A very important mid-term election approaches. As we go to the polls on Tuesday, we here in New York will be choosing the entire legislative and executive branches of our state government, as well as our state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

            As always, we Catholics are called to evaluate the full range of issues in light of our Church’s moral and social teachings, and then, using our best prudential judgments, choose those candidates and political parties whose responses we believe will most effectively serve the common good.

            At the state level, for example – as we choose a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller, as well as all the members of our state Assembly and state Senate –  whose policy approaches do we feel will best help meet the needs of the poor? Provide access to affordable housing, adequate health care, and real job opportunities for those who need them? Whose approaches to criminal justice will better protect public safety, while offering restorative justice to victims of crime as well as to those incarcerated? Which candidates and parties will do more to enhance our education system, especially by affording access to better alternatives for families trapped in poor-performing school districts, or those desiring a faith component to their children’s education?

Most of these issues also overlap into national policy, joining other critical questions that face us as we make our choices for Congress as well. Whose approaches to immigration do we think will best respond to the seemingly conflicting needs of adequate border security and humane, welcoming treatment for suffering families who come here in search of a better life? Who do we trust to protect us from domestic and international terrorism? To promote foreign policies that move the world closer to just and lasting peace, while effectively confronting  aggression and protecting our national security? To provide effective leadership in combating world hunger and disease, protecting our earthly environment and husbanding our natural resources?

            All these, of course, are critical issues that should concern us as Catholic voters. They are also human concerns rooted in certain fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching – principles that should be paramount in our voting choices.

First among these of course, is the inherent sanctity and dignity of every human life, created in the image of God. Proposed responses to every issue listed above – from social services and health care, to criminal justice, to education and job opportunities, to world peace, freedom and prosperity – must, if they are to be just solutions, begin with a commitment to the sacredness and dignity of every human life upon which such issues may impact.

And such a consistent life ethic must begin at the beginning, with protection of every human life from the moment he or she is conceived. A society which allows, as ours does, the indiscriminate killing of the most innocent, most defenseless of human beings – the child in the womb – cannot credibly base any of its policies on a professed respect for human life at any stage.  A society which is guided by a destroy the victim approach to issues of human suffering — abortion as a “solution” to poverty, child abuse, disability, or crisis pregnancy; euthanasia and assisted suicide as “solutions” to the suffering of those who are sick, or disabled, or mentally troubled, or terminally ill – cannot be trusted to prefer life-affirming solutions to the sufferings of other vulnerable populations.

Another fundamental principle enshrined in Catholic social teaching is religious freedom – the absence of which, as current policies demonstrate, threatens not only our public voice but our social ministries on which countless millions of vulnerable people depend.  When Catholic institutions are ordered, by government mandate, to violate our Church’s moral teachings, our ministries in health care, higher education, and human services are placed in jeopardy. When dubious “hate speech” laws are misapplied to stifle principled, religious advocacy on behalf of marriage and family, our voice is being forcibly silenced in the public square.

So what are the specific issues, bearing on the sanctity of life and on religious freedom, that face us as we go to the polls on Tuesday?

In Congress we need to ascertain where the candidates stand on Obamacare, specifically its mandate for abortion funding in health care plans, and its implications for end-of-life health care and treatments.   And we need to know whether or not candidates support the Health and Human Services mandate that would force many Catholic health care, social services and educational institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, in direct violation of Church teaching.

In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to support legislation that would expand abortion even beyond the extremes of Roe v. Wade, allowing it through all nine months of pregnancy and further endangering women by allowing non-physicians to perform abortions. His opponent, Rob Astorino, opposes this legislation, as does the Republican state Senate majority, which has so far blocked its passage. It’s important to ascertain where our candidates for Assembly and state Senate stand on this radical pro-abortion bill.

The governor has also famously declared that those of us who are pro-life and pro-traditional marriage are “extremists” who “have no place” in New York State – a direct verbal attack on our freedom of religious expression.

The governor and state legislature gravely disappointed supporters of educational choice last spring, when they failed to include in the state budget an Education Investment Tax Credit – despite widespread, bipartisan support in the state legislature and the governor’s expressed support for the proposal. The EITC would allow tax credits for donations either to public schools or to scholarship funds for private or religious schools. As such it would involve no transfer of public funds whatsoever to private or religious schools, and thus has enjoyed the active support of “labor leaders, business executives, parents, people from diverse faith communities and ethnic groups, lawmakers, teachers, students, liberals, conservatives,”  in the words of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. “The only people that I knew who were opposed to the EITC,” Cardinal Dolan wrote,  “were Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and the public-school teachers unions.”

We need to know now – from Governor Cuomo, Mr. Astorino, and state legislative candidates of both parties — not only whether they support EITC, but how strongly they will be willing to stand up to the teachers’ union and Speaker Silver, to make sure it is included in next year’s budget.

Also regarding religious freedom, the Markey Bill still looms in the state legislature. This  proposal would allow lawsuits going back endlessly – even 50 years or more – regarding allegations of sexual abuse of minors; but only for those abused in religious or other private settings. Abusers in government institutions would be shielded from the law; meaning, for example, children abused in public schools would have no such recourse. And this proposal would also jeopardize all those resources used by our Catholic ministries to serve people in need. This discriminatory legislation has also been blocked so far by the Republican Senate majority. Again, we need to know where Assembly and state Senate candidates stand on this proposal.

I am making no political endorsement, here, of any candidate or party. That is not our function. The purpose of this blog post is simply to review some of the critical issues that should concern us as Catholic voters; the fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching that should inform our consideration of each of these human concerns; the meaning of certain public policy questions impacting on those fundamental principles; and the current status of those policy matters as it relates to the positions of candidates and the current make-up of our government.

All of us, as Catholic voters, will make our own choices when we go to the polls on Tuesday. I only urge that as we do, we consider all of these critical issues and current policy questions in light of Catholic moral and social teaching; and then that our votes be guided not by calculations of personal interest, but by consideration for the common good of all humanity.

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