How Should Catholics Vote?

Nuns Preparing to Vote

I think probably one of the more difficult things Catholics deal with in contemporary American culture is how to vote. Every presidential election, the bishops print voters guides that are difficult to understand, highly nuanced and are clearly not written for the common man. So I've decided to give out some pointers that I think might be helpful in clarifying how Catholics should vote...

  1. Don't join a political party. Seriously, don't do it. If you're already a member, leave it. Neither major political party in America represents Catholic teaching in any kind of meaningful way. As Catholics, we need to get the candidates working for our votes, and the only way to do that is to let them know that they won't get our votes easily anymore. They can't count on them or take them for granted. Currently, the Democratic Party can boast of 44% of the Catholic vote, while the Republican Party can boast of 37%. That has GOT TO STOP. Catholics need to unregister from both political parties and don't join any small third-parties. Rather, Catholics need to let these parties and politicians know that we are part of the great block of INDEPENDENT voting Americans, and if they want our votes, they're going to have to work to get them.
  2. Know what the Catholic Church teaches about the issues. Here is what you've got to know as a Catholic. All political issues fall into one of two categories: essential and prudential.
    1. Essential issues are non-negotiable. They are areas that Catholics simply cannot compromise on, or else we risk falling into sin. A good example of this is the issue of abortion. Catholics cannot support any politician or ballot issue that supports abortion. The same can be said of euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, and same-sex "marriage." Catholics cannot support politicians or ballot issues that support these things. Likewise, Catholics cannot support politicians and ballot issues that attack such things as religious freedom, family rights, parental rights, freedom of conscience, educational choice, etc. In summary, anything that touches on basic human rights, Christianity or the family. It's up to Catholics to know exactly where the Church stands on these issues and vote accordingly.
    2. Prudential issues are more difficult. The Church may have specific teachings regarding general principles as to how a Catholic should think. However, the Church may not have the competence to demand an absolute course of action as to how these things should be implemented into public policy and law. Some good examples of this are immigration laws, monetary policy, trade policy, healthcare regulations, gun laws, etc. On such things, Catholics can hold good-faith positions on both sides of these issues
  3. Don't go to your local clergy for help on political matters. They're not trained to help you in this area, and they may not be competent either. Most of them would rather not give you voting advice anyway, except to say that you should just follow the teachings of the Church. If you want to know what those teachings are, an entire compendium has been published, touching on just about every issue imaginable. Simply go to the Vatican's Compendium on Catholic Social Doctrine.

Insofar as non-partisan forms of political associations, this may be acceptable, provided those non-partisan political associations are in line with the Church's social teachings. I am personally involved in The Counter-Revolution (TCR) which is one example. Another popular association is The American Society for the Protection of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). This is just a small sampling. There are other associations, and my failure to mention them here should not necessarily be misconstrued as disapproval.

On the issue of American political parties, I would be negligent if I didn't add the following. In 2008, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was at the time the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome (the equivalent of the Chief Justice on the Vatican Supreme Court), said that the Democratic Party "risks transforming itself definitively into a 'party of death.'" He said this in reference to the Democratic Party's persistent and militant lean toward abortion on demand, embryonic stem-cell research and euthanasia. He was derided in the American press as "the Vatican's arch-conservative." However, just ten years later, in 2018, Cardinal Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York said of the Democratic Party: "the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us." Cardinal Dolan is no conservative. He is well known as a fairly liberal prelate in the US Catholic Church. Even he now agrees with Cardinal Burke that Catholics should not be Democrats anymore.

This is not to give the Republican Party an endorsement. Far from it actually, as the Republican Party is also well known for its many compromises that have alienated Catholics over the years. As I said above, Catholics should not be members of any political parties, but rather register as Independents, and make these Democrat and Republican politicians actually WORK to regain our uncommitted votes. How do they do that? We need to make it very simple for them. We need to let them know that all they need do is support Catholic Church on all the essential issues minimally and then work on trying to find the best solution to the prudential issues.


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of '' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Fr. VF said…
Don't be a Democrat, because they are the party of abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage. But don't be a Republican, either!--because mumble-mumble-mumble...bad stuff...mumble-mumble-mumble...
Howard said…
How should Catholics vote? The goals, and even the prioritization of the goals, are fairly obvious, which is not to say that they are universally or even widely accepted. Everything else, though, is a matter of prudence. At some points in history it might be more prudent to vote as a member of a party, and at other points to refrain from party membership; this is a prudential matter that depends on circumstances.

One more thing: it is not a good idea for the Catholic voter to think of Catholics as a voting block. That is, there should not be any expectation that just because the other parishioners at one's church are voting one way, or certain bloggers (to say nothing of the folks in the comment boxes underneath) are voting one way, should sway the vote of any given Catholic. If Catholics form their consciences well, do their homework in understanding the issues and the candidates, think, and pray, they will emerge naturally as something politicians will perceive as a block; but I do not control your vote, and you do not control mine. Peer pressure should not be a proximate cause for our votes.
Michael E. said…
I'm with Howard. I don't think there's any one right way for every Catholic, though there are certainly wrong ways for all Catholics.

I've reregistered as a Democrat again (something that, for six years, I thought I would never do unless the party became pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-religious freedom), for a number of reasons:

1) If the only way to distinguish between a Democrat and a Republican running for the same office (with regard to life, marriage, and religious freedom) was their party--and both were pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-religious freedom, I would think the Democrat was more deserving. The Republican is just towing the party line, but the Democrat is showing courage and integrity in going against the party line.

2) Too many of those on the so-called "right" remind me of the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospels, in their moral hypocrisy even as they get the specifics of morality right--and I know for a fact that this hypocritical dehumanizing is a reason that some give for being Democrats or identifying as "liberals".

3) Democrats for Life of America still exists, and according to their website, pro-life Democrats have been responsible for Democrats having a majority in Congress since the 1970's, so that Democrats need pro-lifers in order to win a majority.

4) Given #3, outside of abortion and homosexuality, other issues important to me sound more in line with the Democratic Party.

5) I never had to undergo any "loyalty test" to prove loyalty to abortion or homosexuality as a prerequisite for registering as a Democrat. I consider that omission a gift from God (since obviously the Democratic leadership isn't responsible!), and I want to be grateful for it.

6) Only as a registered Democrat can I vote in Democratic primaries, and so help pro-life Democrats to win nomination. Even if they don't win, they will have received my vote in the primaries, and that ought to say something, especially if I don't vote for the Democrat they chose in the general election.

But more importantly, I'm against "party loyalty". I don't intend to only vote for Democrats any more than I intend only to vote the Democratic Party line (God forbid!). And I won't contemn any Catholic who arrives at a different conclusion and chooses a different course of action. We're all Catholics and we're all Americans. (I mentioned the above to explain myself and to inform, not to "proselytize" the Democratic Party, or Democrats for Life of America--I'm not associated with either and I don't pay money to the party.)