San Diego Bishop: Clergy Shouldn’t Tell You How to Vote

News: US News
by Stefan Farrar  •  •  November 4, 2016   

Liberal bishop stresses primacy of conscience

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SAN DIEGO ( - A Catholic bishop is saying clergy should refrain from telling the faithful how to vote. Bishop Robert McElroy of the diocese of San Diego, California gave an address at the University of San Diego Tuesday, November 1, at the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, in which he urged clergy not to explicitly guide Catholics on how to vote.

"I speak to you tonight as a bishop who is part of a long tradition in Catholic episcopal leadership in the United States which holds that both the Church and society are best served when bishops refrain from publicly endorsing or favoring, either directly or indirectly, specific candidates in partisan elections," McElroy said.

"This tradition stretches back to John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States," he continued. "It is reflected in the consistent practice of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which issues its moral principles for guidance in presidential elections a full year before the elections itself, so as to ensure that the bishops will not be seen as tailoring their teachings to favor particular candidates."

He went on to hammer a favorite theme of his: the primacy of conscience.

It is a core teaching of Catholic ecclesiology that the sanctification of the world falls primarily to lay women and men. And it is a core teaching of Catholic moral theology that it is deeply within the conscience of the individual believer that key moral decisions must be made. The foundational assertion of democracy is that the average citizen is best equipped to guide society through electoral choice. The corollary within Catholic teaching which supports the democratic impulse is the proposition that in discerning which candidate will best advance the common good, the prudential decision of each citizen remains paramount.

Just the day before, at the conclusion of the San Diego diocese's synod, whose purpose was to implement the Pope's apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," McElroy had also stressed the primacy of conscience during his Sunday homily, going so far as to say that sometimes "God is asking me to do the opposite" of Church teaching.

"Many Catholics tend to think of our moral life as being rule-oriented," McElroy had said. "Rules are important primarily as a check on rationalization. The real core of Catholic teaching is and always was a decision of conscience."

"Our rules are not universalized in that they are meant to be guides in a great majority of circumstances," he went on. "It's in major decisions in our lives that conscience can be helpful."

McElroy has also criticized voters' guides that urge Catholics to vote based on intrinsic evils, a method, he claims, that doesn't take into account the whole picture.

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McElroy's voting advice stands in stark contrast with other more outspoken bishops who have emphasized the absolute pre-eminence of the right to life when it comes to voting. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the diocese of Springfield, Illinois said, "Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidates for president and vice president, respectively, both hold stridently aggressive positions that promote intrinsically evil acts such as legal abortion and redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning."

He even went on to say, "People who vote for pro-abortion candidates are co-operators in evil."

Archbishoph Joseph Naumann of the diocese of Kansas City, Kansas has also criticized vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine for his pro-abortion stance. "Finally, be wary of candidates who assume to take upon themselves the role of defining what Catholics believe or should believe," Naumann warned.

"Unfortunately, the vice-presidential debate revealed that the Catholic running for the second highest office in our land is an orthodox member of his party, fully embracing his party's platform, but a cafeteria Catholic, picking and choosing the teachings of the Catholic Church that are politically convenient," he added.

In a different statement, McElroy reiterated his unwillingness to discuss intrinsic evils in guiding the faithful on how to vote.

Let me stress again that while we have a moral role to play in explaining how Catholic teaching relates to certain public policy issues, we must not and will not endorse specific candidates, use parish media or bulletins to favor candidates or parties through veiled language about selectively chosen issues, or engage in partisan political activity of any kind.


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