Monday, October 29, 2012

A Letter from Fr. John Lankeit - Rector, Sts. Simon & Jude Cathedral

Dear Parishioners,

Every election season, confusion abounds among Catholics about voting in faithful accord with Church teaching. But we can reduce or eliminate much of the confusion by distinguishing between the concepts of policy and principle. Let’s begin with a definition* of terms:

Policy: a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions

The objective is to establish policies that achieve principles. Here’s an illustration: People across the political spectrum agree on the principle that taxes are necessary to fund government activities. But there can be significant, legitimate disagreement on the best tax policy. Party A’s policy favors higher taxes on individuals, especially wealthy citizens. Party B’s policy favors lower taxes on a larger number of people across income lines. It’s a question of more taxes or more taxpayers. The parties must then convince voters as to the best course of action to achieve the agreed upon principle. On such policy questions, Catholics can legitimately disagree without violating their faith or compromising
the principle.

The question of principle itself is an entirely different matter. I’ll illustrate with a fundamental principle of Catholic teaching and Natural Law:

It is never permissible to intentionally kill an innocent human being.

People of goodwill easily recognize the folly of haggling over the best policy for killing an innocent person. Violations of fundamental principles disturb the well-formed human conscience. That is why both major political parties have (at least until last month) consistently professed a commitment to reduce the frequency of abortion. That shared commitment changed, however, when one of the major parties abandoned the ideal of making abortions “rare” (and thus publicly affirmed their advocacy of unlimited abortion), as they unveiled their party platform at their national political convention in early September.

Principle: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption

In a 2006 address to European politicians**, Pope Benedict XVI enumerated non-negotiable Catholic principles which it is never permissible to violate under any circumstances whatsoever:

  • Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death.

  • Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family—as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage—and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable role.

The protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.

From these broad principles we can establish a “checklist” of current issues that are at the forefront of political debate. And we can evaluate each candidate based on their adherence to, or violation of, Catholic principles in the non-negotiable areas, eliminating those candidates who violate any or all of these principles. In Catholics in the Public Square (p. 39), Bishop Olmsted includes the five frequently enumerated non-negotiables:

Issue Catholic Position Candidate A Candidate B

Abortion Oppose _________ _________
Euthanasia Oppose _________ _________
Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR) Oppose _________ _________
Human Cloning Oppose _________ _________
“Same-sex Marriage” Oppose _________ _________

Bottom line: If a particular candidate supports any or all of the “non-negotiables”, a faithful Catholic cannot vote for that politician, regardless of how favorably they consider a candidate’s policy on other critical (but negotiable) issues such as immigration, economy,
housing, etc. The only exception: In a case where all candidates conflict with the Church on a specific non-negotiable issue, (e.g. ESCR) a Catholic can legitimately vote for the candidate who is in most complete agreement with the Church on the other non-negotiable issue and/or who will likely do the least evil in regard to the specific non-negotiable issue in question.

I hope this explanation will help every faithful Catholic to exercise their civic duty while remaining faithful to Jesus Christ.
God’s Blessings… my prayers...


Very Rev. Fr. John Lankeit
Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral

Cathedral Parish of the Diocese of Phoenix

*Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (
**Source: Catholics in the Public Square, 3rd Edition, p. 39

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