Who Should Catholics Vote for?

With the US presidential election drawing nearer, it seems appropriate to address who a Catholic in good standing can or cannot vote for. Regarding this issue, Church guidelines fall under two categories: preferably not, and absolutely not. That is to say, there are some political issues which the Catholic Church regards as less important than others, and so, if the good policies of a candidate outweigh the bad in the “preferably not” category, a Catholic is free to vote for them, if there is no better alternative. But, if any given candidate has a policy falling into the category of “absolutely not,” the only scenario in which a Catholic may vote for them is one in which the alternative candidates support even worse violations of morality within this category. Let us examine these categories further.

Now, we will first take a look at the “absolutely not’s,” because these are far fewer in number and, hence, easily enumerated. In the document Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council had this to say on the matter [1], being quoted directly by P St John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae [2]:

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.

Thus, whichever candidates support any of the above, can not be endorsed by Catholics (that is, if there are any viable alternative candidates who do not support the above); however, if all candidates support one or more of the things listed above, Catholics are to regrettably vote for whichever one endorses the least amount of intrinsic evils on the list. For example, a candidate who is questionably a supporter of arbitrary deportation (eg Donald Trump), is preferable to a candidate avidly supporting abortion, euthanasia, and self-mutilation (eg Hillary Clinton). And given the choice between the two, a Catholic can not morally vote in favor of the candidate who supports more abundant and greater evils—end of story.

In regards to the “preferably not’s,” these include the support of any explicit legal endorsements in favor of immoral actions which are not listed in the above “absolutely not’s,” such as divorce, sodomy, etc. A candidate who supports all of the “preferably not” issues, but none of the “absolutely not” issues, is preferable to a candidate who supports even just one “absolutely not” issue.

To summarize, a Catholic must ask the following questions when deciding who to vote for:

  • Which viable candidates support no “absolutely not” issues—and if there are any, which of them supports the least amount of “preferably not” issues?
  • If every viable candidate supports an “absolutely not” issue, which of them supports the least in number and severity?

Works Cited
[1] Catholic Church. Gaudium et Spes, ¶27
[2] P St John Paul II. Evangelium Vitae, ¶3

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4 thoughts on “Who Should Catholics Vote for?

  1. I’m a little doubtful of your argument. I don’t think it’s the case that Catholics are forbidden to vote for a candidate who advocates things that are intrinsically evil. A vote is a prudential matter, and any number of factors may be considered in the decision. What is forbidden, in my understanding, is voting for someone specifically *because* of something intrinsically evil. So, you may vote for a pro-abortion candidate for reasons other than his pro-abortion stance; but you may not vote for him *because* he’s pro-abortion.

    One reason this makes sense to me, is that the policy the candidate supports involving something intrinsically evil, may be something that has no chance of being passed into law, or something the candidate will have no power to effect due to the limitations of his office; or he may have power to effect it only indirectly. Thus, if someone running for dog-catcher is pro-abortion, one may vote for him with a clear conscience since his office will have nothing to do with abortion.

    Granted, a president can appoint Supreme Court justices, who may eventually be called upon to rule on cases involving abortion law. But this gives the president the power to affect abortion law only in an indirect manner, since a number of things could prevent the president’s choice of justices from having any effect on abortion policy. For example, a particular justice might not be confirmed by the Senate, forcing the president to choose a more moderate candidate; cases involving abortion law might not happen to arise during the justice’s tenure; or if they do arise, they may have only a minor effect on existing abortion law; or even if they have a major effect on abortion law, he may be out-voted in his rulings by his colleagues on the bench. Thus, a vote for a pro-abortion candidate for president is not necessarily a vote for laws favorable to abortion.

    Obviously it’s preferable to vote for an anti-abortion candidate, all other things being equal. But since all other things are seldom equal, each individual Catholic has the right to weigh the various factors favoring each candidate — one candidate may be pro-abortion but otherwise reasonable and intelligent, whereas the other candidate may be anti-abortion but stupid and incompetent — and make up his mind in accordance with his best judgment.

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    1. The USCCB document entitled “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which serves to clarify the political freedom of Catholics, tells us the following:

      A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.

      Hence, the question isn’t whether or not one is voting for a candidate due to their policies which are not evil, but whether a candidate supports even a single intrinsic evil in their policies at all. Moreover, the USCCB again calls to attention abortion specifically—that it is mentioned by name without fail in so many documents on the issue (not to mention that Canon Law charges the recipients of abortion with an automatic excommunication), makes it clear this political issue has more far more weight than any other. And to vote for a candidate who supports abortion, when there is any alternative, is to be willfully complicit in the promotion of an intrinsic evil, and hence is itself sinful. Meanwhile, while a candidate may be incompetent, should their policies exempt intrinsic evil, they are to be preferred—the issues which pertain to purely efficient governance (eg the competency of a candidate) do not, under any circumstances in any way, outweigh the issues directly regarding morality. The moral realm of politics, which pertains to the health of the soul, carries infinitely more weight than the realm of material efficiency in politics, which pertains only to the health of the body.

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  2. Vote for the poor, the poor. Neither Trump nor Hillary are poor, thus do not vote for either.

    Seriously, voting for a lesser of two evils is still voting for an evil. Most Catholics will vote for Hillary.

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  3. Since the Protestants has dropped the understanding that venial and mortal sins exist, we must use an analogy which might make sense to non-Catholics.

    It’s not a perfect analogy, but bear with me. The “absolutely nots” are like technical fouls in basketball except that one disqualifies a candidate immediately. The “preferably nots” are like personal fouls except that there isn’t a limit if no technical fouls are committed

    With the presence of a viable alternative (albeit not the best, but still permissible in Trump), a practicing Catholic cannot vote for Hillary unless she were running against someone like Biden, Pelosi etc. — at which time all heck will have broken loose anyway.

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