Voters urged not to sit on sidelines Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Sep. 22, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
faithful citizenship

MADISON -- This election year, Catholics may find it difficult to choose candidates and be tempted not to vote.

However, failure to vote would not be in keeping with Catholic teaching, which emphasizes that faithful citizens should be involved in the political process.

That’s what Barbara Sella told those gathered recently at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Madison for her presentation, “Be Catholic First: Tools for Discerning as We Approach Election 2016.”

Sella is associate director for respect life and social concerns for the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.

Role to play

Faithful citizens “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines,” she said in quoting Pope Francis. “We have an actual role to play in the politics of our nation.”

Sella said, “The Church emphasizes that our choices have to be grounded in moral principles, and we have to use our prudential judgment based on the values of our faith.

“Forming our conscience is the first step. But we have to form it in line with the teachings of the Church.”

The role of the Church itself is as a “teaching institution.” The bishops and priests teach the laity. “We are the doers,” Sella emphasized.

“The bishops and priests rely on the expertise of lay people.”

Key principles

This year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is emphasizing four key principles in its materials on Faithful Citizenship (see

• Dignity of the human person -- The person is sacred, made in the image of God. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. These include abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, human cloning, in vitro fertilization, human embryo destruction, torture, unjust war, indiscriminate use of deadly drones, genocide and attacks on noncombatants, racism, human trafficking, poverty and suffering, and the death penalty.

• The common good -- The sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as individuals or as groups, to reach their fulfillment more easily. These include rights to food, shelter, education, employment, health care, housing, freedom of religion, and family life; responsibilities to one another, to our families, and to the larger society; dignity of work and rights of workers; private property rights; economic initiative; care for God’s creation and for those most vulnerable to ecological degradation.

• Subsidiarity -- Every person and association has a right and a duty to participate in shaping society. Larger institutions should not overwhelm or interfere with small or local institutions, yet larger institutions have essential responsibilities when the more local institutions cannot adequately protect human dignity, meet human needs, and advance the common good.

• Solidarity -- We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, or ideological differences. This principle focuses on racism, peace and justice, and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.

Catholics should find out candidates’ positions on issues in all of these areas when making voting choices. “We must be guided by a well-formed conscience,” Sella stressed.

She noted that not every issue carries the same moral weight. We must also take into account a candidate’s character and his/her ability to influence a given issue.

Staying involved

Sella emphasized the importance of voting. She suggested that Catholic parishes could encourage voting by having voter education bulletin inserts, voter registration efforts, and providing rides to the polls.

“It’s also important to stay engaged after the election,” said Sella. To assist citizens, the WCC offers an e-newsletter and action alerts encouraging citizens to contact legislators (

Every two years, the WCC sponsors Catholics at the Capitol, a day held to provide information for citizens on key issues and offer them an opportunity to visit the Capitol. This event will be held on March 28, 2017.

“As Catholics we can do much. We have solid teaching and experience. We can invite people of other faiths to join us.”


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