Most Rev. John Vlazny Archbishop Emeritus of Portland
It’s Leap Year. Not only do we have an extra day, Feb. 29, every Leap Year, we also have three significant summer occurrences that come around every Leap Year. The first just ended, the Summer Olympics, which were held in London this year, were a huge success. Fortunately I was on vacation during the Olympics and I saw much more than I typically would. The Brits were proud of themselves and deservedly so. We Americans were also proud of ourselves. Our young athletes were quite successful and all of us here in the archdiocese were especially proud of Central Catholic grad, Galen Rupp, who won the silver medal in the 10,000 meter race.
The other two events are coming up in the next two weeks. They are the national conventions of the two major political parties in this country. In the good old days these were the occasions for choosing nominees for national office. The choices have already been made so the conventions are opportunities for each party to showcase their nominees and to try to convince the voting public that their proposals for government are best for the nation. Eventually the voters will decide in November who will be our leaders. Preparing to vote is an important responsibility, just as important as voting itself. In these critical days we dare not take such responsibilities too lightly.
There is no political party that embraces the full gambit of Catholic social teaching. There are those who are unhappy with the church’s teachings about the gospel of life, the sacredness of marriage, the appropriateness of bringing ethics into consideration when dealing with human sexual activity. Others are displeased when the church talks about justice for immigrants or the importance of maintaining a safety net for the poor and needy of our nation. “The church is easy when we are hard and the church is hard when we are easy.” That’s how it was with Jesus. That’s how it is with the prophetic ministry of the church these days.
As we do look forward to the elections in November, first and foremost, I encourage every single Catholic who is of voting age to make sure he or she votes. It is not a difficult activity, especially here in Oregon, when we all can vote at our convenience by mail. We appropriately restrict the right to vote to citizens. Many non-citizens, who are significantly affected by the outcome of elections, would love to vote. Why in the world would anyone decide to let such a golden opportunity to have a say in promoting good governance go by the boards? Effective democracy requires responsibility on the part of all citizens. Christian discipleship demands that you and I fulfill our responsibilities as citizens of this land.
But preparing to vote is also very important. Many matters that are brought to a vote, in my judgment, probably don’t belong on the ballot. Too many of us remain uninformed and we make a guess about the way we should vote. But choosing our national leadership should never be a matter of guessing. We all have an opportunity to become acquainted with the major candidates and to learn their positions about current fundamental issues. There is no excuse for voting for someone simply because of a person’s appearance, eloquence or debatesmanship. “Gotcha” is a gimmick unworthy of good governance.
Many people have been complaining about the attack mode which major candidates seem to be adopting in recent political campaigns, including the current one. I myself am sometimes frustrated, but then I stop and think, “Well, sad but true, attack ads seem to work! Politicians are not dumb. They will speak to the electorate in terms that stir up visceral hostilities towards opposing candidates.” The prevailing philosophy seems to be that whatever works is legitimate, be it fair play or foul play. Let’s not criticize the politicians in this matter. Let’s look into our own hearts and see what it is that attracts us to what is negative and turns us away from making an honest appraisal of the positive proposals from all sides.
Every four years we bishops of the United States offer some guidelines for Catholics to help form their consciences when it comes to voting. The document is somewhat lengthy and pastors tell me very few people take the time to read it. As a result our Peace and Justice Office this year came up with a summary document that is both reader and voter friendly. If it hasn’t been made available in your parish by your pastor, please ask for a copy. It is also available online at the archdiocesan website.
In that document we stress some significant issues that are important topics in the present election. They are matters about which you ought to make sure you understand where every candidate stands, especially candidates for national office. They are as follows:
• Abortion and other threats to the lives and dignity of the vulnerable, sick or unwanted • Threats to religious freedom by efforts to force Catholic ministries – in health care, education and social services – to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need • Efforts to redefine marriage and enact messages which undermine marriage as the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman • The economic crisis which has devastated lives and livelihoods, increasing national and global unemployment, poverty, and hunger, increasing deficits and debt and the duty to respond in ways which protect those who are poor and vulnerable as well as future generations • War, terror and violence which raise serious moral questions on the use of force and its human and moral costs • A broken immigration system
In dealing with all these important matters, there are some things we must never do, acts that are intrinsically evil in themselves, such as the intentional taking of human life through abortion or assisted suicide. It is also totally inappropriate for a Catholic to be a single-issue voter. But when it comes to a candidate’s support for an action that involves an intrinsic evil, certainly this would legitimately lead a voter to disqualify such a candidate from receiving his or her support.
The coming months are important for the future of our nation and our world. Democracy will only work if all citizens take seriously their responsibility for choosing the right leaders and promoting justice and peace for everyone. The conventions these next two weeks sometimes come across as pure entertainment. For the wise and discerning voter, they are educational opportunities as we prepare to vote next November. Let’s pray every day in the coming months, much like Kate Smith did of old, “God Bless America.”