Bioethics Blogs

Separation of Church and the Voting Booth? The Moral Dilemmas of a Catholic American Voter


By: Thomas Merante

With each election, Americans are reminded repeatedly of their civic duty to participate, the importance of “rocking the vote,” and how each party will get the country “back on track.” Yet with MTV ads screaming at teenagers to go to the polls and attack ads that aim purely at candidates’ character, it seems that the real issues are becoming lost in an election frenzy. Consequently, it can be very difficult to determine how to vote, especially when there are serious moral issues on the line, despite a constant news stream of information on the candidates, their positions, and public opinion on the positions. What moral questions should Catholic Americans ask when contemplating contemporary political issues, and what ethical dilemmas do they face in the voting booth?

First, it is necessary to reflect on why certain candidates are selected over others. Many people vote based on their conscience, who they feel will best lead the country based on a “gut instinct,” and the perceived character of the candidates. Ideally, each voter would vote by weighing the major issues and how the candidates will address them.

It is these hot-button issues that can create an ethical tension for Catholic voters; abortion, for example, is one of the most pressing social issues in contemporary political debate. Is it possible that abortion—even if immoral—should remain legal? Moreover, can a Catholic reasonably vote for a pro-choice candidate?

Many political thinkers and philosophers such as John Courtney Murray, S.J. have discussed the possibility of drawing a line between one’s public morality and one’s private morality in matters of political decision-making.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.