Understanding the ‘Catholic vote’
Many people will liken the notion of a “Catholic vote” to the alleged bloc vote of the Iglesia Ni Cristo. First, we must explain what it is not. The Catholic vote is not a bloc vote according to the dictates of the clergy. It would not be acceptable for the bishops and priests to dictate whom to vote. All this would be very alien to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Catholics are united in what the “Magisterium,” or the teaching authority of the Church, teaches regarding faith and morals. The true mark of Catholicity is this unity in matters of faith and morals combined with great respect for individual freedom and responsibility in temporal matters. Since politics is concerned with temporal matters, Catholics are free to use their own criteria, keeping in mind the common good.
Thus, the decision process of a Catholic is two-tiered: The top tier is the criteria for matters that have to do with faith and morals, and the lower tier is concerned with temporal issues. Before Republic Act 10354, there was never any need for a Catholic vote: Legislation was exclusively concerned with policymaking on temporal matters regulating civil life. The situation changed completely with the introduction of the reproductive health bill—a policy that impinged on the sacredness of human life and the sanctity of marriage. The Catholic vote was born in the hearts of the faithful as they helplessly listened to politicians they elected cast their votes in favor of RH.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says: “When the Church addresses her social teaching to issues of the common good, she has no intention of giving the Church power over the State or to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith.”
It is also Benedict XVI who provides the basis and criteria for a Catholic vote in a speech before the Audience of European Parliamentarians on March 30, 2006: “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable… 1) protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; 2) recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family—as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage; 3) protection of the right of parents to educate their children.”
These then are the first-level criteria for assessing the candidates on matters related to faith and morals—three nonnegotiable ethical principles that politicians have to defend in policymaking: sacredness of life, sanctity of marriage, and parents’ right and duty to educate their children—in order to merit the Catholic vote.
We quote this provocative statement from Cardinal Raymond Burke: “[T]here is no element of the common good, no morally good practice, which a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which could justify voting for a candidate who also endorses and supports the deliberate killing of the unborn, euthanasia or the recognition of a same-sex relationship as a legal marriage.” By this statement we gain a clearer understanding how the three nonnegotiable ethical principles belong to a higher and more sublime category—divine natural law, hence the compelling reason for a Catholic to blacklist any candidate who violates them. The origin of these nonnegotiable ethical principles from divine moral law also means we can’t put them in the same footing as other criteria of a temporal nature.
At this point we can answer the infamous question: Should Catholics vote for a corrupt prolife politician? This is where the second-level criteria come in. Catholics may or may not apply another set of criteria to those candidates who passed the first level. This second level concerns temporal matters such as corruption, political dynasties, mining, gun ban, etc. Catholics can and should exercise a great degree of freedom and use their good judgment, keeping in mind the common good.
The lay organizations and their overlapping memberships, including some dioceses outside of Metro Manila, have come up with variations of a list of candidates. Such endorsements are their own and not what the media often refer to as the Church. In spite of the differences in their lineups, these remain consistent with the observance of the nonnegotiable ethical principles, i.e., applying the ethical criteria but leaving room for freedom in judging the candidates based on temporal issues. The White Vote Movement is an example. As for Catholic Vote Philippines, it will not endorse any candidate in keeping with the position of the Church hierarchy, and instead will uphold and promote these guiding principles.
But the great thing that the “Team Buhay/Team Patay” tarpaulin achieved in Bacolod was to come up with the best branding for the Catholic vote. “Team Buhay” expresses so graphically and succinctly the culture of life. These two words accomplish what could only be done through difficult and long catechesis, making it so accessible to the grassroots. We can put this branding to good use by simply asking each politician: “Are you ‘Team Buhay’ or ‘Team Patay’?”
Linda Valenzona is a convener of Catholic Vote Philippines Inc., a nonstock, nonprofit organization of lay Catholics that helps Catholics engage in politics, to ensure that the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals are adequately defended in the legislative sphere. Its website (http://catholicvote.ph) carries complete information on the positions taken by national and local candidates on ethical issues.