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Gravity of the Obligation of Voting - Papal Pronouncements
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Author:  Mike [ Sat Jun 14, 2008 3:10 am ]
Post subject:  Gravity of the Obligation of Voting - Papal Pronouncements

The following is an exact reproduction of chapter 2a of The Moral Obligation of Voting, Rev. Titus Cranny, The Catholic University of America Press, 1952, pgs 55-63.




a. From Papal Pronouncements

In modern times the various Sovereign Pontiff’s have reminded the faithful of their duty to vote, although Pope Pius IX issued his famous Non expedit February 29, 1868, by which the Italians were told “Ne eletti, ne elettori” (Neither elected nor electors) that they could not participate in their own elections. However this statement was by way of exception rather than general rule.

Pope Leo XIII continued the “hands off” policy for the Catholics in Italy, but he issued several masterly encyclicals on Catholic principles of politics. In Libertas humana he declared that “it is expedient to take part in the administration of public affairs, unless it be otherwise determined by reason of some exceptional condition of things. And the Church approves of every one devoting his services to the common good, and doing all that he can for the defense, preservation, and prosperity of this country.” [57] Then in Sapientiae christianae he voiced this maxim: “In short, where the Church does not forbid taking part in public affairs, it is fit and proper to give support to men of acknowledged worth and who pledge themselves to serve well in the Catholic cause and in no way may it be allowed to prefer them such individuals as are hostile to religion.” [58] Earlier in Immortale Dei he had urged the faithful to use popular institutions, so far as they could, for the advancement of truth and righteousness. [59]

On May 14, 1895, Pope Leo relented his prohibition against taking part in Italian elections, allowing the faithful to vote in administrative contests, but not in political ones. When Pope Pius X ascended the papal throne in 1903 he held to the principle of the Non expedit, though he attenuated its force by granting dispensations for the elections of 1904 and further modifying it with his Il ferme proposito of June 11, 1905. [60] He declared that the faithful might take part in such elections as the bishops judged expedient to prevent the election of unworthy men. He praised the initiative of Catholic laymen who sought to serve the Church and protect the rights of God in public and asked for political participation in these words:

This makes it incumbent upon all Catholics to prepare themselves prudently and seriously for political life in case they should be called to it. Hence it becomes necessary that this same activity, already so laudable displayed by Catholics in preparing themselves by good electoral organization, for administrative life in parish and city councils, should be extended to a suitable preparation and organization for political life. [61]

Pope Pius also sent a letter to the Spanish people on the duty of voting (February 20, 1906), reminding them that when the cause of religion or of the state is endangered, no one can be indifferent. The faithful could render great good by taking part in the elections. [62]

In his document to the hierarchy of France, Notre charge apostolique wherein he condemned the activity of Le Sillon, this Pope again stressed the principle of political activity, implying thereby the responsibility of voting: “Is it not the duty of every Catholic to make use of the political arms which he has in his hands to defend her, and also to compel politics to remain in their own domain, and beyond rendering what is her due, to leave the Church alone?”[63] In Singulari quadam of September 12, 1912, to the workmen of Germany he spoke of all moral activity as subject to the judgment and jurisdiction of the Church, obviously meaning that where political activity touched upon moral matters, it was wholly within the domain of the Church’s guidance.

Pope Pius XI spoke a number of times on the duties of citizens, telling the faithful that there could be no political fuga mundi since the times demanded their interest and activity. Then in his Paterna sane to the people of Mexico in 1926 he pointed out that “These counsels and prescriptions…in no wise will prevent the faithful who put them loyally into practice from fulfilling the duties and exercising the rights which they have in common with other citizens. Indeed, on the contrary, their very title of Catholic requires that they make best use of the rights and duties, for the good of religion is inseparable from that of the fatherland.” [65]

To the same people in a more advanced stage of their difficulties the Holy Father addressed another encyclical in 1937 in which he stated explicitly the importance of the ballot: “Thus a Catholic will take care not to pass over his right to vote when the good of the Church or of the country requires it.” [66]

But of all the recent Popes speaking on the duties of Catholics in public life, and specifically on the duty of voting, none has been more emphatic than Pope Pius XII who on a number of occasions has stressed the duty of the faithful in this matter. Before the critical elections of 1946 he sounded this warning to the Pastors and Lenten Preachers of Rome:

The exercise of the right to vote is an act of grave responsibility, at least when there is a question involved of electing those whose office it will be to give the country its constitution and its laws, particularly those laws which affect, for example, the sanctification of feast days, marriage, family life and school, and which give direction according to justice and equity, to the various phases of social life. It therefore, falls to the Church to explain to the faithful their moral duties which derive from their right to vote. [67]

Later the same year on the occasion of his patronal feast, June 1, His Holiness gave an allocution to the Sacred College in which he spoke of the coming elections in Italy and France and the responsibility that rested with the voters.

Tomorrow the citizens of two great nations will be crowding to the voting booths. What is the fundamental issue in these elections? The question is whether these two nations, these two Latin sister nations which have more than one thousand years of Christian history behind them, will continue to be established on the firm rock of Christianity, on the acknowledgment of a personal God, on the belief of man’s spiritual dignity and immortal destiny, or, on the contrary, will choose to place their future in the inexorable and totalitarian power of a materialist state, which acknowledges no ideals beyond this earth, no religion, and no God. One or the other of these alternatives will be verified, according as the champions of Christian civilization or its enemies are returned at the head of the poll. The decision lies with the electors, and the responsibility, an exalted but serious one, is theirs. [68]

But even more important than the elections of 1946 were those of 1948 in Italy when the Communists, bolder than before, openly vowed to gain control of the government and threatened to harm the Church. As Vicar of Christ and defender of the faith, Pope Pius XII again stressed the Pastors and Lenten Preachers of Rome on the solemn obligation of the citizen to use the vote in such grave circumstances.

It is your right and duty to draw the attention of the faithful to the extraordinary importance of the coming elections, and to the moral responsibility which follows from it for all those who have the right to vote. Without doubt the Church intends to remain outside and above all political parties, but how could it be possible to remain indifferent to the composition of a parliament to which the Constitution gives the power to legislate in matters which concern so directly the highest religious interest, and the condition of the life of the Church in Italy itself?...Consequently it follows: - That in the present circumstances it is strictly obligatory for whoever has the right, man or woman, to take part in the elections. He who abstains, particularly through indolence or from cowardice, thereby commits a grave sin, a mortal offense. [69]

Everyone has to vote according to the dictates of his own conscience. Now it is evident that the voice of conscience imposes on every sincere Catholic the necessity of giving his own vote to those candidates or to those lists of candidates, which offer them truly adequate guarantees for the protection of the rights of God and of souls, for the true good of individuals, of families, and of society, according to the laws of God and the Church’s moral teaching. [70]

Thus the Sovereign Pontiff emphasized the duty of voting; the grave obligation of voting in grave circumstances; the guilt of serious sin for one who abstains without cause; and the obligation of voting according to one’s conscience.

At the same time the Pope stressed the duty of the priest to make known to the faithful the gravity of the obligation to vote, but warned that “whenever from the pulpit you fulfill the high and holy office of preaching the word of God, guard against descending to petty questions of party politics, to the bitter conflicts of parties which irritate the soul, aggravate discords, weaken charity, and harm your own dignity and the office of your sacred ministry.” [71]

The Holy Father further laid stress on the obligation of voting in allocutions to groups of Catholic women. In an address to the women of Rome, October 21, 1945, he stated: “…the electoral ballot in the hands of the Catholic woman is an important means towards the fulfillment of her strict duty in conscience, especially at the present time.” [72] “Her vote,” he said, “is a vote for peace. Hence in the interest and for the good of the family, she will hold fast to that norm, and she will always refuse her vote to any tendency, from whatever quarter it hails, to the selfish desires of domination, internal and external, of the peace of the nation.” [73]

Before the elections in France and Italy in 1946 he spoke to women of both countries in this fashion:

A good number of you already enjoy political rights. These political rights have corresponding duties – the right to vote, the duty to vote, the duty of giving your vote only to those candidates or those lists of candidates that offer not vague and ambiguous promises but certain guarantees which respect the rights of God and of religion.

Think carefully. This right is sacred for you. It obliges you before God, because with your ballot you have in your hands the higher interests of your country. You are concerned with safeguarding and preserving for your people its Christian culture; for its girls and women their dignity; and for your families their Christian mothers. The time is serious. Know well your responsibilities. [74]

In an allocution to the Congress of the International Union of Catholic Women’s Leagues, September 11, 1947, the Pope spoke of the gravity of the obligation for all. He insisted that those who would not take part would be guilty of serious sin. “There is a heavy responsibility on everyone, man or woman, who has the right to vote, especially when the interests of religion are at stake; abstention in this case, in itself, it should be thoroughly understood, is a grave and fatal sin of omission. On the contrary, to exercise well, one’s right to vote is to work effectively for the good of the people, as loyal defenders of God and of the Church.” [75]

From these papal pronouncements we learn of the grave character of the obligation of voting, particularly in circumstances of serious import to the good of the Church or state. Pope Leo XIII laid down the general principle of interest in political affairs and each of the succeeding Popes stressed the obligation in particular circumstances. From their writings and addresses we know that a Catholic cannot be indifferent to his obligations as a citizen, but must use the political forces at his disposal, particularly the right to vote, to better the status of religion and of the common good, particularly when either cause or both demand his vote.

In given instances, the obligation to vote may be grave, that is, binding under pain of mortal sin, when there is danger that evil forces may gain control of the government and this danger can be averted or lessened by an election. The vote obliges all citizens, both men and women; it is a trust by which they can promote good or evil; it is an obligation binding in the sight of God. The voter must follow the dictates of his conscience, but refuse his vote to any forces that would bring evil to the Church or to his country. He must give his vote so as to work effectively for the good of the people, as a loyal defender of God and of the Church.

Thus have the Popes stressed the importance of the vote in the social, political, economic, and religious life of a country. Hence the faithful have the additional responsibility of obeying the counsels and commands of the Vicar of Christ as well as promoting the common good of Church and state.

57. ASS 20, 594.
58. ASS 22, 397-398.
59. ASS 18, 177.
60. ASS 37, 741 ff.
61. ASS 37, 758. For a history of modern Italy see L. Sturzo, Church and State in Italy and the Coming World (New York, 1945), 114 ff.
62. Meminerint omnes, periclitante religione aut republica, nemini licere esse otioso. Iamvero qui rem seu sacram seu civilem evertere nituntur eo maxime spectant ut, si detur, capessant rem publicam legibusque ferendis designentur. Catholicos idcirco periculum omni industria cavere oportet: atque ideo, partium studiis depositis, pro incolumitate religionis et partiae operari strenue; illud praecipue atnitendo ut tum civitatum, tum regni comitia, illi adeant, qui attenti electionis uniuscujusque adiunctis necnon temporum locorumque circumstantiis, prout in memorati commentarii scriptionibus probe consulitur, religionis ac patriae utilitatibus in publica re gerenda prospecturi melius videantur....” ASS 39 (1906), 76.
63. “Le devoir de tout catholique n’est-il donc pas d’user des armes politiques qu’il tient en mains pour la dé, et aussi pour forcer la politique à rester dans son domaine et à me s’occuper de l’Église qui pour lui rendre ce qui lui est dû ? ”
August 25, 1910. AAS 2, 623. See Tablet (London), Sept. 10, 1910.
64. AAS 4, 658. Addressed to the German Hierarchy on subject of workingmen’s unions.
65. Feb. 2, 1926. AAS 18, 178.
66. Firmissimam constantiam, Mar. 28, 1937. AAS 29, 189.
67. Catholic Mind, 44: 1001 (May 1946), 301.
“É un diritto, e al tempo stesso un dovere essenziale della Chiesa di instruire i fedeli, con la parola e con gli scritti, dal pulpito o nelle altre forme consuete, intorno a tutto ciò che concerne la fede e i costumi, ovvero che e inconciliabile con la sua propria dottrina, e quindi inammissibile per i cattolici, sia che si tratti di sistemi filosofici o religiosi, o degli scopi che si propongono i loro fautori, o delle loro concezioni morali riguardanti la vita così dei singoli dome dell communità.
“L’esercizio del diritto di voto è un atto di grave responsabilità morale, per lo meno quando si tratta di eleggere coloro che sono chiamati a dare al Paese la sua constituzione e le sue leggi, quelle in particolare che toccano, per esempio, la santificazione della feste, il matrimonio, la famiglia, la scuola, il regolamento secondo guistizia ed equità delle molteplici condizioni sociali. Spetta perciò alla Chiesa di spiegare ai fedeli i doveri morali, che da quel diritto elettorale derivano.” AAS 38, 187.
68. Domani stesso i cittadini di due grandi nazioni accorreranno in folle compatte alle urne elettorali. Di che cosa in fondo si tratti? Si tratta di sapere se l’una et l’altra di queste due nazioni, di queste duo sorelle latine, di ultramillernaria civiltà christiana, continueranno ad appoggiarsi sulla salda rocca del cristianesimo, sul riconoscimento di un Dio personale, sulla credenza, nella dignita spirituale e nell’eterno destino dell’uomo, o se invece voranno rimettere le sorti del loro avvenire all’impassibile onnipotenza di uno stato materialista, senza ideale ultraterreno, senza religione e senza Dio.
“Di questi due casi si avverarà l’uno o l’atro, secondo che dalle urne usciranno vittoriosi i nomi dei compioni ovvero dei distruttori della civiltà christiana. La reposta è nelle mani degli elettori; esse ne portano l’augusta, ma pur quanto grave responsabilità!” AAS 38, 256-257.
69. “È vestro diritto e dovere di attirare l’attenzione dei fedeli suula straordinaria importanza delle prossime elezioni e sulla responsabilità morale che ne deriva a tutti coloro i quali hanno il diritto di voto. Senza dubbio la Chiesa intende di restare al di fuori e al di sopra dei partiti politici; ma come potrebbe rimanere indifferente alla composizione di un Parlamento, al quale la Contituzione dà il potere di legiferare in materie che riguardano così direttamente i più alti interessi religiosi e la condizioni di vita della Chiesa stessa in Italia? Da tutto cio conseque;
“Che, nelle presenti circostanze, è stretto obbligo per quanti ne hanno il diretto, uomini e donne, di prender parte alle elezioni. Chi se ne astiene, specialmente per indolenza o per viltà, commette in sè un peccato grave, una colpa mortale.” AAS 40, 119.
70. “Ognuno ha da votare secondo il dettame della propria coscienza. Ora è evidente che la voce della coscienza impone ad ogni sincero cattolico di dare il proprio voto a quei candidati o a quelle liste di candidati, che offrono garanzie veramente sufficienti per la tutela die diritti di Dio e delle anime, per il vero bene dei singoli, delle famiglie e della società, secondo la legge di Dio e la dottrina morale cristiana.” Ibid.
71. Ibid.
72. Questa grande vostra, AAS 37, 291. English translation by N.C.W.C. of Washington D.C., 9.
73. Ibid., English trs.. 12.
74. N.C.W.C. news release, May 13, 1946.
75. AAS 39, 486. English trs. 7.

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