The Bishop of Madison, Robert C. Morlino, published an excellent letter a couple of weeks ago in which he provides some basic instructions on how to vote responsibly. He clearly distinguishes between intrinsic evils and other policy issues that do not involve intrinsic evils:
Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property.
Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil — that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned as such by human reason alone. Thus, all people of good will who wish to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.
In these most fundamental matters, a well-formed Catholic conscience, or the well-formed conscience of a person of good will, simply follows the conclusions demanded by the ecology of human nature and the reasoning process. A Catholic conscience can never take exception to the prohibition of actions which are intrinsically evil. Nor may a conscience well-formed by reason or the Catholic faith ever choose to vote for someone who clearly, consistently, persistently promotes that which is intrinsically evil. (Source)
Exactly. The above-mentioned issues are pass/fail criteria or a litmus test for any candidate. If a platform violates those fundamental rights, the candidate must be discarded, unless all the alternative candidates are equally dismal.
When it comes to matters not involving intrinsic evils, the bishop explains that Catholics can disagree with each other on the best policy approaches.
However, a conscience well-formed according to reason or the Catholic faith, must also make choices where intrinsic evil is not involved. How best to care for the poor is probably the finest current example of this, though another would be how best to create jobs at a time when so many are suffering from the ravages of unemployment. In matters such as these, where intrinsic evil is not involved, the rational principles of solidarity and subsidiarity come into play. The principle of solidarity, simply stated, means that every human being on the face of the earth is my brother and my sister, my “neighbor” in the biblical sense. At the same time, the time-tested best way for assisting our neighbors throughout the world should follow the principle of subsidiarity. That means the problem at hand should be addressed at the lowest level possible — that is, the level closest to the people in need. That again, is simply the law of human reason.
As one looks at issues such as the two mentioned above and seeks to apply the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, Catholics and others of good will can arrive at different conclusions. These are conclusions about the best means to promote the preferential option for the poor, or the best means to reach a lower percentage of unemployment throughout our country. No one is contesting here anyone’s right to the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Nor is anyone contesting someone’s right to work and so provide for self and family. However there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the Church offers.
Making decisions as to the best political strategies, the best policy means, to achieve a goal, is the mission of lay people, not bishops or priests.
Bingo. The Bishop has summed it up nicely. These teachings aren’t new, mind you, but many Catholics haven’t been taught them. They need repeating more often.
His last sentence should make us wonder why bishops’ conferences are so active in advocating specific policies in areas where Catholics are free to disagree and where the laity have greater expertise, issues such as immigration, the justice system, economic growth and health care. That’s a huge mistake, in my view, because it can mistakenly lead the faithful into believing that there is only one “God-approved” policy option to fix certain problems. When I was a younger man, immature in my faith, I used to be surprised at the policy positions taken by the bishops on economic issues, yet I convinced myself that they must be right and I must be wrong. Now I realize how big a mistake that was.
The frequent policy advice by bishops has an even worse side effect, because it dilutes the message of the bishops on the essential issues related to intrinsic evil. When you hear bishops giving recommendations on every issue under the sun, the core questions of life and family issues get lost in the noise. They don’t get the emphasis they deserve. Hence, immigration gets as much air time as abortion because some folks at the episcopal conference want to push their pet projects. Big mistake.