I. The Theological Principles of Voting
Principle 1: All Catholics are bound to vote in an election.
This is proved through:
(a) The Teaching of the Roman Pontiffs.
(i) Explanation of the Proof.
All Catholics are bound to assent to the teachings of the Popes. This is not applicable only to infallible, ex cathedra pronouncements (e.g. Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus, which infallibly declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven), but also to non-infallible teachings. Thus when, in 1896, Pope Leo XIII decreed that the “Holy Orders” of Anglican priests are invalid (i.e., nothing “happens”. They are still laymen.), this was not infallibly declared, but still demands our assent. It would be mortally sinful to deny Pope Leo’s teaching on the matter.[ii] Hence, the common expression Roma locuta est, causa finita est / Rome has spoken, the case is closed. Therefore, all Catholics must submit to the teachings of the Popes.
(ii) The Teachings Themselves.
Pope Leo XII (1878-1903): “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 his country.”[iii]
Idem: “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 to them such individuals as are hostile to religion.”[iv]
Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914): “All should remember, that when the religion or the republic is in danger, it is not licit for anyone to be idle.”[v] Thus, failure to vote in an election would constitute this idleness, as one would not prevent the fruition of the aforesaid danger.
Idem: “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?”[vi]
Pope Pius XI (1922-1939): “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.”[vii]
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958): “The exercise of the right to vote is an act of grave responsibility, at least when there is 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 …”[viii]
Idem: “Tomorrow the citizens of two great nations [Italy and France] 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 retuned at the head of the poll. The decision lies with the electors, and the responsibility, an exalted but serious one, is theirs.”[ix]
Idem: “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 … 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.”[x]
Therefore, from the aforementioned texts above, we can ascertain just how crucial voting is. By voting, Catholics promote the common good. However, in order to accomplish this, Catholics are forbidden to vote for any candidate who would harm the Church. A Catholic cannot abstain from voting either, especially when the Church or the country is in endangered. To refrain from voting in this instance would constitute a grave offense, a mortal sin. Thus, all Catholics are obligated to vote, most especially in elections when the Church or the country is endangered.
(b) The Reasoning of the Theologians
(i) Justice and Legal Justice.
Theologians hold that the duty to vote is contained within the notion of “legal justice”. Firstly, St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/5/1274) defines “justice” as, “A habit according to which someone, by a constant and perpetual will, grants to another his due.”[xi] Therefore, justice deals with one’s relation to another. However, the phrase “relation to another” can be understood in two ways.
Again, we invoke St. Thomas who writes, “Justice … orders man in comparison to another … in one way, considered to another singularly. The other way, to another in common, namely, according to that in which he serves some community, serving all men who make up the community.”[xii]
Thus, there is a distinction between what we owe to one another as individuals (e.g. what Mary owes to John) and what each member owes to society. For this article, we are dealing with justice in relation to the community/society.
This sort of justice is termed by theologians as legal justice. It is defined as, “A supernatural habit through which one renders what is owed to the state in which he is a part of …”[xiii] Theologians utilize this concept in their statements on the obligation of all men to vote when they are given the opportunity. But why? Legal justice has for its object the common good.[xiv]
(ii) Society, The Common Good, and Voting.
The common good is what society aims for.[xv] Thus, as members of a society, we have a duty to promote the common good. In a representative democracy, this is accomplished through the process of voting.
As voters, we elect officials who create laws. “It pertains to law”, writes St. Thomas, “to order the common good.”[xvi] Therefore, it is our job to elect officials who will create good laws, which in turn will promote the common good.
Hence, the importance of voting is evident. If one fails to vote, be it through laziness or indifference, he fails to uphold his duty in society to promote the common good. In an election wherein the Church and the common good may be harmed by a candidate, it is even more pertinent for Catholics to exercise their voting rights. Hence …
According to the reasoning of the theologians, all Catholics are bound by their duty to promote the common good in society through the exercise of their vote. This is the sententia communis / common opinion held by theologians.[xvii]
Principle 2: Catholics are not allowed to vote for candidates that would harm the Church.
This is proved through:
(a) The Teachings of the Roman Pontiffs.
In response to Question 1, we elucidated a proof by providing various teachings from past popes on the obligation of voting. However, some of the texts also added to this notion, especially in regards to whom the vote should be cast for. In some teachings, the popes explicitly condemn the idea of voting for such a candidate. We reproduce the pertinent ones below.[xviii]
Pope Leo XIII: “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 to them such individuals as are hostile to religion.”
Pope St. Pius X: “All should remember, that when the religion or the republic is in danger, it is not licit for anyone to be idle.”
Idem: “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?”
Pope Pius XI: “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.”
Pope Pius XII: “The exercise of the right to vote is an act of grave responsibility, at least when there is 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 …”
Idem: “ … 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.”
Therefore, Catholics cannot vote for a candidate who would harm the Church.
(b) Common Sense.
The notion of “harm” can be twofold. Firstly, a candidate can “harm” the Church by promoting policies that would force the members of the Church to act against their teachings. For example, if a candidate forced Catholic priests to perform gay “marriages”, that would violate the Church’s teaching of marriage being between one man and one woman. Secondly, “harm” can by the promotion of policies themselves. Thus, if a candidate promotes a policy that is extremely pro-abortion, this would entail our notion of “harm”, as the common good would be destroyed.
This proof needs no further elaboration. It would be completely absurd for a Catholic to vote for a candidate with the intent of promoting ideas and policies contrary to the nature of the Church. Indeed, it pertains to the basic common sense that every Catholic should have, namely, that voting for such candidates is not only egregious, but mortally sinful. Therefore, Catholics cannot vote for candidates who would harm the Church.
Principle 3: In an election between two candidates with harmful platforms, Catholics must vote for the candidate who would do less harm.
Fr. Cranny writes:
When unworthy candidates are running for office, ordinarily a citizen does not have the obligation of voting for them. Indeed he would not be permitted to vote for them if there were any reasonable way of electing a worthy man, either by organizing another party, by using the “write in” method, or by any other lawful means. On the other hand, it would be licit to vote for an unworthy man if the choice were only between or among unworthy candidates; and it might even be necessary to vote for such an unworthy candidate (if the voting were limited to such personalities) and even for one who would render harm to the Church, provided the election were only a choice from among unworthy men and the voting for the less unworthy would prevent the election of another more unworthy.[xix]
This is certainly understandable, seeing as how a vote for a less evil candidate would prevent a more evil candidate, causing less harm. Further, it is important to note Cranny’s usage of the word “necessary”. When faced with two such candidates, by necessity, we are to vote for the less evil candidate.
However, people still may have doubts about this. Thus, we prove Principle 3 through the application of two more principles:
(a) The Principle of Double Effect.
The Principle of Double Effect is commonly attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae.[xx] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, quoting from The New Catholic Encyclopedia, lists four conditions for applying this principle.[xxi] These are:
(1) The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
(2) The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
(3) The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
(4) The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect.
Thus, in an election with two candidates we have described, voting for the candidate with the less evil platform would:
(1) Be morally good. As it would prevent a greater spread of evil.
(2) Attain the good effect through his voting of the less evil candidate.
(3) The good effect is produced through voting.
(4) Permitting less evil greater than permitting more evil. This is even more evident in an election, where the (a) Church and (b) the common good are at stake.
Thus, voting for the less evil candidate fills the requirements of the Principle of Double Effect.
(b) “Lesser of Two Evils” and the Common Opinion of the Theologians.
Further, the Catholic blogosphere, more commonly around election times hold that, when presented with two evils, one must choose the lesser of the two. In common speech, this is, obviously, known as “The Lesser of Two Evils”. Ironically, informed Catholics seem to wholly disregard this principle as mere folly. Applying this to an election, these aforesaid Catholics jeer that “voting for an evil is still evil”.
However, statements such as these are completely alien to Catholic theology. This principle is even more pertinent to the matter at hand, namely, voting. The theologians are unanimous in their acceptance of voting for a candidate who is “less evil” in an election between two candidates.[xxii]
(c) Corollary on Voting Third-Party candidates/write-ins.
In the beginning of this section, we quoted from Fr. Cranny who stated, “[The voter] would not be permitted to vote for [unworthy candidates] if there were any reasonable way of electing a worthy man, either by organizing another party, by using the “write in” method, or by any other lawful means.”[xxiii]
It is important to note here the world “reasonable”. Certainly, if one could muster a substantial amount of a population to vote for a third party over two unworthy/harmful candidates, Catholics would be obliged to vote for that candidate. However, if the third party/write-in candidate had virtually no chance at attaining victory, the vote would be utterly pointless.
Hitherto Cardinal Amette, Archbishop of Paris, who wrote in 1921 regarding this situation. He stated:
It would be better to cast [your votes] for candidates who, although not giving complete satisfaction to all our legitimate demands, would lead us to expect from them a line of conduct useful to the country, rather than to keep your votes for others whose programs indeed may be more perfect, but whose almost certain defeat might open the door to the enemies of religion and of the social order.[xxiv]
Thus, while voting a third party candidate/write-in candidate is licit in principle, when the situation arises that they would be certainly defeated, we are obliged to vote for the less evil of the two prominent candidates. Further, voting for a candidate with no chance of winning would do more harm than good. In doing so, the more evil candidate of the two prominent candidates would have an even greater chance of being elected. Thus, it would be harmful to vote for a third party/write-in candidate who lacks the chance of winning, as it would allow a greater evil to come from it.
II. Application of Theological Principles to the 2020 United States Presidential Election
Thus far in this article, we have enunciated three principles of Catholic theology in regards to voting. To repeat them:
(1) All Catholics are bound to vote in an election.
(2) Catholics are not allowed to vote for candidates that would harm the Church.
(3) In an election between two candidates with harmful platforms, Catholics must vote for the candidate who would do less harm.
Now we are tasked with applying these principles to the election to take place on November 3, 2020 between the Democratic candidate Joe Biden and the Republican candidate Donald J. Trump. Hence, with these principles in mind, how are we to approach this election?
Application of Principle 1: All Catholics are bound in the 2020 United States Presidential Election.
This is straightforward, and little explanation is required. We have seen numerous quotes from popes and theologians regarding the matter, who state that, under pain of mortal sin, Catholics are bound to vote in an election.
Application of Principle 2: Catholics cannot vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 United States Presidential Election. If they do so, they sin mortally.
Joe Biden advocates a plethora of policies that are in clear contradiction with the teachings of the Church.
(2) Joe Biden strongly advocates for the federal funding of Planned Parenthood, a well-known abortion provider.
(3) Joe Biden is for same-sex “marriage”.
(4) Joe Biden wants to pack the Supreme Court with pro-abortion justices.
(5) Joe Biden wants to restrict religious liberty for Catholics by forcing them to change their beliefs.
The list could certainly go on and on, but suffice it to say that Joe Biden is the exact opposite of a pro-Catholic candidate. Voting for him would be mortally sinful.
With the application of Principles 1 and 2, we now proceed to our conclusion with the application of Principle 3.
Application of Principle 3: All Catholics are bound to vote for Donald J. Trump in this 2020 United States Presidential Election.
Donald J. Trump provides the better platform and record for Catholics in this election. He:
(1) Limited enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which forbids clergy from discussing politics in their churches, under pain of losing their tax-exempt status.
(2) Appointed three pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, voicing his support to overturn Roe v. Wade. Further, his Vice Presidential candidate, Mike Pence has also stated he wants Roe v. Wade sent to the ash heap of history.
(3) Has protected the religious liberty of Catholics.
There are also some Catholics who are adamant on voting for a third-party candidate/write-in candidate. They view Trump’s past personal life as contrary to Catholic principles and are turned off by the personal attacks he sometimes makes. Catholics still cannot vote for third party candidates, specifically in this election, as they have no chance of winning. Catholics who want to vote for these candidates fail to see the implication that it would have on the Church. Joe Biden’s chances of winning would undoubtedly increase with these votes, as they would lessen the chances of the only possible candidate to defeat him, Donald J. Trump. They would be committing a sin of omission through this neglect to cast their vote for Mr. Trump.
THEREFORE, from what we have enunciated and described in this article, following the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs and the theologians, coalescing into theological principles, Catholics have a moral duty to vote for Donald J. Trump in the 2020 United States Presidential Election.
[i] This article is greatly inspired by the work of the Rev. Titus Cranny, The Moral Obligation of Voting. This text by Fr. Cranny was his doctoral dissertation to the Catholic University in 1952. Much of what is said in the theological portion of this article is a reproduction of what Cranny has said. It would certainly be better to reproduce Cranny’s text here, but that would be impossible. Therefore, we will include references to The Moral Obligation of Voting wherein the relevant passages are found.
[ii] Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, one of the greatest American theologians of the 20th Century, lays this out in greater detail in his article for the American Ecclesiastical Review, The Doctrinal Authority of Papal Encyclicals. Also there are different “grades” of theological doctrines in the Church. Some carry a stronger weight than others. Since this is outside the scope of our work, if one is generally interested in this, you can read more about it here or here.
[iii] De Libertate Humana; Cranny, 56. Translations of papal documents are Cranny’s, unless noted otherwise.
[iv] Sapientiae Christianae; Cranny, ibid. Italics are our emphasis. N.B. the phrase “idem” is a Latin intensive pronoun meaning “the same”. Thus, “idem” here refers to the same author, namely Pope Leo XIII. Also, the abbreviation “ibid.” comes from the Latin “ibidem”, which in English means “the same place”.
[v] Inter Catholicos; cf. Cranny, 57. Our emphasis and translation.
[vi] Notre charge apostolique; Cranny, ibid.
[vii] Firmissimam Constantiam; Cranny, 58. Our emphasis.
[viii] Cranny, ibid. Cranny cites the journal The Catholic Mind, 44:1001 (May 1946), 301 for this. This quote from Pius XII was a speech given to the pastors and preachers who came to Rome during Lent, warning them about the upcoming Italian election.
[ix] Ancora una volta; Cranny, 59. Our emphasis.
[x] Discorso di sua santità Pio XII ai parroci e ai quaresimalisti di Roma; Cranny 60-61.
[xi] Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 58, a. 1, co. “[I]ustitia est habitus secundum quem aliquis constanti et perpetua voluntate ius suum unicuique tribuit.”; cf. Cranny, 78. Our translation. “Summa Theologiae” hereafter abbreviated ST. N.B. the word “habit” can be a bit confusing for those with no philosophical or theological experience. It is not understood as “habit” of smoking. Bernard Wuellner, in his Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy, defines habit as, “A permanent quality according to which a subject is well or badly disposed in regard to either its being or its operations.” Thus, habit here means “disposition”.
[xii] ST II-II, q. 58, a. 5, co. “Iustitia … ordinat hominem in comparatione ad alium … [u]no modo, ad alium singulariter consideratum. Alio modo, ad alium in communi, secundum scilicet quod ille qui servit alicui communitati servit omnibus hominibus qui sub communitate illa continentur.”; cf. Cranny, ibid. Our translation.
[xiii] Waffelaert, De Iustitia. “Iustitia legalis seu generalis est … habitus supernaturalis per quem unusquisque reddit quod debitum est rei publicae cuius ipse pars est …”; cf. Cranny, 77. Our translation.
[xiv] Cf. Cranny, 79; cf. ST, II-II, q. 58, a. 5, co.
[xv] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Sententia libri Politicorum, Iib. I, lect. 1, n.3. “[The political society] is the connector of the most principal good between all human goods: it aims for the common good …”. “[Communitas politica] est coniectatrix principalissimi boni inter omnia bona humana: intendit enim bonum commune …” N.B. it is outside the scope of this work to discuss what exactly the common good is. For a brief discussion of Aquinas’s notion, click here.
[xvi] ST, II-II, q. 58, a. 5, co. “Et quia ad legem pertinet ordinare in bonum commune …”; cf. Cranny, 79. Our translation.
[xvii] See Cranny, 77-90 for a more detailed account of this. He states blantatly, “Most moralists hold that voting is of obligation.” The unanimity is pertinent. One does not need every single theologian to hold this position to be true. Hence the axiom in Catholic theology: “Concordm omnium theologorum sententiam in rebus fidei aut morum reiicere, si non est haeresis, est tamen haeresi proximum.” “To reject the common opinion of all theologians in things of faith or morals, if it is not heresy, it is proximate to heresy.” See also Pius IX, Tuas Libenter, found in Denziger-Schonmetzer #1684.
[xviii] For the sake of brevity, we will note reproduce the same citations for each text. Please refer to the above endnotes to locate the specific document. The emphases will also remain.
[xix] 93-94. Our emphasis.
[xx] Cf. II-II, q. 64, a.7, co.
[xxi] Found here.
[xxii] Cranny cites the following: Lehmkuhl, Tanquerey, Prümmer, Ubach, Merkelbach, Iorio, Piscetta-Gennaro, Sabetti-Barett, and Genicot. See 94-95.
[xxiii] See footnote 19.
[xxiv] Cranny, 63-64.
[xxv] Douay Catholic Catechism of 1649, q. 925 and q. 926.