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With the presidential election and other important choices just weeks away, Catholics from several parishes in the archdiocese met at St. Dunstan Church in Millbrae Oct. 13 to explore that question.

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The Catholic voter: Conscience and the common good
October 23rd, 2012
By Dana Perrigan

Parishioners discuss freedoms, responsibilities of Catholic citizenship

How should Catholics vote?

With the presidential election looming closer with each passing day, the question grows increasingly urgent. In an effort to answer it, a group of 60 or so Catholics from parishes throughout the Archdiocese of San Francisco – led by Auxiliary Bishop Robert W. McElroy – gathered Oct. 13 at St. Dunstan Church in Millbrae for a parish forum called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

Organized by the St. Dunstan Social Awareness Committee, the forum was named after a document prepared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help Catholics make political decisions based upon their faith.

“As Catholics, we’re faced with the central question: What does our faith tell us about our approach to very difficult questions as we prepare to vote?” Bishop McElroy asked those seated in the auditorium.

Throughout his presentation, the bishop outlined the principles Catholics should consider when deciding how to cast their votes.

It is necessary, he said, to put aside self-interest in favor of the common good. It is important to know and apply Catholic social justice principles to the issues and candidates: the right to life and the dignity of the human person; the enhancement of family life; human rights – especially the sustaining rights of food, clothing, shelter and health care; the option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and caring for God’s creation.

Contrary to what some believe, said the bishop, the church does not teach that Catholics must cast their votes based solely on a candidate’s stand on abortion. While that issue should be considered pre-eminent, the other issues can also be taken into consideration.

“This is really the hard call for us as Christians,” Bishop McElroy told the group.

Catholics should also consider if a candidate can or will do what they promise, he said.

While the church may take a stand on an issue, he said, it is not affiliated with any particular party and it does not endorse candidates. Because Catholic issues split both parties, it is of the utmost importance for Catholics to listen to and obey their consciences.

“It is God speaking to us at the core of our being,” he said. “It is the sacred space within the heart that is in conversation with God.”

It is therefore the task of every Christian, he said, to undertake the lifelong task of forming his or her conscience. The church esteems conscience so highly, that a person with an informed conscience is called upon to obey it – even if it conflicts with church teaching.

The bishop warned, however, to be on guard against rationalization and the “illusion of conscience.”

In a follow-up interview, Bishop McElroy stressed that a properly informed Catholic conscience must not only avoid rationalizing a pre-determined choice but also must give a presumption to the teaching of the church.

Bishop McElroy said politics in the United States had become so divisive that it was now “tribal.”

“I believe we really look at politics now like sports,” said Bishop McElroy, who has a doctorate in political science. “That’s corrosive. It’s very alluring, but it’s not how the church calls us to look upon citizenship.”

A lot of people, he said, are so turned off by politics that they have given up voting.

“The moral call is to participate,” he said. “The life of a disciple of Christ is to make things better, and that’s true for us as voters.”

Following the bishop’s presentation, those in attendance broke up into discussion groups.

“Honestly, I’m not as knowledgeable as I would like to be on the issues,” said Pearce Ekel, a 25-year-old parishioner at All Souls Parish in South San Francisco. “I came here to learn how to approach it from the Catholic perspective.”

“You have the candidates and what they’re saying,” said Barbara Penner, a parishioner at St. Dunstan. “But what’s the most important thing to consider? I thought he (Bishop McElroy) gave clarification on how to consider the candidates and issues.”

“It did give me some insight on how to look at the issues,” agreed Jack Cardon, who also belongs to St. Dunstan. “But you roll the dice with some of these guys.”

“A lot of Catholics have assumed positions they don’t really understand,” said Phil Begin, a facilitator of the St. Dunstan Social Awareness Committee that sponsored the forum. “The church wants you to work it out. The store-bought conscience doesn’t work. You have to make it from scratch.”

“It all comes down to listening to the Holy Spirit,” said Stephanie Capodanno, also from St. Dunstan. “I thought he (the bishop) was showing us how to really evaluate and see what is best for our country and for the world.”

“I thought it was interesting what he said about how our two parties have become tribal,” said Theresa Wills, a teacher at St. Charles Borremeo School in San Carlos. “And I think he was able to make really large issues clear and succinct.”



From October 26, 2012 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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