Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

When Catholics vote

July 2, 2024

As the United States celebrates its 248th birthday and we prepare to elect leaders this fall, it is timely to consider how we as a community of believers should envision our contribution to the common good. This is particularly relevant, given that in this moment of bitter political divisions, we see the emergence of groups pretending to speak on behalf of all Catholics by offering a very narrow version of our teachings, often reducing it for their own partisan aims.

It is at this point that we should recall the penetrating vision that the Second Vatican Council offers on religion, the state and the political order, by identifying a clear pathway of public engagement, conscience formation and authentic witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

From the start, “Gaudium et Spes” (“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) is clear about the church’s activity in the public square. Referring to the “church in the modern world” rather than “and the modern world,” the very title of the document signals that the church exists on its own terms, not because of an alignment with any agency that gives permission or grants a right, status or other favors. This is because the church by its very nature is missionary (“Ad Gentes,” 3). In other words, the church’s autonomy and freedom derive from the fact that it has been sent into the world by Christ. No group or agency should claim to speak for “the Catholic vote,” insofar as there is such a thing.

Being in the world also means that the church journeys in solidarity with all of humanity, not just with some who may claim to represent her teachings. If the church is to preserve its identity as “a sacramental sign and an instrument of intimate union with God, and of the unity of the whole human race” (“Gaudium et Spes,”42), great care must be taken to preserve her solidarity with all of humanity. Her mission is to illuminate all the dimensions of human life in order “to establish and consolidate the human community according to the law of God” (“Gaudium et Spes,” 42).

As such, when the church engages the state, it should not limit itself to explicitly “religious” issues, something we hear at times from people who criticize the church for speaking out on issues they do not consider “religious,” such as racial discrimination, gun control, the environment. Likewise, the church should not limit her engagement with the state exclusively to issues of self-interest — for example, the protection of religious institutions. Again, as the Council teaches, we are a “church in the modern world.”

One of the council’s most illuminating passages on the role of the church in the modern world provides the inspiration that must inform each of us as we consider our contribution to today’s public debate:

“The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other” (“Gaudium et Spes,” No. 76).

We must be willing to speak about all that pertains to the common good, which “would include the promotion and defense of ... goods such as public order and peace, freedom and equality, respect for human life and for the environment, justice and solidarity” (From the doctrinal note published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Nov. 21, 2002, “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life”).

The church’s proclamation of these values is not merely institutional but occurs primarily through the informed consciences of Catholics as citizens, who infuse Gospel values into the life of society and the state. Thus, it is up to each of us as Catholics to be informed about the issues, reflect on them through the prism of all that our faith teaches us, become involved in the political process and vote. If there is a Catholic vote, it must remain in the hands of each Catholic to decide in good conscience.



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