March 10, 2008
Three years ago, I wrote a column called “The Party Matters,” in which I stated, “Voters need to ask how much the election of a particular candidate will shift the balance of power between the parties, and what will happen when a particular party takes control. Voters should know the platform of the party and the official positions of party leadership on the same moral issues on which the individual candidate is evaluated…In short, the party matters.”
Some criticized these statements, complaining that they are partisan. Yet it is time to restate and reaffirm that Yes, the party matters.
This is one of the many elements of the moral evaluation of one’s vote. Morality deals with human actions, and voting is a human action. The first moral consideration, of course, is whether one votes at all. Voting is a moral duty, as the Church has affirmed multiple times.
Whether one’s actual voting choice is morally justified depends on a lot of other factors. After everything is considered, there may be multiple morally acceptable choices, In other cases, depending on who is on the ballot and what positions they take, the morally acceptable choices may be very limited.
The point is this. It is a key role of the Church to teach believers how to make moral decisions. The Church cannot fail in this responsibility simply because the topic touches on politics. On the contrary, as the Second Vatican Council stated, “At all times and in all places, the Church should have the true freedom to teach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task among men without hindrance, and to pass moral judgment even in matters relating to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it” (GS n. 76).
Yes, “even in matters relating to politics,” and even when the task of moral teaching appears to be partisan.
One of the aspects of evaluating the morality of an act is to consider its consequences. It’s pretty predictable what the consequences of driving through a red light are, and that’s a key moral factor in evaluating that act.
So with voting, the consequences are that a particular candidate as well as a particular party come into power. Some people don’t think about the consequences of a party taking power. We can either let them forget about it, or we can teach it.
To teach that “the party matters,” as an aspect of the moral evaluation of a vote, is not to endorse a particular party or candidate. Rather, it is to give the believer the tools necessary for a complete moral evaluation of the act they are about to carry out.
Whether in fact that moral evaluation causes them to embrace or reject a particular party is a conclusion the voter will arrive at. But if we are to teach moral principles only when they have no practical consequences, then we render the Church irrelevant. And that certainly is not an option.
Fr. Frank Pavone, M.E.V.