Monday, October 22, 2012

Catholic Voting Guides

Today I came across two rather different versions of Catholic voting guides. One sums up the emphases given in the U.S. Bishops' document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship"; the other was prepared by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

Graphic from the Sisters of Mercy guide
The nuns get top grades for excellent presentation: the guide is formatted as a workbook. Under each topic there are several questions for you to research (and room for you to jot down your findings), facts and statistics related to the topic and supporting quotes from Scripture, Pope Benedict and Church teachings.  There are also links to further resources. It is spare and focused.

As you might expect, the Sisters of Mercy guide centers on the congregation's priorities of "mercy and justice." The treatment seems to be given in a kind of hierarchy that begins with global poverty and the environment and ends with women (issues which include human trafficking, equal pay, and assistance for expectant mothers). Or maybe it's the other way around: are women "at the end" or are they the ultimate value? Or are all six areas (poverty, earth, immigration, nonviolence, racism, women) more or less on an even plane in terms of how we should tend to vote?

The U.S. Bishops document, which is available in a "short form," relies heavily on words. As far as that goes, I think the Sisters of Mercy can "teach the teachers to teach" when it comes to a format and style that are appropriate for the culture today. The nuns clearly have something rather specific in mind (here's Question #3 under "Poverty": "What is each candidate’s tax policy including their position on raising taxes on those who earn more than $250,000 and have benefited most from the past 10 years of tax breaks?"), but they present it in a way that puts the user "in charge." The bishops remain on the level of principles. Frankly, as much as I agree with them, I'm not sure that principles "say" that much any more. 

More importantly, the Bishops offer a very different look at the hierarchy of values than the Sisters of Mercy, even though for the most part the very same values are being upheld in both sets of voter guidelines. Here are the issues the Bishops ask voters to take a special look at; the issues that have the most moral weight--and thus which weigh the most on our Catholic consciences:

  • Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person: under this point we get the language of "intrinsic evils": "abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and destruction of human embryos for research"; other problem areas are genocide, torture and unjust war
  • Family and society
  • Rights and Responsibilities (including the right to religious freedom, which the Bishops see as particularly threatened right now because of laws signed into effect this year)
  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable (including the unborn, disabled persons, and those with terminal illnesses, as well as the marginzlized)
  • Dignity of Work; Rights of Workers
  • "Solidarity" (an umbrella term which covers "justice, [ending] racism, [ending] human trafficking, [protecting] human rights, [seeking] peace, and [avoiding] the use of force except as a necessary last resort)
  • Care for God's Creation

I think the Sisters of Mercy have a kind of pragmatic focus: if we address poverty, many of the other ills will be addressed; if we address the environment, many related problems (famine, flooding, etc) may be mitigated... The Sisters keep things lean and to the point, almost guiding the hand of the voter in the way the questions are phrased (see that example from "Poverty" above).

The Bishops start with a more philosophical consideration of the hierarchy of values, with things like "prudential judgment" and "intrinsic evils." The Bishops' concerns are more comprehensive, as well. Unfortunately for focus, that means that the Bishops' document leaves a lot more for the voter to do.

But I see something else. The Bishops' priority "list" (if we can call it that) keeps taking us back to the core value:  the human person. Only the last issue, "Care for God's Creation" (which clearly situates the environment or the Sisters of Mercy's "earth" in a faith context) is not directly concerned with people. True, the Sisters of Mercy highlight "Poverty" as a priority issue, but almost in the abstract. And whether or not the Mercy list was meant to be hierarchical, I'm not comfortable with a list of priorities that seems to put the planet on the same level as its inhabitants. 

With a week to go 'til Election Day, I wish someone would put the U.S. Bishops' guidelines into as practical and understandable a format as the Mercy nuns!

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