By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Mid-term elections on Nov. 6 can be the time to “throw the rascals out” and send a message to the nation’s leaders on how they are doing as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the U. S. Congress. By researching candidates and issues, educating themselves on Catholic social teachings and praying, people can be sure they are voting with a well-formed conscience, according to clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

A resource Catholics can use when deciding how to cast their ballot is “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Rob Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

“I think it’s important for all Catholics to keep in mind that as the document from the bishops states, participating in the political process is not just a responsibility but it is an obligation,” said Tasman. “And I find that to be a very strong statement.  

“I think it’s strong intentionally because I think it’s reflective of the fact that we are blessed enough to live in a democracy where our voice and our vote matters. And so we as a people of faith need to be able to take that seriously and act out our faith even in the voting booth, even in the political world where many times it’s messy, it’s confusing and it’s certainly not clear in terms of candidates reflecting their own faith with in the way that they pursue issues.”  

Tasman reminded people to refer to the seven principles of Catholic social teaching when deciding which candidates and issues to support: life and dignity of the human person; the call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of </span id=”5″>workers; and solidarity for God’s creation.  

“When individuals look at these different political issues I think it’s very important that they view those through the lens of the principles of Catholic teaching as opposed to partisan politics,” said Tasman.  

It’s easy to get caught with various media coverage and the constant coverage of politics to say “I’m a Republican,” “I’m a Democrat,” “I’m a conservative,” or “I’m progressive,” according to Tasman.  

“And I like to remind folks that from a faith perspective we’re really called to be Catholics first,” Tasman said.  

“What that might mean is that it doesn’t really fit very neatly into either political party at times. But we do need to be able to pursue these issues from a faith perspective. 

“Going back to the notion of forming consciences, it does take a pretty fair amount of work for the well informed voter to be able to look at a candidate and know whether he or she supports certain issues and what those issues might be, whether they be pro-life, whether they be a fair and living wage for individuals, whether it be their policy on things like immigration. All of the issues that the church covers are very broad and they’re varied. And for that reason it does take some work on the part of the Catholic voter to be able to understand.”  

One place people can go to for information includes the candidates’ websites, which Tasman conceded people have to put a level of trust into each candidate that he or she is being honest with how he or she represents him or her self.  

If a candidate is an elected official, people can consult their voting record on issues. They can also look at outside sources. When looking for a person’s stance on pro-life issues, for example, one can visit Louisiana Right to Life’s website  

Unfortunately, recent elections have involved a lot of negativity and conflict rather than compromise and collegiality, according to Tasman.  

“But I wouldn’t want folks to be able to lose the sense of their own responsibility and the value of their own voice in the process. And I think that it’s important to remember we are a nation in which we are truly blessed to have the ability to go to the polls, to participate in the political process that we have and truly feel it in the knowledge that our vote counts,” said Tasman.  

With problems plaguing the world, the church and so many issues weighing on people’s minds as they prepare to go to the polls, Father Jeff Bayhi, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary, recalled the prophetic words St. John Paul II, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, spoke in an address during the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia:  

“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the church and the anti-church, between the Gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is, therefore, in God’s plan, and it must be a trial which the church must take up, and face courageously.”  

With so much Internet and media saturation, as one tries to discover what “the truth” is, there can be five different versions of “the truth,” especially when it comes to politics, according to Father Bayhi. People’s values, therefore, may be based on things other than the Gospel and Catholic Christian values.  

“I think one of the problems is people have voted with their wallets,” said Father Bayhi. “If finances are the basis of our decisions then we run the risk of being prosperous in a world that is completely devoid of morals or justice.”  

He also urged voters to not base their vote on a candidate’s personality.  

The sanctity of life should be the top concern of voters, said Father Bayhi.  “Unless the created human life, from conception to natural death, do not belong to God, then none of our lives are safe,” Father Bayhi said. 

He further encouraged people to look at how candidates address issues such as religious liberty and justice. 

Justice includes having fair immigration laws that do not ignore justice for tax-paying people already living in this country, according to Father Bayhi.  

People may be disgusted with the states of politics, but Father Bayhi stressed the power of casting the vote in making changes.  

“In a democracy we change things one vote at a time. Rather than being quiet, make your voice known,” said Father Bayhi.