Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This pro-life month of October is a good time for me to offer the following reflections. To be a bishop is to be a teacher, offering principles to help Catholics form their consciences as they fulfill their duty as citizens to vote. The following guidelines are intended for educational purposes only. This is not intended to endorse or oppose any particular candidate or political party, though it does oppose Proposal 2, the destructive constitutional amendment allowing unlimited research on live human embryos, which appears on this fall’s ballot. It is my hope that these principles will show how human reason and our Catholic faith shape our thinking, choosing and acting in daily life.
THE DUTY TO VOTE • Catholics have the same rights and duties as other citizens, but are called to carry them out not according to worldly standards, but in the light of the truth of faith and human reason. • In a democratic society, citizens vote on proposals and elect candidates for the common good. These choices can significantly affect many lives, especially the lives of the most vulnerable persons in society, such as young human embryos, children in the womb and those who are terminally ill. Therefore, Catholic citizens have a serious moral obligation to exercise their right to vote. What is more, we have a duty to vote guided by a well-formed conscience.
FORMATION OF CONSCIENCE • Conscience is the means by which we discern the law “written” by God on our hearts that disposes us to love and to do good and avoid evil (cf. Romans 2:12-16). We have a serious duty to follow our consciences. To act against the judgment of conscience when it is certain about what is good and evil has the same seriousness as disobeying God. However, it is important to remember that it is possible for our conscience to be wrongly formed regarding what is good and evil. • For this reason, we have an equally serious duty to form or teach our consciences properly so that we can judge what is good and evil accurately. We are obliged to seek the truth and then to abide by it. Catholics receive direction in this life-long process from the teachings of the church on matters pertaining to faith and morals. We rely on the help of the Holy Spirit to apply these teachings to particular issues.
AREAS OF PRUDENTIAL JUDGMENT • In some moral matters, the use of reason allows for legitimate diversity in our individual prudential judgments. Within certain parameters, Catholic voters may differ, for example, on what constitutes the best immigration or health care or housing policies. Catholics may even have differing judgments on the decision to wage a just war. Therefore, because these prudential judgments do not involve the direct choice of something evil and take into consideration various goods, it is possible for Catholic voters to arrive at different, even opposing, views.
FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES • Notwithstanding a possible diversity of prudential judgments, each of us should guide our decision making on all issues with a fundamental respect for the dignity of every human being from the moment of conception to natural death. This is a non-negotiable principle. It is the foundation for a just society and of Catholic social teaching. Respect for human dignity is the basis for the fundamental right to life. It is also the basis for all those things needed to live with dignity – for example, work, fair wages, food, shelter, education, health care, security and migration. But these other basic human needs lose all meaning and purpose if the fundamental right to life – the right to exist – is denied. Because of respect for the dignity of the human person, Catholics are obliged to come to the aid and defense of the defenseless, especially the poor. Another guiding principle is the defense and promotion of marriage as the lifelong bond between one man and one woman for the building up of family life.
SOME THINGS ARE ALWAYS EVIL • A correct conscience recognizes that there are some choices that always involve doing evil and that can never be done even as a means to achieve a good end. These choices include elective abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, destruction of young human embryos, human cloning and same-sex “marriage.” Such acts are judged to be intrinsically evil; that is, evil in and of themselves, regardless of the motives of those who promote these ideas. They constitute an attack against innocent human life, as well as against the very nature of marriage and family. • Other examples of choices that always involve doing evil would be racial discrimination and the production and use of pornography. These actions offend the fundamental dignity of the human person. • Concerning choices that are intrinsically evil, no one with a well-formed conscience, especially a Catholic, may promote or even remain indifferent to them.
HUMAN EMBRYONIC STEM CELL PROPOSAL • Currently, successful scientific research is being done on adult stem cells, which the church supports and encourages because this scientific work does not involve the killing of young humans in the embryonic stage. However, on the ballot this fall in Michigan, Proposal 2 would encourage the killing of human embryos. Even if a great good, such as the cure of diseases, could be achieved by this process, the good end or goal never justifies a deliberate attack on innocent human life. In addition, this proposal is too open-ended. The last clause reads: “Prohibits state and local laws that prevent, restrict, or discourage stem cell research, future therapies, or cures.” It is unimaginable to put into our state constitution a ban on the ability of the legislature or local governments to place any controls on this or any other industry. Proposal 2 goes too far. It could allow researchers to do all kinds of experiments on embryos and on genes. No one, with a well-formed conscience, can vote for such a proposal. We simply must find other ways, such as adult stem-cell research, to reach these good goals.
VOTING FOR CANDIDATES • In light of the above, we would commit moral evil if we were to vote for a candidate who takes a permissive stand on those actions that are intrinsically evil when there is a morally acceptable alternative. What are we to do, though, when there is no such alternative? • Because we have a moral obligation to vote, deciding not to vote at all is not ordinarily an acceptable solution to this dilemma. So, when there is no choice of a candidate that avoids supporting intrinsically evil actions, especially elective abortion or embryonic stem-cell research, we should vote in such a way as to allow the least harm to innocent human life and dignity. We would not be acting immorally, therefore, if we were to vote for a candidate whose positions on these issues are not totally acceptable in order to defeat one who poses an even greater threat to human life and dignity.
VOTING IS A MORAL ACT • Our duty is to vote in keeping with a conscience properly formed by fundamental moral principles. As your bishop, I am not telling you to vote for or against any candidate. Rather, I wish to assist in the forming of correct consciences and to invite a consideration of the issues in the light of these fundamental moral principles. In this month of October, may Our Lady of the Holy Rosary guide us to fulfill our duty in good conscience.
Sincerely yours in Christ,