This past week early voting began for the presidential election of 2020. Those who are already voting have made up their minds about the best choice for president, but there are many who continue to struggle with how and for whom they should vote. I’d like to present a few reflections on the principles that will help us make an informed and faith-filled decision as Catholics and disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

First, we must affirm that in this election we are foremost voting to choose the candidate to fill the office of PRESIDENT of the United States. We are looking for the candidate who best embodies the skills and virtues necessary for leadership both domestically and internationally. We are looking for a candidate whose policy and vision of what is best for our country expresses our hopes and vision for our nation and is the candidate we trust to use the great power that comes with the office of the presidency for the good of ALL the people and for sustaining and protecting this great democracy.  

As Catholics we should approach our vote necessarily through the eyes of our faith. We would be naive if we were not aware that each candidate and party has some policies that align with our faith and others that do not. We need a lens through which to discern how the policies of a party will shape the moral fiber of our country and answer the question of whether this president will protect the liberty and justice of ALL.  

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I along with the other bishops of the United States have given an in depth teaching on this in our document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which can be found at: usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/upload/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship.pdf. For this short article I give one of the principles that should stand at the heart of all our civic and religious lives and should be the foundational guide as we discern the right path to take through the divided landscape of our times.  

At the center of all Catholic moral teaching is the clearest commandment of Jesus that we LOVE ONE ANOTHER. In the teaching of our church through the centuries, we live and witness this command through our beliefs in, and our respect for, the life and dignity of every human person. This command to love one another is a non-negotiable value for the Christian and can serve us well as we discern our choice for president. As we approach the polls to make our choice, we should consider the question, “How will each candidate, from their historical record and proposed policies respect the dignity of the human person?”  

As Catholics, we understand that the respect for the dignity of human life must begin at the moment of conception, so we stand firmly against legalizing abortion because to respect human life we must respect human life at every stage. When we as a culture give permission for legalized abortion, we set up a cultural wound that legally makes the unalienable right to life, alienable, a right our government was established to protect. Our firm commitment to protect the unborn child’s right to life also binds us to act in defense of the dignity of each person at every stage of life. You cannot stand for the dignity of every human person if you do not include the life of the unborn, and you cannot be truly pro-life if you only stand up for the life of the unborn and fail, with an equal ferocity and fervor, to combat the evils that denigrate the human person throughout the world today. 

The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work-is universally binding on our consciences and may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best ways to respond to these needs. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, pornography, redefining civil marriage, compromising religious liberty or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider church teaching on these issues. Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore church teaching on these important issues.  

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not factions, but one family of faith fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ. Yet I know some are still unsure how they will vote even after seriously considering all that I have written. Ultimately, I counsel you to let your rightly formed conscience be your guide a conscience informed by Catholic teaching with a profound concern for the dignity of every human life.