions," Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson told journalists gathered for the 2012 Catholic Media Conference in Indianapolis.

As they cast their votes, Catholics "must have the courage to tell candidates that if they want Catholic votes they will have to respect the fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching," the head of the Catholic fraternal order said.

Anderson said the faithful should seek to "debate and vote on the full range of Catholic social teaching – including prudential issues that raise serious moral questions."

But this can only be accomplished if Church members stop supporting "candidates who advocate policies that are intrinsically evil."

Only by withholding the vote from unacceptable candidates, will Catholics eventually become able to "choose between candidates who are in agreement on the fundamental social teaching of the Church."

The Supreme Knight began his address on Friday evening by acknowledging the "sad state of today's political environment," characterized by "the intransigence and the partisanship" that "make the search for solutions virtually impossible."

Catholics, he said, "are uniquely positioned to offer a solution" to this dilemma, through fidelity to the Church's teachings.

This transformation, Anderson suggested, requires a commitment to civility in the discussion of controversial issues. Since Christians hope for the salvation even of their "most strident adversaries," they must seek "the conversion, not the destruction" of political opponents.

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Catholics can also change American society by implementing the Church's vision of charity, which is "not simply a mechanism for the more efficient or cost-effective delivery of social services." Rather, it is rooted in the value of solidarity, "the Christian vision that we are our brother's keeper."

Alongside these commitments to civility and charity, Anderson called on U.S. Catholics to make a "consistent commitment to the social teaching of our Church" for the good of the nation.

The Supreme Knight, who was directly involved in national politics during the 1970s and 1980s, recounted his decision to leave the Reagan administration "to serve a higher calling and to promote key elements of Catholic social teaching beyond the political realm."

"As I told President Reagan then," he recalled, "I believed these issues could not simply be limited to – or dismissed as – the domain of a single political party."

During the 1980s, however, key principles of Church teaching were abandoned by a generation of Catholic politicians – beginning with former New York Governor Mario Cuomo – who proclaimed themselves "personally opposed" to abortion, but unwilling to restrict it in law.

But Cuomo's argument, Anderson noted, had a "fatal flaw," since science proved the full humanity of the unborn child "irrespective of one's religious conviction." The pro-life movement did not seek to impose religion, but to extend the protection of innocent life found in "every civilized society."

Nonetheless, the "Cuomo doctrine" spawned "a generation of 'pro-choice' Catholic politicians." The result, according to the Supreme Knight, "has been a political stalemate on the abortion issue for nearly three decades."

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"But there was also another effect," he said. "Governor Cuomo's rationale created an environment in which it became easier for candidates to dismiss other principles of Catholic social teaching."

"So every election year many Catholic voters see their choice as between the lesser of two evils. They face candidates who argue that while they may not be consistent with Catholic values on all issues, they are consistent on some and that should be good enough. But it is not good enough."

"And as bad as this situation is, it has produced an even worse result. It has blocked the potential of Catholic social teaching to transform our nation's politics."

America's political parties have been dramatically transformed in the past, Anderson noted, as in the case of the Democratic Party's rejection of segregation during the 1960s.

At present, he suggested, a similar change in American politics is not just possible, but necessary.

The supposed "truce" between Catholics and a hostile culture – brokered by Cuomo and other "personally opposed" politicians – has been shattered by the Obama administration, Anderson said.

"This year many Catholics sense that this 'peaceful co-existence' with secular culture has ended as a result of the HHS mandate," the Supreme Knight said, pointing to the federal rule forcing virtually all employers to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs in their health plans.

The mandate threatens "the autonomy and the integrity of our Church and its institutions," and could "dramatically change the mission of the Catholic Church in the United States."

For this reason, the contraception mandate "confronts us with a challenge which is a very different one from that of social issues such as legalized abortion. It is different because it is a challenge to the integrity of our Catholic institutions and our own lives as Catholics."

While the abortion issue raises questions about Catholics' public policy choices, the mandate dispute involves a more direct threat to the Church – through the "re-definition of religion itself and the reduction of the role of religion in America's public square."

In light of this threat from the HHS Mandate, Anderson said, Catholic voters  "should no longer accept politics as usual."

"Catholic voters should insist that candidates measure their political platforms by Catholic social teaching – especially if those candidates are Catholics," the Supreme Knight declared.

"Catholic voters should have the courage not to settle for anything less than this. And they should have the courage to withhold their vote from candidates who fail this test," he advised.

The Supreme Knight urged the faithful to consult the U.S. bishops' "Faithful Citizenship" document, which "tells us that there are some actions that are intrinsically evil and must always be opposed."

Having formed their consciences according to these non-negotiable principles, Anderson said, Catholics must "exercise our right to vote on our own terms, as Catholics, and not on the terms of others."

"If we do, America will be a better place. I believe that as Americans and as Catholics, you and I have a responsibility to try and make this happen."