Election panel: vote in accordance with your faith
Chancellor, lobbyist, vicar for clergy exhort faithful to transform society with faith
By Nissa LaPoint
Election resources abound for Catholics seeking insight and information about issues in the 2012 national election. The “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics,” provided by Catholics Answers, is a popular guide available online and in print.
A panel of local Catholic leaders shared the same message during a discussion about the 2012 election—live your faith and take your beliefs into the voting booth.
Catholics are called to strive for holiness and to form their government to reflect their beliefs, said J.D. Flynn, chancellor of the Denver Archdiocese.
"In some ways it sounds unsettling to us as Americans, because we grow up formed by this idea of the separation of church and state," he said to a crowd inside Mother of God Church. "But this is not the case. We have a responsibility to understand the political order in which we live and to shape it in such a way that it reflects the goodness and mercy of Christ the redeemer.”
On Sept. 29 a gathering of faithful at the Denver parish listened to a short presentation and discussion about the 2012 presidential election from panelists Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, vicar for clergy for the archdiocese and pastor of the parish; Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference; moderator Jeanette DeMelo, editor of the National Catholic Register; and Flynn.
The panelists gave a Catholic perspective on the issues of the federal Health and Human Services mandate, civil unions, respect for life and immigration before taking questions from the audience.
Contrary to what some may think, Catholics can influence representatives and policymaking, Kraska said.
"Our phone calls and emails make a difference," she said. "You may think they don’t, but I can tell you from practical experience, especially at the state level, that they make a huge difference.”
In the last state legislative session, lawmakers considered same-sex civil unions, special requirements for Catholic hospitals, college education for noncitizens and protection for the unborn.
Similar policies will likely surface again, she said.
"We have not only a right but a duty to make our voices heard on these important issues," she said. "Never has our voice been more needed than it is now in our local public square."
Flynn addressed the HHS mandate, a grave threat to Catholic institutions and the faithful’s God-given religious freedom. The mandate, which requires some religious organizations to offer free birth control and abortifacients under insurance plans, will force Catholics to decide between observing the government's laws or God's laws.
"If the HHS mandate isn’t defeated in some way, an increasing number of Catholics are going to face a crisis of conscience," Flynn said. “Jesus' intention for us as Catholics is that we live our religious life enthusiastically and with vitality in the world. And the perspective that the government is giving us is religious institutions should live in a very narrow category."
Election Resources for Catholics
Below is a list of letters, booklets and guides available to help Catholic voters form their consciences before voting in the 2012 national election.
• Statement from Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila and the state's bishops on the election and the "Get Out the Vote" guide from the Colorado Catholic Conference
• The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility”
• “Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics” by Catholic Answers
• Archbishop Aquila's Sept. 19 column, "The election and responsible Christian citizenship"
• “Letters to Parishioners” booklet by Msgr. Bernard Schmitz and Father Michael Warren, O.M.V.
Msgr. Schmitz referenced Church documents and papal encyclicals to show how Catholics should approach the issue of immigration.
“The whole of the Church’s social doctrine in fact develops from the principle that affirms the invaluable dignity of the person. Everything that we talk about starts there,” he said.
Immigration has many faces, he said, from a hardworking family seeking a better life to cartels smuggling drugs across the border. It's a complex and emotional issue that needs the dignity of the human person as the starting point.
"We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity," Msgr. Schmitz said.
Panelists also discussed with the audience how to weigh current economic issues with social issues.
Flynn said there is a hierarchy of needs in the country, and respect for life is primary. He likened a bad economy to having weeds in the garden and attacks on the dignity of life to a burning house. A Catholic’s response should be to stop the house from burning first, he said.
"More than a million small people last year were killed by abortion. ... If we don’t think that the death of more than a million children each year in the country, and our tolerance about that is impacting how we think, we’re kidding ourselves,” Flynn said. "We need to end the legal protection for abortion as the most primary thing, because the house is burning down.”
Msgr. Schmitz concluded the panel discussion by quoting Pope Benedict XVI and his message about the duty of laity to change their society through engagement and good works.
"The transformation of society and the importance of that transformation of society is the principle role of the laity," he said.