Voting, ‘Gaudium et Spes’ and the Responsibility of Citizenship
Here we are with just one day left before the 2012 presidential election. It is important that we all contribute to the life of our society and recall that the responsibility of citizenship requires that all vote tomorrow. In order to prepare ourselves for this civic duty, it seemed a good idea to look briefly at what the Church’s teaching holds concerning voting and government. Because most of us fall under the category of the citizen who will cast a vote for those who serve in elected office, let’s begin with this succinct and clear reminder of our task at hand:
All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good (no. 75).
It can be frustrating to dwell on the imperfections of both sides of the US two-party system, realizing that neither candidate in a given race is perfect and each bears some responsibility — to greater or lesser degrees — for positions that do not align precisely with what Roman Catholics strive to affirm.
Nevertheless, we are called to recall not just our right, but our duty to use our free vote to “further the common good,” which extends beyond our limited partisan priorities and personal financial or social gains. Furthering the common good necessarily takes into consideration those who are discriminated against and marginalized, especially the poor and powerless.
Concerning individual property and its relationship to the common good, the Church teaches:
By its very nature private property has a social quality which is based on the law of the common destination of earthly goods. If this social quality is overlooked, property often becomes an occasion of passionate desires for wealth and serious disturbances, so that a pretext is given to the attackers for calling the right itself into question (no. 71).
There is always a responsibility tied between what we traditionally identify as the realm of private property and that which is necessary to secure the common good, the basic needs and conditions for human flourishing for all people. Nobody has the right to have excessive wealth and property while others face poverty and other threats to life and human dignity.
Concerning the role of the government in facilitating the flourishing of humanity and the promotion of the common good, the Church teaches:
The complex circumstances of our day make it necessary for public authority to intervene more often in social, economic and cultural matters in order to bring about favorable conditions which will give more effective help to citizens and groups in their free pursuit of [humanity’s] total well-being (no. 75).
Furthermore, there is a strong sense of what the Christian’s responsibility entails when it comes to the political life of one’s nation. The Church teaches that there are various public and civic vocations, including the legitimate exercise of public office, but that all members of a socio-economic community like the United States, for example, have a duty and responsibility to participate fully.
In a very succinct paragraph, the Second Vatican Council makes stark these concerns and presents a challenge to political parties (take note, Republicans and Democrats!!) as to what their respective roles are in the function of civil government.
All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good. In this way they are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with the solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity. They must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions, and respect citizens, who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods. Political parties, for their part, must promote those things which in their judgement are required for the common good; it is never allowable to give their interests priority over the common good (no. 75).
In what follows in the rest of Gaudium et Spes concerning the urgent needs of our age, the Church affirms the need for international cooperation, the value and need to sustain international communities of governance such as the United Nations, the collective responsibility to avoid war and promote peace, among other important issues.
All of these things should help to inform the consciences of Christians that take up their duty to vote tomorrow. There is no single issue that is the ultimate determiner for a Catholic Christian to judge a candidate, instead there are a panoply of concerns, issues, goals, and responsibilities that must all converge to inform the political action of the citizenry.
There is no higher teaching in the Roman Catholic Church than that which is promulgated by an Ecumenical Council such as Vatican II. Gaudium et Spes, as it concerns politics, government, and voting must be taken with the utmost seriousness and regarded before any claims of individual ecclesiastical authorities. In the end, the most oft-occuring factor in the Church’s teaching on political action is: promotion of the common good.