Catholic Principles of the Obligation of Voting 


By Rev. Titus Cranny, S.A., M.A.., S.T.L.

The Catholic University of America Press,
Washington, D.C., 1952

Angelus F. Delahaunt, S.A.
Pater Generalis

Francis J. Connell, C.Ss.R., S.T.D.
Censor Deputatis

† Patrick A. O’Boyle, D.D.
Archiepiscopus Washingtoniensis
July 24, 1952




I. The Concept and Nature of Voting

1. The Notion of Voting
2. The Kinds of Voting
3. The History of Voting

II. The Principles of the Obligation of Voting

1. The Principles as Basis of the Obligation
a. Man’s Need of Society
b. Every Citizen Bound to Promote the Common Good
c. The Christian Concept of Civic Duty

2. Gravity of the Obligation of Voting
a. From Papal Pronouncements
b. From Episcopal Directives
c. From Statements of Theologians

3. Conditions That May Relieve One of the Obligation of Voting
4. Conditions Under Which One May Vote for Unworthy Candidates

5. Specific Obligations of Voting
a. In Certain Issues
b. For Certain Persons

6. Women and the Obligation of Voting

III. Duties Flowing From the Obligation of Voting

1. Knowledge of Principles
2. Knowledge of Candidates
3. Knowledge of Issues
4. Employment of Means for Wise and Intelligent Voting: Meetings, Associations, etc.
5. The Clergy and the Obligation of Voting



Catholics are not strangers to the world. For though they belong to the City of God on earth, the Church of the Divine Redeemer, they live in the world with its farms and its factories, its military forces and social agencies, its economic programmes and atomic inventions, taking part in the activity around them. They seek to achieve two different but wholly compatible ends: reasonable temporal welfare in human society and the eternal glory of the saints in heaven. They belong to the Body of Christ with its spiritual means, aims, and ends, but hey participate in the affairs of the world to contribute to the common good of all. For since that day when the Saviour took the coin of tribute into his hands and said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” men have known that they are bound to carry Christian principles into the warp and woof of public life as well as private life, to integrate Christian maxims and principles into the whole fabric of human endeavor.

Catholics have always played an important role in the social, economic, and political life of nations, though not always in positions of authority. At times they were persecuted by tyrannical rulers, hunted as animals and made the sport of jeering mobs that gathered in arenas to witness their heroic protestations of love for Christ; at other times they fled into exile, compelled to live in caves and deserts, scorned as the outcasts of society, while in reality they were its sole salvation.

Then through God’s providence history changed its course and the children of the persecuted ascended the thrones of those who had killed their forefathers. Kings, princes, and other ranks of nobility became loyal children of the Church rather than her avowed enemies so that public life became somewhat Christian.

Unhappily, however, not all the sons of the Church wearing crowns obeyed the imperious call of conscience. At times they fell prey to the seductions of the “law of the members” and abandoned reason and religion in their methods of government, of politics, and of social living. They permitted the forces of the spirit to be assailed and subdued by material forces, and empires and dynasties thought imperishable crashed suddenly and ingloriously.

While it is true that in most of the world the monarchical form of government of government was used, still here and there, even from very ancient times, various types of representative government functioned, so that the present trend towards democracy and a republican form of rule is not some new light which burst upon the world with the foundation and formation of the United States of America, but a plan that has been used in times past by various races and peoples.

Moreover, it should not be thought that the Church sanctioned the monarchical form of government as best. She approved and still approves any time of orderly government, provided God’s rights and her rights are respected and the dignity of man is safeguarded. As Pope Leo XIII wrote in one of his memorable encyclicals: “The right to rule is not necessarily…bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form, provided only that it be of a nature to insure the general welfare. But whatever be the nature of the government, rulers must ever bear in mind that God is the paramount ruler of the world and must set Him before themselves as their exemplar and law in the administration of the state.” [1]

Pope Pius XII called attention to the democratic form of government in his Christmas message of 1944. Declaring that “to many it appear to be a postulate of nature imposed on reason itself,” [2] he went on to say that “In a people worthy of the name, the citizen feels within the consciousness of his personality, of his duties and rights of his own freedom along with the freedom and dignity of others. [3] He outlined the differences between a true democracy and a false one; in the former “the people live by the fulness of life in the men that compose it, each of whom – in his own proper place and in his own way – is a person conscious of his own personality and of his own views. [4]

Although the Church has never endorsed any one form of government, she has insisted that the faithful have obligations to the nation wherein they live. Such obligations are founded on the virtue of pietas, or the love of one’s country, shown by the observation of all just law, the support of national institutions, the payment of taxes, the bearing of arms when necessary – and in a republican form of government – by bearing the responsibilities peculiar to it.

From the very beginning of Christian times teachers of the faith have urged obedience to civil authority and prayers for rulers. St. Peter treated the matter in his first epistle. St. Paul stressed it especially in his letter to the Romans, while St. Clement, the third successor of the prince of the Apostles, has left a grand commentary indicative of respect for civil power, even though Domitian was enslaving Christians: “Grant to them, O Lord, health, peace, concord, and firmness so that they may without hindrance exercise the supreme leadership which Thou hast conferred upon them…. Do Thou, O Lord, direct their counsels in accord with what is good and pleasing in Thy sight so that they may piously exercise in peace and gentleness the authority Thou hast granted them and thus experience Thy graciousness.” [5]

Such a spirit has lived in the Church in every age. Loyalty to the civil institutions, the bearing of the burdens of citizenship as well as the sharing of its rights, have always been the teaching of the Church. As members of the Mystical Body, Catholics are not freed of their obligations to their fellow-men and to society. Indeed their very profession of faith increases and deepens their responsibility since they recognize all authority as from God; they understand all just law as a participation in God’s eternal law; and they look upon good government as a reflection of the unchanging order of heaven. They realize, in the words of a contemporary authority, that “where the members have political rights, they have political responsibilities, which, in the last respect, are always moral duties. They have the moral duty to use their political status, both to safeguard their own freedom and to fulfill the moral law and the practice of their religion, and also to bring the laws and institutions of the community as a whole into conformity with the standards of natural morality.” [6]

The Church is interested in politics, it is true, but not as pure politics. She sees moral issues at stake and seeks to defend or uphold them. She desires to safeguard the rights of God and the rights of man so that peace may reign in society. Watching over politics with the vigilant eye of a mother, she seeks to counsel when necessary, and will even intervene. In doing so she does not act contrary to her nature, but in perfect accord with it, for

…to teach or to arbitrate or to bind consciences rests (once her commission to teach and bind has been granted) on the fact that politics are constantly raising moral questions. Rulers are enforcing laws, Parliaments making them, statesmen considering high policy, voters going to the polls, and all who have to fulfill in any way the common duties of the citizen are always likely to be confronted with issues reducible in the last resort of right or wrong… [7] the claim of the Church to intervene in politics rests squarely upon two pillars, her own divine commission as teacher and arbiter of morals and the fundamentally ethical character of the political community of civic life. [8]


Many years ago in a letter to the bishops of Germany, Pope Pius X set down the principle of morality in public life.


Whatever a Christian does even in worldly affairs, he is not at liberty to disregard what is supernaturally good, but he must order all towards the highest good as his final aim, in accordance with the precepts of Christian wisdom. All his actions, however, as far as they are morally good or bad, that is to say, as far as they are in accord with or transgress the natural or divine law, are subject to the judgment and jurisdiction of the Church. [9]

And so it has always been. The living members of the Church have recognized the function of the State in human living; they have realized their obligations to it, and they have understood the Church’s interest in political matters. Even when despotic governments persecuted the Church to the shedding of blood, she did not protest against the State as such, but against the worship of false gods, the immorality of public games, and the violence and cruelty of rulers. If human dictates transgressed the laws of God, then Catholics had no choice but to follow God.

The rapid growth and development of the representative form of government in many parts of the world has brought on new obligations. The citizens in any state have the duty of supporting their government by obeying laws, paying taxes, and contributing to the common good, but citizens in a republican state have the additional duty of participating in the government itself, that is, by assuming public office or at least by using the electoral franchise. But while the role of public office extends to relatively few people, the ballot obliges the majority of citizens in a country.

Sad to say, however, many citizens, even Catholics, have been remiss in their obligation of voting. Even people otherwise good, fail to exercise their right when duty demands it. They are negligent and careless when they should be interested and active. But the obligation of the ballot stands and the direct words of the American Hierarchy during the heated campaign of 1840 apply with equal fitness today:

…reflect that you are accountable not only to society but to God for the honest, independent and fearless exercise of your franchise, that it is a trust confided to you, not for your private gain, but for the public good and that if yielding to any influence you act either through favor, affection or motives of dishonest gain against your own deliberate view of what will promote your country’s good, you have violated your trust, you have betrayed your conscience, and you are a renegade to your country. [10]

But the gravity of the obligation received its strongest sanction from the present Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, in 1946 and in 1948 when he urged and commanded the faithful to vote in Italy. In a discourse to the Pastors and Lenten Preachers of Rome March 16, 1946, he gave this advice:

The exercise of the right to vote is an act of grave responsibility, at least when there is the question involved of electing those whose office it will be to give the country its constitutions and its laws, particularly those which effect, for example, the sanctification of feast days, marriage, family life and school, the various phases of social life. It therefore falls to the Church to explain to the faithful their moral duties which derive from their right to vote. [11]

To the same body of clergy he spoke two years later (March 10, 1948) and with even more emphasis. His words were the following:


It is your right and duty to draw the attention of the faithful to the extraordinary importance of the coming elections and to the moral responsibility which follows from it for those who have the right to vote. In the present circumstances 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 cowardice, commits thereby a grave sin, a mortal offense. [12]

In the face of such exhortations and commands by the Vicar of Christ on the obligation of voting it seems particularly fitting at this time to single out the moral obligation devolving upon all citizens who possess the right to vote. It seems fitting for another reason as well, viz., because a large portion of the eligible voters in the United States do not use their franchise through indifference, neglect, or a similar moral weakness.

The specter of apathy and undesirable disinterestedness is rising more and more upon the country’s horizon. Many American citizens are not interested in their role as citizens; they clamor for their rights, but forget their duties; they insist upon what is owed them, but forget what they owe others. Thus the popular author, Fulton Oursler, observes the situation as neither healthy or happy.

Today’s curse upon political life is not so much what is unlawful as what is unscrupulous. At the root of our decay is sickness of conscience. Moral obtuseness is a national plague over free government. This decline in national character is a serious danger, because if we lose our standards, all our liberties may be lost through abuses, corruption, and chaos…. “That is politics,” we say. As if politics needed to be a sinkhole. Without a vision the people are perishing; they are even finding something to admire in the slickness, the tricky deceitfulness by which the taxpayers are bilked. They smile at scoundrels in office as if they were only amusing scalawags. [13]

Nor is such an attitude of unwarranted pessimism. For the number of United States citizens who voted in the presidential election of 1948 was a scandal. According to statistics only about fifty-two percent of the eligible voters used their vote- a sad commentary upon the civic conscience of the average citizen. If the trend continues it may well be that the words of Christopher Dawson about Europe may be fulfilled in the United States.

To vote in an election or plebiscite today has ceased to be purely political action. It has become an affirmation of faith in a particular social philosophy and theory of history; a decision between two or three mutually exclusive forms of civilization. I do not say this is a good thing; or: the contrary, it means that history and social philosophy are being distorted and debased by political propaganda and party feeling. [14]

The Catholic Church is not interested in voting as a purely political activity any more than she is interested in the purely political form of government. But she is interested in voting as moral activity with duties and obligations to which are conjoined important consequences for good or evil. On this matter Pope Pius XII has laid down this principle:

The Church, indeed does not claim to interfere without reason in the direction of temporal or purely political affairs; nevertheless of her full right, she claims that the civil power must not allege this as an excuse for placing obstacles in the way of those higher goods on which the eternal salvation of man depends, for inflicting loss and injury through unjust laws and decrees, for impairing the divine constitution of the Church itself, or for trampling underfoot the sacred rights of God in civil society. [15]

Through her interest in the rights of God and in the rights and duties of men, the Church declares in the Code of Canon Law that “…by her power and exclusive right the Church takes cognizance …of all matters in which is to be found a ratio peccati.” [16] These words, used by Pope Boniface VIII and Innocent III, do not refer exclusively to theological matters, but to all that pertains to the good of religion, either positively or negatively; positively, as they are necessary for the good of religion as the end of the Church; negatively, as they are obstacles to that end and must be eliminated.

A further instance of the Church’s role of moral guidance in political affairs comes from the following statement of Pope Pius XII.

The moral order and God’s commandments have a force equally in all fields of human activity. As far as the fields stretch, so far extends the mission of the Church, and also her teachings, warnings, and the counsel of the priest to the faithful confided to his care….The Catholic Church will never allow herself to be shut up within the four walls of the temple. The separation between religion and life, between the Church and the world is contrary to the Christian and Catholic idea. [17]

Finally, as a concluding proof that politics is within the sphere of the Church’s interest and judgment insofar as moral issues are involved, we may quote Pope Pius X who declared in his first consistorial allocution November 9, 1903: “We do not conceal the fact that We shall shock some people by saying that We must necessarily concern ourselves with politics. But anyone forming an equitable judgment clearly sees that the Supreme Pontiff can in no wise violently withdraw the category of politics from subjection to the supreme control of faith and morals confided to him.” [18]

This work of the moral obligation of voting in civil elections is divided into three parts. The first deals with nature, the concept, and the kinds of voting, with a brief history to show its development during the centuries. The second part deals with the general and specific principles that should guide citizens in the exercise of the franchise with particular stress given to the statements of the Supreme Pontiffs and the members of the hierarchy. The third part considers the duties that flow from the obligation to vote, viz., a knowledge of the principles, of the candidates, of the issues at stake, and the use of the means to promote wise and intelligent voting; it also considers the role of the priest in directing the faithful in the proper discharge of their duty. Finally there is an appendix of important pastorals on the obligation of voting from prominent members of the hierarchy.

The writer of this dissertation is deeply indebted to Very Rev. Dr. Francis J. Connell, C.Ss.R., Dean of the School of Sacred Theology, who suggested this topic and patiently guided the work to its completion. He wishes likewise to express his gratitude to the readers, Rev. Dr. Joseph Collins, S.S., and Rev. Dr. Thomas O. Martin, whose suggestion and advice proved very helpful. He wishes to thank the superiors of the Society of the Atonement for the opportunity of pursuing graduate work and the members of the community for their interest and encouragement.

1. Immortale Dei in Acta Sanctae Sedis, 18 (1885), 162. Afterwards designated by ASS. See Great Encyclicals of Leo XIII (New York, 1903), 193.
2. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 37 (1945), 13. Afterwards designated by AAS.
3. Ibid., 12.
4. Ibid., 13.
5. Epistola ad Corinthios, c. 61. Translation from James A Kleist, St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch (Westminster, Md., 1946), 47.
6. F.R. Hoare, The Papacy and the Modern State (London, 1940), 38.
7. Ibid., 7.
8. Ibid.
9. Quidquid homo christianus agat, etiam in ordine rerum terrenarum, non ei licit bona negligere, quae sunt supra naturam, immo oportere, ad summum bonum tanquam ad ultimum finem, ex christianae sapientiae praescriptis, omnia dirigat; omnes autem actiones eius, quatenus bonae aut malae sunt in genere morum, id est cum jure naturali et divino congruunt aut discrepant, judicio et jurisdictioni Ecclesiae subesse.” Singulari quadam, AAS 4 (1912), 658.
10. Peter Guilday, ed., National Pastorals of the American Hierarchy, 1792-1919 (Washington, D.C., 1921), 143.
11. “L’esercizio del diritto di voto è un atto di grave responsabilità morale, per lo meno quando si tratta di eleggere color che sono chiamati a dare al Paese la sua constituzione e le sue leggi, quelle in particolare che tocanno, per esempio, la sanctificazione delle feste, il matrimonio, la famiglia, la scuola, il regolamento secondo guistizia ed equità delle molteplici condizione sociali. Spetta perciò alla Chiesa di spiegare ai fedeli i doveri morali, che da quel diritto elettorale derivano.” AAS 38 (1946), 187. See also Catholic Mind, May 1946, 301.
12. “È vestro diritto e dovere di attirare l’attenzione dei fedeli sulla straordinaria importanza delle prossime elizioni e sulla responsabilità morale che ne deriva a tutti color i quali hanno il diritto di voto....Che, nelle presenti circostanze, è stretto obbligo per quanti ne hanno il diritto, uomini e donne, di prender parte alle elizione. Chi se ne astiene, specialmente per incolenza o per viltà, commette in sè un peccato grave, una colpa mortale.” AAS 40 (1948), 119.
13. “Twilight of Honor,” Reader’s Digest, 56: 338 (June 1950), 7.
14. Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (New York, 1950),6.
15. Ubi arcano, Dec. 23, 1922, AAS 14, 698.
16. “Ecclesia iure proprio et exclusivo cognoscit…omnibus in quibus inest ratio peccati….” Can. 1553, 1, 2°. Note also the condemation by Pope Pius VI of the following proposition from the Synod of Pistoia (Aug. 28, 1794). “Propositio affirmans, abusum fore auctoritatis Ecclesiae, transferendo illam ultra limites doctrinae ac morum, et eam extendendo ad res exteriors, et per vim exigendo id, quod pendet a persuasione et corde; tum etiam, multo nimus ad eam pertinere, exigere per exteriorem subiectionem suis decretis; quatenus indeterminatis illis verbis extendendo ad res exteriors notet velut abusum auctoritatis Ecclesiae usum eius potestatis acceptae a Deo, qua usi sunt et ipsimit Apostoli in disciplina exteriore constituenda et sancienda: - haeritica.” Denzinger-Bannwart, Enchiridion Symbolorum (Friburg, 1937), 1504.
17. AAS 38 (1946), 187.
18. Acta Sanctae Sedis, 36, 195.



1. Basis of the Obligation

a. Man’s Need of Society

The fundamental basis of the moral obligation of voting is two-fold: (1) The state is a necessary society demanded by man’s nature and his needs; (2) Every citizen is bound to promote the common good. In a republican form of government where the citizens select their rulers, judges, and other administrative and legislative officials, it is of the utmost importance that the citizens take and active and intelligent interest in those whom they select. Moreover, since the civil government greatly affects the lives of the citizens, it follows that the officials be chosen with care and honesty.

By nature man is a social and political animal, according to the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas [1] and other scholastics. Man’s nature and needs demand that he form some kind of a basic society to satisfy his exigencies, to fulfil his potentialities, and to perfect his powers. Now the most basic unit of society is the family and while it is vital in supplying man’s elementary needs it is not sufficient to fulfill all the needs of the individual or of the individual families. The state is necessary to supply those needs which the family cannot furnish. The family supplies those necessities by which man can live, but the state furnishes those goods by which man can live well. [2] Thus St. Thomas writes:

Man is naturally a civil or social animal. This is evident from the fact that one man does not suffice for himself if he live alone; because the things are few wherein nature makes adequate provision for man, since she gave him reason by means of which he might provide himself with all necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and so on, for the protection of which one man is not enough. Wherefore man has a natural inclination towards social life. Now the order of providence does not deprive a thing of what is natural to it: rather is each thing provided for according to its nature as we have said above (c. 71). Therefore man is not so made by the order of providence that he is deprived of his social life. Yet he would be deprived of it, were our choice to proceed from the influence of heavenly bodies like the natural instinct of other animals. [3]

Since the state is necessary that many may attend his end, it follows that man has the duty to be the member of some state. He also has the obligation to contribute to the support and welfare of the state in achieving its end – the temporal common good. He fulfills this obligation by loving his country, by supporting and obeying just laws, by paying taxes, by bearing arms when necessary and by fulfilling other civic duties of citizens. [4] One of these other duties in a republican form of government is the obligation of voting in order to promote the common good.

It is obvious that government is necessary in a state to insure peace and order, and to promote the best interests of all. This is precisely the reason why citizens should be interested in their government and in the men who represent them. The state needs good rulers and administrators; the citizens have the obligation of selecting them. St. Thomas lays down the principle of the state’s purpose and the function of government in the first chapter of De regimine principum:

If man were intended to live alone, like animals, he would not require any one to govern him; every man would be his own king under the supreme command of God, inasmuch as he would govern himself by the light of reason given him by the Creator. But it is the nature of man to be a social and political animal, living in community, differently from all other animals; a thing which is clearly shown by the necessity of his nature. Nature has provided for other animals food, skins for covering, means of defense as teeth, horns, claws, or at least speed in flight; but she has not endowed man with any of these qualities; instead she has given him reason by which, with the assistance of his hands he can procure what he wants. But to procure this, one man alone is not enough. For he Is not in condition to govern his own life; therefore it is in mans nature to live in society. Thus if it is natural for man to live in society, it is necessary that some one should direct the multitude for if many were united and each did as he thought proper, they would fall to pieces unless somebody looked after the public good, as would be the case of the human body, and that of other animals, if there did not exist a power to watch over the welfare of the members. Thus Solomon says: “Where there is non one to govern, the people will be dispersed.” In man himself the soul directs the body; and in the soul, the feelings of anger and concupiscence are governed by reason. Among the members of the body there is one principle which directs all, as the heart or the head. There ought then to be in every multitude some governing power. [5]

By reason of his need to live in society and to have authority and government man is obliged to contribute what he can in the affairs affecting the whole. All authority comes from God and according to the more common theory, He gives it to the people, who in turn entrust it to those whom they choose to rule and to legislate. Members of the government are custodians of the law; any laws they enact must conform to the natural law; they may not violate this higher law or ignore the dignity of man. But by this same token, the other citizens cannot shirk their duties which bind them to take part in government insofar as they are able and competent to do so.

b. Every Citizen Bound to Promote the Common Good

Legal justice is the virtue of the good citizen and it looks directly to the common good. [6] It perfects the citizen and inclines him to seek and act for the common good in a reasonable way. Legal justice is distinct from pietas, for it regards one’s country as it is the common good, while pietas considers it as in some way the principle of being. [7] It is obvious that one of the ways of promoting the common good is the honest and intelligent use of the vote in civil elections in order to secure worthy men for positions of public service.

The common good is not the good of a few, of a class or group, for as Pope Leo XIII has insisted: “The enjoyment of this common good is common to all men in human society and can not be restricted specifically to individuals, classes, races, or nations.” [8] Pope Pius XI further explained that “the temporal good in the temporal order consists in that peace and security in which families and individual citizens have the free exercise of their rights, and at the same time enjoy the greatest spiritual and temporal prosperity in this life, by the mutal union and coordination of the work of all.” [9]

Now the common good is not simply an aggregate of particular goods, nor the good of the whole which ignores the parts, for the social units are parts which contribute to and share in the common good. [10] Nor is the common good simply identical with a purely material good. There is a temporal common good and a spiritual common good, but even the former

‘In its fulness is not identical with a purely material good, even less with its own material advantages. It is rather the collective good of men, distributed in national groups, with their essential characteristics as physical, rational, social, moral and religious beings. The excellence of this collective good, verified mainly in the political order, includes the various aspects of man in the political order, in the sense that both the national and international communities are bound to safeguard those goods as well as the conditions favoring their pursuit by individual men. But it amplifies individual good generally, insofar as one who is conscious of the temporal common good cannot satisfy fully the conditions of his own salvation, unless one fulfills somehow his duty towards that collective common good’. [11]
One who seeks after and promotes the common good also seeks after and promotes his own good as well. St. Thomas explains how this is so:

First, because the good of the individual cannot be complete unless the common good of the family, city, or state to which he belongs is assured. Hence Valerius Maximus (Fact. et dict. mem. 4, 6) says of the ancient Romans that they preferred to be poor in a wealthy state than be wealthy in a poor one. Secondly, since a man forms a constituent part of a family and of a state if he acts prudently with regard to the common good, he will necessarily learn to seek his own good rightly, so that it may be advantageous to the common good. For the good disposition of parts depends upon their relation to the whole. As St. Augustine says: “It is unbecoming for a part not to fit harmoniously into the whole.” (Conf. 3,8) [12]

Just as the state with its authority and laws has the obligation of promoting the common good, so the individual citizen has the same duty. Fro the citizen as part of the state is bound to contribute to its welfare. In a republican form of government one of the means of so doing is the electoral franchise. At present it seems that the character of the obligation cannot be stressed sufficiently when so many citizens seem infected with the spirit of rugged individualism and selfishness leaving no room for the finer instincts of the soul. By not voting or by voting carelessly or indifferently, such citizens tend to tear down the common good rather than to share in its upbuilding. Just as public officials have the duty of promoting the common good, so too the individual voter has his obligation, to a lesser degree, to contribute to the good of all. As Monsignor John A. Ryan has well written:

The citizens are bound to promote the common good in all possible ways. The franchise enables them to further or to hinder the commonweal greatly and fundamentally, inasmuch as the quality of government depends upon the kind of officials they elect. Not only questions of politics, but social, industrial, educational, moral and religious subjects are regulated by legislative bodies and administered by executive. Therefore the matter (of voting) is of grave importance and the obligation of the citizen to participate in the elections and to support fit candidates is correspondingly grave. [13]

The Bishops of the United States in their pastoral letter of 1919 minced no words as to the citizen’s obligation to promote the common good by active interest and intelligent action in political affairs. We may cite them at length:

In its primary meaning, politics has for its aim the administration of government in accordance with the express will of the people and for their best interests. This can be accomplished by the adoption of right principles, the choice of worthy candidates for office, the direction of the partisan effort towards the nation’s true welfare and the purity of elections, but not by dishonesty. The idea that politics is exempt from the requirements of morality is both false and pernicious; it is practically equivalent to the notion that in government there is neither right nor wrong, and the will of the people is simply an instrument to be used for private advantage. The expression or application of such views accounts for the tendency, on the part of many citizens, to keep aloof from politics. But their abstention will not effect the needed reform, nor will it arouse from apathy the still larger number of those who are so intent upon their own pursuits that they have no inclination for political duties. Each citizen should devote a reasonable amount of time and energy to the exercise of his political rights and privileges. He should understand the issues that are brought before the people and co-operate with his fellow citizens in securing, by all legitimate means, the wisest possible solution. [14]

Obviously one of the means of advancing the common good of a nation with a republican form of government is the right use of the ballot. The ordering of man’s life to the common good follows from his social and political nature. [15] As a citizen man is ordained to the promotion of the common good which is ordained, in turn, to the perfection of the individual. And as a citizen he fulfills his duties in particular aspects by honest, intelligent, and faithful voting in civil elections. He is obliged to use the vote for the common good, for as Father E. Cahill, S.J., remarks: “…in a democratic system of government all enfranchised citizens are bound in conscience to exercise the powers they have in so far as they may be necessary or useful for the common good, lest a group of politicians or financiers or Press magnates be permitted to dominate public life to the injury or enslavement of the people. In this sense every citizen is bound to be a politician.” [16]

The duty of the citizen to vote is founded upon the rights of a naturally constituted whole to the proper cooperation of its parts, as St. Thomas teaches. [17] The kind and degree of cooperation vary according to the capacity of the part and the role it plays in the civil organism. Thus a public official will have a greater cooperation in the whole than the ordinary citizen, but both must work to promote the common good. And both must use the franchise in civil elections.

c. The Christian Concept of Duty

That a Catholic citizen should take an intelligent interest in the civil government and should support it to the best of his ability is nothing new in Christian teaching. Our Lord Himself set the example and gave support to the national institutions during His life on earth. Indeed the insinuations and accusations that He was an enemy of the state were nothing more than the most insolent falsehoods. For He laid down the fundamental principle of Christian participation in the role of the state when He said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” [18]

Then St. Paul gave in detail some of the duties of a good citizen. He said the Christian should be subject to higher powers “for there is no power but from God, and those that are, are ordained of God.” [19] He went on to specify the obligation of giving honor to those in authority and having positions of dignity, to pay taxes and other tribute, and render to all the proper due. Here was the first explicit statement of the obligation in justice on the part of the citizen to the state in the New Testament. In other passages too, the Apostle wrote of the citizen’s duties, particularly in the epistles to St. Timothy and St. Titus. [20]

At the same time St. Peter, as Christ’s first vicar, told the faithful to be “subject to every human creature for God’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to the governors as sent through Him for vengeance upon evildoers, and for the praise of the good….Live as freemen, yet not using your freedom as a cloak for malice but as servants of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” [21] Honor the king, said St. Peter, and that the king was Nero.

Re-statements and developments of this New Testament teaching can be found in the writings of many Fathers. They recognized the need of civil rulers and of civil authority. Particularly striking were the prayers of St. Clement of Rome for civil powers. “Grant concord and peace to us as well as to all the inhabitants of the earth…grant us to be obedient to They almighty and glorious name, as well as to our princes and rulers on earth.” [22]

From the same source we have a beautiful liturgical prayer of the Church, bearing ample testimony of the realization that the authority of the state was from God.

Thou, O Master, through Thy transcendent and indescribable sovereignty has given them the power of royalty, so that we, acknowledging the honor and glory conferred upon them by Thee, may bow to them, without in the least opposing thy will, Grant to them, O Lord, peace, concord, and firmness so that they may without hindrance exercise the supreme leadership Thou hast conferred upon them. For it is Thou, O Master, O heavenly King of all ages, that conferrest upon the sons of men glory and honor and authority over the things which are upon the earth. Do Thou, O Lord, direct their counsels in accord with what is good and pleasing in Thy sight, so that they may piously exercise in peace and gentleness Thy graciousness. [23]

This clear and concise prayer was used before the end of the first century when persecution was still enforced. For the suffering Christians understood that when the civil authorities exercised their power justly, they acted according to the law of God.

The great apologist of the second century, St. Justin Martyr, pointed out to his adversaries that the Christians were loyal citizens. They gave their allegiance to the king and prayed for him; they paid their taxes as Christ had taught them. These are his words:

As we have been instructed by Him, we, before all others try everywhere to pay your appointed officials the ordinary and special taxes. For in His time some people came and asked if it were necessary to pay tribute to Caesar, and He replied: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Wherefore, only God do we worship, but in other things we joyfully obey you, acknowledging you as the kings and rulers of men, and praying that you may be found to have, besides royal power, sound judgment. [24]

In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155) we read that the saint spoke to the pro-consul in the following manner: “You I should have held worthy of discussion, for we have been taught to render honor, as is meet, if it hurt not us, to princes and authorities appointed by God. [25]

Then St. Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, writing about 181, quoted St. Paul’s thirteenth chapter to the Romans and added this comment: “This also the scripture commands , that we be subject to the magistrates and authorities and that we pray for them ‘that we lead a quiet and peaceful life.’ And it also teaches us to render all things to all men: ‘Tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; owe no many anything except to love one another.’” [26] In another passage he turned from the Christians to the pagan rulers to declare that their rule came from heaven. “The king is not be adored, but to be honored with legitimate honor. For he is not a god, but a man made by God, not that he may be adored, but that he may judge justly. In a certain way he has been entrusted by God with the administration.” [27]

Later the enigmatical Tertullian (160-240/250) showed the relationship of the Christian citizen to the pagan rulers in his usual forceful way. “A Christian is enemy to none,” he began

least of all to the Emperor of Rome whom he knows to be established by God, and so cannot but love and honor, and whose well-being moreover, he must needs desire, with that of the Empire, over which he reigns so long as the world stands – for so long will Rome endure. To the emperor, therefore, we render such reverential homage as it is lawful for us and good to him, regarding him as a human being next to God, who from God has received all his power and is less than God alone. [28]

But the same writer placed severe limitations on the Emperor’s power. “They know from whom they have received their power,” he asserted. “They are convinced that this is God alone, on whose power alone they are entirely dependent, to whom they are second, and after whom they occupy the highest place and before and above all the gods….He (the emperor) gets his scepter from where he got his humanity; his power where he got his first breath of life.” [29] Then in one of his magnificent sweeps of rhetoric for which he is famous, Tertullian pointed out how the Christians took part in all the affairs of human life just as any other dutiful members of the state.

We are not strangers to life. We are fully aware of the gratitude we owe to God our Lord and Creator. We reject not the fruits of His handiwork; we only abstain from their immoderate or unlawful use. We are living in the world with you; we do not shun your forum, your markets, your baths, your shops, your factories, your stables, your places of business and traffic. We take ship with you and we serve in your armies; we are farmers and merchants with you; we interchange skilled labor and display our works in public for your service. How we can seem unprofitable to you with whom we live and of whom we are, I know not. [30]

Ignio Giordani in his work, The Social Message of the Early Church Fathers, classifies three types of Christians of this period: (1) Those who were Roman in feeling, loved the Empire and wished to introduce the faith as a positive factor in civil and political well being, who were loyal to the Empire but distinguished between it and the idolatrous trappings. (2) Those who sought to win a legal recognition for the Church and the enjoyment of ordinary rights without mixing in politics. They preferred to avoid public office, but wanted the state to renounce its own deification. (3) Those who identified Caesar and Satan, Rome with Babylon, and hated and opposed all that was Roman as the incarnation of evil. [31]

St. Clement of Rome, a freedman or the son of a freedman, simply felt that as a citizen he was a Roman and that Christian charity refined and ennobled the duties of citizenship. Many others felt likewise, such as Abercius, Melito of Sardis, Athenagoras, Apollonius, Theophilus, and Dionysius of Corinth. The point is that these Christians realized they owed a duty to the state. Christian virtue meant love of the fatherland and respect for and obedience to civil authority. And though Tertullian would not fit into the class of the men above, he has left a famous passage to indicate the penetration of Christianity into every phase of human life. “We are a people of yesterday and yet we have filled every place belonging to you, cities, islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes, companies, places, senate forum! We leave you your temples only!” [32]

St. Ambrose of Milan (333-397) commented on the teaching of St. Paul to show that the faithful were bound by the civil law. “The ordinance of the power by God reaches to the point that he is the minister of God who uses his power rightly: ‘He is God’s minister to thee, for good.’ Therefore there is no fault in the office, but in the minister; it is not the ordinance of God that can displease, but the act of the minister.” [33]

St. John Chrysostom in Constantinople indicated the duties of the faithful, even of the clergy, to civil authority. In his commentary on the thirteenth chapter of the Epistle of the Romans he has left this splendid and concise appraisal:

To show that these regulations are for all, even priests, he has made this plain at the outset by saying, as follows: “Let every soul be subject to higher powers,” even if you be an Apostle, or an Evangelist, or a Prophet, insofar as this subjection is not subversive to religion. And he does not merely say obey, but be subject; and the first claim such enactment has upon us, and the reason that suits the faithful is that all this of God’s appointment. “For there is no power but from God.” [34]

St. Ambrose made the distinction between power and the office – the power comes from God, the office comes from man. But those subject to authority do not pay civil obedience simply to man, but to God who is the source of all authority and power. “For that there should be rulers, and some should rule and others should be ruled, and that all things should not be carried on in confusion, the people swaying like waves this way and that, this I say, is the work of God’s wisdom. Hence he does not say ‘there is no ruler but from God,’ but it is of the thing of which he speaks and says: ‘There is no power but from God.’ And the power that are, are ordained of God.” Those who rule others take care of the goods of others….“It was for this that from old all men came to an agreement that rulers should be maintained by us, because to the neglect of their own affairs they take charge of the public, and on this they spend their whole time and so our goods are safe.” [35]

But perhaps the most succinct passage comes from St. Jerome’s Commentary on Titus wherein St. Ambrose saw a definite political meaning in the words of the Apostle, imposing obedience to secular power by all Christians. After making the distinction between the office of the ruler and the power from God, he refuted any suggestion that St. Paul meant the faithful were to obey any and every command but only what was good. In another passage he commented on Matthew 22:21 “Render to Caesar” etc. in this vein:

The Apostle teaches that the faithful are to be subject to principalities and powers. The Greek word rather means principalities than princes and powers and refers to the power itself, not the men who are in power….Hence he added “to be ready for every good work” (Titus. 3:1). If what the emperor or prefect commands is good, then we are to submit to his will, but if it is evil and seems against God, answer him from the Acts of the Apostles: “We must obey God rather than men.” [36]

St. Augustine (354-430) told the faithful that they should obey civil rulers. The abuse of power does not lessen their authority or make it come from any source other than God. “He that gave Marius rule, gave Caesar rule; He that gave Augustus it, gave it to Nero; He that gave the rule to Vespatian or to Titus, both sweet natural men, gave it also to Domitian, that cruel blood-sucker. And to be brief, He that gave it to Constantine the Christian, gave it also to Julian the Apostate.” [37]

The great doctor implied that Christians have very definite obligations as citizens. Obedience to law and support of national institutions were an obligation binding on conscience. And in De libero arbitrio he seemed to favor a representative type of government, though this text should be not stretched too far. “If a people have a sense of moderation and responsibility and are most careful guardians of the common welfare, it is right to enact a law allowing such people to choose their own magistrates for the government of the commonwealth.” [38] Elsewhere he showed the impact of Christian influence upon human life, defending its place in social and political spheres:

Let those who say that the teaching of Christ is harmful to the state produce such armies as the maxims of Jesus have enjoined soldiers to bring into being; such governors of provinces; such husbands and wives; such parents and children, such masters and servants, such kings, such judges, and such payers and collectors of tribute, as the Christian teaching instructs them to become, and then let them dare to days that such teaching is harmful to the State. Nay, rather will they hesitate to own that this discipline, if duly acted up to, is the very mainstay of the commonwealth. [39]

All these quotations from the Fathers obviously have not explicit mention of the duty of voting in civil elections but they do indicate that the early Christians were concerned with their duties and responsibilities in civic life. They point out that the Christian could not be indifferent or negligent in carrying out the duties demanded by good citizenship. Therefore these patristic texts form a solid background and firm support of the obligation of the Catholic to fulfill his duty in modern society. In the republican form of government prevalent in a large part of the civilized world today, the citizen is bound to do all that justice and charity enjoin. One of these obligations is that of voting in civil elections.

From What may be called a Christian Concept of Civic Duty according to patristic sources (or a Christian awareness of civic responsibility) we may pass on to some papal pronouncements of recent times. That the words of the Supreme Pontiffs are of special weight is obvious; that they contain much to awaken Catholics from any false notions or complacent attitude is the purpose of referring them here. These references do not expressly show that the Catholic must vote, but stress the more general principle of active interest and participation in political matters. In his masterpiece, Immortale Dei, Pope Leo XIII sounded the call for participation in civic affairs, for

Catholics, by remaining aloof, will allow men easily to arrive into power, whose opinion give no grounds for hoping that the state will be the better for them. And this would prove injurious for religion too; for men hostile to the Church would yield enormous power, those who love her, next to none. So it is clear that Catholics have good reason to take part in political life, though they must not do so to sanction what is culpable in actual systems, but so as to cause these very systems (as far as possible) to serve the genuine and true public welfare, and with the aim of making the spirit and the beneficent influence of the Church to circulate in all the veins of the body social, like a life-giving sap. [40]
In the very fist allocution of his pontificate Pope Pius X spoke of his motto, Restaurare omnia in Christo, and declared:

We know that it will be displeasing to some that We also intend to occupy Ourselves with political affairs. However, whoever judges things dispassionately will realize that the Sovereign Pontiff cannot separate politics from the magisterium that he exercises in faith and morals. Moreover, because he is the chief and director of what is a perfect society, the Church, that is to say, the Pope must be willing to enter into relation with the rulers of states and governors of a republic, for, lacking such relation, he would not be in a position to assure Catholics, everywhere and in all places, security and freedom.

The Church and its leaders are not interested in politics as politics, that is, in the technique of running a state, but they are interested in politics as a part of human life with moral aspects and consequences. It is unfortunate that many do not understand the relationship of politics and morality and would repeat the words of Raymond Poincare, one time president of France: “We leave the city of God to the Popes; but we shall not allow them to come out of their domain.” [42]

Many times Pope Pius XI told his audiences that they should take part in public life. For example, when he spoke to the University Students of Italian Catholic Action in 1924, he declared: “When politics lays hands upon the altar, then religion and the Church, and the Pope who represents her, not only are within their rights, but are doing their duty if they give guidance and direction; and Catholics have the right to demand these and the duty of following them.” [43] He explained that there should be no confusion of Catholic action with political action and insisted that the faithful should fulfill their obligation to their country and to the common good. “Catholics would be playing themselves false,” he went on, “to a grave duty were they not to interest themselves, so far as they can, in the political affairs of the city, the province, the State itself….Standing thus idle, they would leave the direction of public affairs to the easy grasp of those whose opinions hold forth no great hope for salvation.” [44] Before another group he insisted upon the duty of taking part in politics.

Catholic Action not only does not prevent each man from joining in politics, but it creates a definite duty for them to do so….We cannot disinterest ourselves from politics, when “politics” means the whole complex of common goods, as opposed to those that are individual and particular….How should we disinterest ourselves from what is the more important, where the greater duty of charity exists, and that from which may depend those very goods that God gives – private and domestic goods, and the interests of religion itself. [45]

Although Catholic Action is not political action, its principles will serve to prepare Catholics for politics. Note the strong language of the Holy Father:

Catholic Action, though not political itself, wishes to teach Catholics to make better use of politics, and to this they are held in a special way, since their Catholic profession exacts from them that they be better citizens than anyone else. Every profession demands a preparation, and he who wants to be a good man of politics, cannot withdraw from himself the duty of a proper preparation….Though not indulging in party politics, Catholic Action wants to prepare men to be good politicians, great politicians; it aims at preparing the consciences of Christians politically and to form them, in this manner too, Christian-wise and Catholic-wise. [46]

On another occasion the same Pope defended the noble position of “the field of politics, since it concerns the interest of society as a whole…under this aspect (it is) a field for the vastest charity of all, the field of political charity, to which none other, we may say, apart from religion, is superior.” [47]

Indeed political action can have a very noble purpose, namely, to integrate Catholic teaching into all political and social life. The task is difficult, but not impossible; moreover, it is absolutely necessary if the mission and message of Christ is to leaven society. In the words of Pope Pius XII:

It is not by setting up a negative or merely defensive attitude to oppose erroneous theories of atheistic materialism and bad leaders that we may hope to solve the agonizing problems of the working world. It is by the active presence, in factories and in stockyards, of pioneers fully conscious of their double vocation, as Christians and as workers, who are resolved to assume fully their responsibilities and know neither respite nor rest until they have transformed their environments to conformity with the teachings of the gospel. It is by such positive and collective work that the Church will be able to extend her lifegiving action to millions of souls. [48]

Such is the mission of the Church – to put the teachings of Christ into every department of human life, to implement, to integrate, to perfect the natural and to make it Christian. The Church cannot hid in its buildings, its clergy cannot remain in the sanctuary and the rectory. “The Church cannot shut herself up passively in the seclusion of her temples and so abandon the duty entrusted to her by divine Providence of forming the integral man” (Pius XII). [49] Nor can the Catholic remain aloof from the society in which he lives. He has the obligation to take part, according to his abilities and circumstances, in the political affairs of his city, state, and nation.

The Church cannot be silent about the duties of the faithful in public life. Her members have obligations to the common good just as they have obligations to each other. And when moral issues arise, as they must, the representatives of the Church, the clergy, cannot be silent. They should indicate, says Cardinal Hlond of Poland, the duties of good citizenship. And even more specifically in the matter of elections

They should point out the moral principles guiding the electoral law of the citizens. Giving an answer to those questions, the Church does not involve itself in party political questions, but only states moral and religious principles according to which Catholics themselves should form their electoral conscience. The Church does not lead an electoral campaign, but points out moral principles which should be adhered to by all the parties if they wish to gain the votes of Catholics. [50]

Often when Catholics become members of a political party they become subject to the whim of those about them and fall victim to the tempo of the times, forsaking Christian principles and inspiration in public life. Or to quote Luigi Sturzo “they not only lose the sense of a moral and social apostolate possessed by parties of Christian inspiration, but they become too attached to the material and utilitarian aims of politics, failing to discern honest methods from those that may be described as questionable, and often finding themselves an ineffectual minority, overwhelmed by a majority at once too material-minded and realistic.” [51]

One of the finest documents in modern times on the duties of Catholics in political life, and especially on the duty of voting has come from Cardinal Hlond to whom previous reference has been made. He sent out this instruction in the autumn of 1946 in mimeographed form because the government would not permit its being printed.


The Church has taught the faithful for a very long time that it is their duty to give their strength and their abilities for the service of the community and towards co-operation for the common good of the whole community. It is a demand of social justice, which tells us to break from the narrow circle of our private affairs, to take account of our fellow-beings, and to direct our strength towards the service of the community.

She cannot properly fulfill the demands of social justice to collaborate for the common good without taking part in governing, and thus in political life. This obligation increases for us Catholics, because, being educated on the basis of a healthy Christian outlook, we understand human and divine affairs better, because nothing is strange to us.

We have the duty to do good to everybody. “Therefore whilst we have time, let us do good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the Faith.” (Gal. 6:10). This precept of the holy Faith turns us towards our fellow human beings, towards social needs, towards political demands, in order to bring into human life as much good as possible. We must strive in ourselves the desire for good for all which is the beginning of social reform.

Political life is one of the most important forms of temporal life, because it has to serve the common good. It must be directed by good men in order that they may act in a good manner. The vocation for this life is the vocation of fulfilling the social moral virtues. Morality is the basis of political life and its conditions. Only those who respect morality can demand power, which means only those who desire this good, and who seek to work together in order to achieve it. [52]

It is unfortunate that many Catholics identify politics with fraud, bribery, and shady business practices and will take no interest in what concerns the commonweal. There is justification, of course, for resenting the way that some public officials have acted, but the office itself is not evil, and the aberrations of sinful men will never be overcome by good citizens denouncing the evils, but remaining aloof from the participation in affairs. Apathy, indifference and even contempt for politics will only bring more harm than good. For just as Catholics alone can bring forth Christian principles, so they must take an active interest in political affairs. As Luigi Sturzo has stated:


Pius XI, in an address to Belgian Catholic youth, said that politics are an act of charity towards one’s neighbor. To wish for public good, to work and even sacrifice for this end, is certainly an act of charity when it is not strictly an obligation; and when it is an obligation, it is an act of social justice (as the casting of an electoral ballot). Even in public life it is necessary to create or re-create the atmosphere of Christian morality, and this cannot be done except by true Christians. [53]

The Catholic citizen must assume his role in promoting the common good by taking an active interest in politics, for what truly benefits country likewise benefits the Church. The Catholic citizen cannot remain isolated from public life, but must do whatever he can to render it completely Christian. To cite Luigi Sturzo once more:

A Catholic in a regime of freedom cannot remain isolated and alien from the life of the modern State, which ahs assumed many characteristics and cultural and moral functions that it once had not, and now controls almost all the forces of society. If a Catholic remains aloof, he assumes grave responsibilities before God and his neighbor, fro too often this means abandoning the commonweal to those who do not recognize the laws of Christian morality. [54]

Politics and morality should work hand in hand. There should be no discord between them, no quarreling about rights, about what belongs to God and to Caesar, for, as Michael de la Bedoyere has observed “…nay things belong to both, but under different aspects and for different purposes. One must attribute the success and the realistic spirit of democracy in the nineteenth century to the fact this it was built on men who, though unlearned, were wise and strong with a wisdom and character largely due to their religion and to the discipline it demanded.” [55]

The timidity and false prudence of not taking part in politics is not virtuous but blameworthy. Little, if anything, is gained by such an attitude and often much is lost. The Catholic citizen has the obligation to fulfill his duties, and obligation that ultimately goes back to God, for in the work of the epigram: “There is no right without a duty and there is no duty apart from God.” The obligation binds in politics as well as in any other phase of human existence for the common good is at stake. The proper intelligent interest and activity in political matters may bring about much good for the state and the Church, while irreparable harm may come through negligence, indifference, and carelessness on the part of some, as well as the corruption of those who take advantage of these defects in human nature to serve their own selfish interests. The field of politics is wide open to the Catholic, to render service to God and to Caesar, to the Church and to the common good, to spiritual advancement and temporal progress. Once more we may refer to Mr. de la Bodoyere:

In modern politics, where the moral aspect is always in the forefront, it is hard for the religiously well-educated Catholic to feel at home. He prefers the complete emancipation from religious and moral considerations, as he thinks, of the business or professional world. Hence the paucity of Catholics in Parliament or in local government to the detriment of Christian influence upon the nation. And, on the whole it will be admitted that such Catholic representatives as we have do fairly good work in defense of Christian principles, earning thereby in the bargain the deepest respect of their fellow politicians. Nonetheless it is obvious that in politics generally, there lies a magnificent field for Christian influence that has been scarcely tapped at all. [56]


a. From Papal Pronouncements

In modern times the various Sovereign Pontiff’s have reminded the faithful of their duty to vote, although Pope Pius IX issued his famous Non expedit February 29, 1868, by which the Italians were told “Ne eletti, ne elettori” (Neither elected nor electors) that they could not participate in their own elections. However this statement was by way of exception rather than general rule.

Pope Leo XIII continued the “hands off” policy for the Catholics in Italy, but he issued several masterly encyclicals on Catholic principles of politics. In Libertas humana he declared that “it is expedient to take part in the administration of public affairs, unless it be otherwise determined by reason of some exceptional condition of things. 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 this country.” [57] Then in Sapientiae christianae he voiced this maxim: “In short, where the Church does not forbid taking part in public affairs, 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 them such individuals as are hostile to religion.” [58] Earlier in Immortale Dei he had urged the faithful to use popular institutions, so far as they could, for the advancement of truth and righteousness. [59]

On May 14, 1895, Pope Leo relented his prohibition against taking part in Italian elections, allowing the faithful to vote in administrative contests, but not in political ones. When Pope Pius X ascended the papal throne in 1903 he held to the principle of the Non expedit, though he attenuated its force by granting dispensations for the elections of 1904 and further modifying it with his Il ferme proposito of June 11, 1905. [60] He declared that the faithful might take part in such elections as the bishops judged expedient to prevent the election of unworthy men. He praised the initiative of Catholic laymen who sought to serve the Church and protect the rights of God in public and asked for political participation in these words:

This makes it incumbent upon all Catholics to prepare themselves prudently and seriously for political life in case they should be called to it. Hence it becomes necessary that this same activity, already so laudable displayed by Catholics in preparing themselves by good electoral organization, for administrative life in parish and city councils, should be extended to a suitable preparation and organization for political life. [61]

Pope Pius also sent a letter to the Spanish people on the duty of voting (February 20, 1906), reminding them that when the cause of religion or of the state is endangered, no one can be indifferent. The faithful could render great good by taking part in the elections. [62]

In his document to the hierarchy of France, Notre charge apostolique wherein he condemned the activity of Le Sillon, this Pope again stressed the principle of political activity, implying thereby the responsibility of voting: “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?”[63] In Singulari quadam of September 12, 1912, to the workmen of Germany he spoke of all moral activity as subject to the judgment and jurisdiction of the Church, obviously meaning that where political activity touched upon moral matters, it was wholly within the domain of the Church’s guidance.

Pope Pius XI spoke a number of times on the duties of citizens, telling the faithful that there could be no political fuga mundi since the times demanded their interest and activity. Then in his Paterna sane to the people of Mexico in 1926 he pointed out that “These counsels and prescriptions…in no wise will prevent the faithful who put them loyally into practice from fulfilling the duties and exercising the rights which they have in common with other citizens. Indeed, on the contrary, their very title of Catholic requires that they make best use of the rights and duties, for the good of religion is inseparable from that of the fatherland.” [65]

To the same people in a more advanced stage of their difficulties the Holy Father addressed another encyclical in 1937 in which he stated explicitly the importance of the ballot: “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.” [66]

But of all the recent Popes speaking on the duties of Catholics in public life, and specifically on the duty of voting, none has been more emphatic than Pope Pius XII who on a number of occasions has stressed the duty of the faithful in this matter. Before the critical elections of 1946 he sounded this warning to the Pastors and Lenten Preachers of Rome:


The exercise of the right to vote is an act of grave responsibility, at least when there is a 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, and which give direction according to justice and equity, to the various phases of social life. It therefore, falls to the Church to explain to the faithful their moral duties which derive from their right to vote. [67]

Later the same year on the occasion of his patronal feast, June 1, His Holiness gave an allocution to the Sacred College in which he spoke of the coming elections in Italy and France and the responsibility that rested with the voters.

Tomorrow the citizens of two great nations 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 returned at the head of the poll. The decision lies with the electors, and the responsibility, an exalted but serious one, is theirs. [68]

But even more important than the elections of 1946 were those of 1948 in Italy when the Communists, bolder than before, openly vowed to gain control of the government and threatened to harm the Church. As Vicar of Christ and defender of the faith, Pope Pius XII again stressed the Pastors and Lenten Preachers of Rome on the solemn obligation of the citizen to use the vote in such grave circumstances.


It is your right and duty to draw the attention of the faithful to the extraordinary importance of the coming elections, and to the moral responsibility which follows from it for all those who have the right to vote. Without doubt the Church intends to remain outside and above all political parties, but how could it be possible to remain indifferent to the composition of a parliament to which the Constitution gives the power to legislate in matters which concern so directly the highest religious interest, and the condition of the life of the Church in Italy itself?...Consequently it follows: - That in the present circumstances 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. [69]

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. [70]

Thus the Sovereign Pontiff emphasized the duty of voting; the grave obligation of voting in grave circumstances; the guilt of serious sin for one who abstains without cause; and the obligation of voting according to one’s conscience.

At the same time the Pope stressed the duty of the priest to make known to the faithful the gravity of the obligation to vote, but warned that “whenever from the pulpit you fulfill the high and holy office of preaching the word of God, guard against descending to petty questions of party politics, to the bitter conflicts of parties which irritate the soul, aggravate discords, weaken charity, and harm your own dignity and the office of your sacred ministry.” [71]

The Holy Father further laid stress on the obligation of voting in allocutions to groups of Catholic women. In an address to the women of Rome, October 21, 1945, he stated: “…the electoral ballot in the hands of the Catholic woman is an important means towards the fulfillment of her strict duty in conscience, especially at the present time.” [72] “Her vote,” he said, “is a vote for peace. Hence in the interest and for the good of the family, she will hold fast to that norm, and she will always refuse her vote to any tendency, from whatever quarter it hails, to the selfish desires of domination, internal and external, of the peace of the nation.” [73]

Before the elections in France and Italy in 1946 he spoke to women of both countries in this fashion:

A good number of you already enjoy political rights. These political rights have corresponding duties – the right to vote, the duty to vote, the duty of giving your vote only to those candidates or those lists of candidates that offer not vague and ambiguous promises but certain guarantees which respect the rights of God and of religion.

Think carefully. This right is sacred for you. It obliges you before God, because with your ballot you have in your hands the higher interests of your country. You are concerned with safeguarding and preserving for your people its Christian culture; for its girls and women their dignity; and for your families their Christian mothers. The time is serious. Know well your responsibilities. [74]

In an allocution to the Congress of the International Union of Catholic Women’s Leagues, September 11, 1947, the Pope spoke of the gravity of the obligation for all. He insisted that those who would not take part would be guilty of serious sin. “There is a heavy responsibility on everyone, man or woman, who has the right to vote, especially when the interests of religion are at stake; abstention in this case, in itself, it should be thoroughly understood, is a grave and fatal sin of omission. On the contrary, to exercise well, one’s right to vote is to work effectively for the good of the people, as loyal defenders of God and of the Church.” [75]

From these papal pronouncements we learn of the grave character of the obligation of voting, particularly in circumstances of serious import to the good of the Church or state. Pope Leo XIII laid down the general principle of interest in political affairs and each of the succeeding Popes stressed the obligation in particular circumstances. From their writings and addresses we know that a Catholic cannot be indifferent to his obligations as a citizen, but must use the political forces at his disposal, particularly the right to vote, to better the status of religion and of the common good, particularly when either cause or both demand his vote.

In given instances, the obligation to vote may be grave, that is, binding under pain of mortal sin, when there is danger that evil forces may gain control of the government and this danger can be averted or lessened by an election. The vote obliges all citizens, both men and women; it is a trust by which they can promote good or evil; it is an obligation binding in the sight of God. The voter must follow the dictates of his conscience, but refuse his vote to any forces that would bring evil to the Church or to his country. He must give his vote so as to work effectively for the good of the people, as a loyal defender of God and of the Church.

Thus have the Popes stressed the importance of the vote in the social, political, economic, and religious life of a country. Hence the faithful have the additional responsibility of obeying the counsels and commands of the Vicar of Christ as well as promoting the common good of Church and state.


b. From Episcopal Directives

Advice and exhortation to use the ballot as a means of promoting the cause of religion and the welfare of the country were by no means limited to the Popes. Again and again in many parts of the world the bishops of the Church have raised their voices to urge and command the faithful to discharge their obligation of using the franchise.

In 1921 Cardinal Amette, Archbishop of Paris, addressed a pastoral to his flock on this duty. Later, in a joint letter to all French Catholics, the hierarchy gave this message:

It is a duty of conscience for all citizens honored with the right of suffrage to vote honestly and wisely with the sole aim of benefiting the country. The citizens are subject to divine law as is the Church. Of our votes, as of all our actions, God will demand an account. The duty of voting is so much the more binding upon conscience because of its good or evil exercise depends the gravest interests of the country and of religion.

It is your duty to vote. To neglect to do so would be a culpable abdication of duty on your part. It is your duty to vote honestly; that is to say, for men worthy of your esteem and trust. It is your duty to vote wisely; that is to say, in such a way as not to waste your votes. It would be better to cast them 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 program indeed may be more perfect, but whose almost certain defeat might open the door to the enemies of religion and of the social order. [76]


Again in a joint pastoral of February 6, 1924, the French hierarchy repeated their advice that the faithful should use their vote and use it honestly.

Cardinal Verdier, Archbishop of Paris, wrote of the obligations of voting in his Le petit manuel des questions contemporaines in the following way. He called the vote “the normal means of contributing to the good management of the public office.” [77]

Since citizens choose government officials by their votes, and to a certain degree control their activities in office, we must say that it is every citizen’s duty to vote. His vote is the normal means of contributing to the good management of public office. If a citizen votes wisely, he will usually be able to check evil, and will, at times, effect real good. In any event, he will always add prestige to a good cause by increasing the number of votes in its favor.

A citizen’s obligation to vote is still more grave when in certain circumstances his failure to vote is likely to bring about the election of a poor candidate, who might do harm by aiding and abetting measures contrary to religion, to morality, and to the true interests of his country. [78]

Cardinal Suhard, also Archbishop of Paris, sent a letter to his clergy (as given in La Croix, April 27, 1946) reminding the faithful of the duty to vote. He declared that abstention would be gravely sinful and asked the “Christians to ensure by their votes respect for the rights of the human person and for the liberty of the family, the protection of the interests and dignity of the workers, the defense of the individual, civic and religious liberties, and the maintenance in France of a spiritual ideal corresponding to the genius of the nation.” [79]

Later the same year for the feast of Christ the King (October 31) he issued a statement to be read in all churches under his jurisdiction. His instructions on the obligation of voting were the following:

1. It is necessary to vote. That is an absolute duty. Abstention would constitute a grave fault. It is inexcusable.

2. It is necessary to vote justly. That is to say: For social progress, particularly the increasing amelioration of the condition of the workers and their effectual participation in the life of the nation, for the affirmation and safeguarding of individual of individual, family, civic, and religious duties.

3. It is necessary to vote usefully. That is to say, with a sense of what is opportune. To know how to renounce partisan bitterness or even legitimate preferences. To bring votes to the list which, taking account of local conditions, seem to have the most chance of ensuring the success of the ideas enumerated above. [80]

In the important elections of June, 1951, nearly all the bishops of France issued pastoral letters on the duty of voting. In printing a selection of these statements, La Croix said it was impossible to quote them all. They were cast in similar terms, insisting (1) upon the duty of voting and (2) upon the duty of voting only for those candidates who were prepared to support spiritual values and in particular to support a true freedom of choice in education that would make it possible for parents to send their children to Catholic Schools. Such were the statements of Cardinal Gerlier and Cardinal Lienhart. [81]

Archbishop Feltin of Paris said that to abstain was treason. [82] Archbishop Richaud of Bordeaux declared that no one was free from grave sin for not voting unless it were actually impossible for him to do so. [83] Archbishop Lefebre of Bourges said there was no excuse for abstaining simply because one had been disappointed with the performance of a party in which he had placed his hopes. [84] Bishop Jaquin of Moulins reminded his flock that none could do anything that would favor Communism, while Bishop Mathieu of Aire and Dax declared that it was not enough simply to register a vote against Communism, since the French Socialist Party had always shown a constant malevolent opposition to Catholic ideals. [85]

When the French people failed to vote in the elections of October 7, 1951, several members of the Hierarchy issued statements condemning such indifference. Cardinal Gerlier, Archbishop of Lyons, and Cardinal Lienart, Bishop of Lille, were particularly outspoken. “To vote,” said Cardinal Lienart, “is a serious obligation, abstention from which would be a sin. Each person has one vote. If he does not express his wishes by casting his ballot, it is equivalent to giving an extra vote to the opposition. One does not escape his responsibilities as a citizen by not voting, he increases them.” [85]

During the restless post-war years in Italy members of the Hierarchy followed the lead of the Holy Father in stressing the moral obligation of voting. They wrote at length on this duty for all the faithful. Some pointed out that abstention from the polls would be gravely sinful; that voting for enemies of the Church would be a mortal sin; and all urged their subjects to vote for candidates who would benefit the Church and the nation.

In his Lenten pastoral of 1946 Cardinal Salotti repeated the message of the Holy Father and went on to say:

As a shepherd of souls I have not only the right but the duty to enlighten my flock on the difficulties and dangers of this moment of historic importance. The present hour is so dark and the dangers of such magnitude threaten, that all citizens must interest themselves in the elections. Absenteeism is today a grievous fault, due to egoism or weakness, fear, if not cowardice. It would be wrong to assume that one vote more or less matters little. Majorities can be won or lost by a few votes only. Enemies of God and the Church will go to the polls in a compact mass – why should Catholics do otherwise? One does not favor the humble or the poor by staying at home on election day. [86]

Cardinal Fossati, Archbishop of Turin, urged the faithful to support those candidates who gave proof of their honesty, of the practice of religion, of obedience to the Church and to the Holy See, and of understanding and observing the principles of Christian sociology for the welfare of the workers and the good of the country. [87] Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo, and the hierarchy of Sicily declared that “No one should abstain from voting for any reason whatsoever” [88] and that to vote for evil men was contrary to religion and moral principles.

In February, 1948, Cardinal Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, whose diocese is the largest in Italy and regarded as the most important politically outside of Rome, wrote a circular to his clergy on the significance of voting. Recalling the instructions already issued by Cardinal Piazza of Venice, he went on to say that absolution must be refused to Communists and to members of movements contrary to the Christian faith, when the people formally adhere to the errors contained in these doctrines and secondly, when they cooperate, even if only materially and especially by giving their vote to these nefarious groups, and by refusing to discontinue their cooperation after a warning. [89] He added:

The Church recognizes any form of legitimate government, provided it is organized according to the laws and aimed at the achievement of the common welfare. It is the duty of Christians to vote in political and administrative elections, and the vote of everyone should be free and given according to his conscience. It is gravely unlawful for any of the faithful to give their votes to candidates, or lists of candidates, that are manifestly contrary to the Church. [90]

In March, 1948, the Sacred Consistorial Congregation declared that all the citizens of Italy were bound to vote, but only for “those candidates in which there is a certainty that they will respect and defend the observance of the divine laws and the rights of religion and of the Church in both private and public life.” [91]

The Archbishops and Bishops of Liguria told their people to use the ballot, especially to oppose Communism, and to vote “in accordance with conscience or else they not only sin mortally, but likewise become responsible for all the consequences of their action. Confessors are bound to comply with this ruling (of refusing absolution to those who refuse to give up Communism) in the execution of their high office…when denying or granting the sacrament of penance.” [92]

Three years later in 1951 Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa of Florence told the faithful of his archdiocese that failure to vote in certain critical circumstances was a more grievous sin than missing Sunday Mass or neglecting the annual Easter Communion. Such were his strong words:

Even township elections can cause enormous damage to our institutions. To realize the importance of this it is enough to observe that whoever abstains from voting, or who votes for individuals who oppose Christian faith and morals, automatically makes himself responsible for all the damages that come after that to souls and to consciences. He thus makes himself guilty of a sin much greater than missing Mass on Sunday or not making the Easter Duty. The latter are individual sins, whereas a badly given vote or a neglected vote is a social sin which damages – and oh how gravely it damages – the community, the countryside and the very state itself. [93]

Cardinal Schuster also told his people to vote in this vital election affecting “our religion and our future” because “it will decide whether Italy will remain free and Catholic, or whether it will be grouped among the states which are satellites of the Soviet Union.” [94] He called upon the priests to offer prayers for three days prior to the election for the defeat of Communism. The bishops of the regions of Liguria and Emilia urged their flocks to vote against the enemies of religion. [95] The semi-official paper of the Vatican, L’Osservatore Romano, devoted a front page article to the “Peremptory Duty” of voting in the elections to subdue the forces of evil. [96]

It will be understood, of course, that these admonitions and commands from the hierarchy dealt with grave circumstances so that the obligation of voting at these times were grave. But they illustrate the gravity of the duty in times of crisis and certainly the principle holds in all times of similar character.

The members of the Dutch Hierarchy stressed the obligation of voting in a letter dated May 12, 1946. After quoting the Holy Father’s words from the allocution of March 16, they reminded the faithful that voting in Holland was a legal duty as well as a moral right and it should be taken seriously since the elections would “decide the broad outline of Government policy, and of the spiritual and material reconstruction of the fatherland.” [97] They continued:

In the past years we have experienced the true significance of the people being deprived of any real influence in State administration. For this reason all Catholics must fulfill the obligation to vote imposed upon them by law; and since political life must also be based on the spiritual principles of Christianity, they must consider themselves bound to elect only those persons whom they may reasonably expect to be guided by these principles in the spheres of legislation and administration. The fulfillment of these ideals is, under the given circumstances, in the opinion of the episcopate, best guaranteed by the Catholic People’s Party. [98]

Perhaps one of the finest and most important statements issued by any member of the Catholic episcopate was that of Cardinal Hlond drawn up at Jasna Gora September 10, 1946. Distributed to the clergy in stenciled copies because the government would not allow its printing, it took six weeks for circulation before it could be read simultaneously in all churches October 20. It was not published in any secular newspapers and Catholic papers were allowed to print only resumes and short tracts The following principles might well be adopted by all the faithful (the full text may be found in the appendix):

The Electoral Duties of Catholics….Participation in voting is an essential necessity for a democratic state, and is both a right and an obligation of all citizens. From this the following conclusions result: -

1. Catholics, as members of a State community, have the right of expressing their political convictions.
2. Catholics have the right to decide by their votes the most essential laws of Polish public life.
3. Catholics have a civic, national and religious duty to take part in the elections.
4. Catholics may not belong to organizations or parties the principles of which contradict Christian teaching, or the deeds and activities of which aim in reality to the undermining of Christian ethics.
5. Catholics may vote only for such persons, list of candidates, and electoral programmes, as are not opposed to Catholic teaching and morality.
6. Catholics may neither vote nor put themselves forward as candidates for electoral lists the programmes or governing methods of which are repugnant to common sense, to the well-being of the nation and the State, to Christian morality and the Catholic outlook.
7. Catholics should only vote for candidates of tried probity and righteousness who deserve confidence and are worthy representatives of the well-being of the Polish State, and of the Church.
8. Catholics cannot refrain from voting without a fair and wise reason; for each vote, given according to the above recommendations, either promotes the common good or prevents evil. [99]

Cardinal Griffin of Westminster delivered a statement on “The Christian Duties in Political, Civil and Industrial Life” as his Lenten pastoral of 1948. He gave special place and emphasis to the obligation of voting by all Christian citizens. We may quote his words in part: “There are some who boast that because of the corruption of politicians they refuse to vote. It is my duty to tell you that the Catholic citizen has an obligation to vote. The Holy Father himself recently declared that when grave issues are at stake to neglect to vote may be a serious sin of omission.” [100]

He then explained that the Church does not interfere with the freedom of Catholics in voting according to their consciences. The faithful may vote for any party or candidate provided they do not hold teachings contrary to religion. IN this connection the cardinal quoted the words of Cardinal Bourne in 1931:

First, in this country a man or woman is free to join the political Party which makes the greatest appeal to his sympathy and understanding. Secondly, having done so, she or she must be on guard against erroneous principles, which, on account of the affiliations which affect these parties, are to some extent at work within them. Thirdly, he may never deliver himself or his conscience, wholly into the keeping of any political Party. When his religious faith and his conscience come into conflict with the claims of the Party, he must obey his conscience and withstand the demands which his Party make upon him. [101]

Cardinal Griffin warned against the thinking that one vote can make little difference; usually the number of people who reason this way is such that the result of an election might have been altered by those who neglected to vote. Catholics, he said, share in the responsibility of the community and they must realize that they who have the right to vote are in some manner responsible for the actions of those in high office. [102]

Another group of bishops who insisted upon the obligation of Catholics to use their right of voting was the Hierarchy of the Philippine Islands who issued their pastoral under date of May 21, 1949. They declared that “It is…the most sacred duty of the voter carefully to examine candidates and their policies and above all, irrespective of political parties or factions, to cast his vote only for those whose principles will advance the best interests, moral and social, of the state.” [103] They exhorted their people to scorn bribes and to vote honestly to improve the working conditions and standard of living. “Treasure the right to vote, “ they urged, “exercise it freely, intelligently, and with the greatest vigilance, lest any man infringe on your legitimate liberty of choice.” [104]

Prior to the General Election in Great Britain February 23, 1950, the members of the Scottish Hierarchy sent out their own pastoral with principles fundamentally the same as those previously quoted but with a special reference to their local conditions.

1. No individual or party has a more pressing right to vote than another, where not particular moral principle is involved. No one may vote for parties or candidates opposed to the teachings of God and His Church. Thus Communism and atheistic materialism cannot have the vote of Catholics….Our Catholic people ought to be sufficiently mature to apply these principles when making their choice of candidates.

Again, our Catholic people should never act under the influence of party slogans, prejudices, or hatred, or at the orders of men who care nothing for them or for the religion they profess. It is common knowledge how Catholics have been induced to vote as Communists, men pledged to our extermination, by means of appeals to class hatred and cupidity.

A healthy realism is desirable in voters in time of an election. Since success depends on obtaining a majority every inducement is held out to attract voters. Promises made by politicians at lection and other times have been known to have been broken, so that it becomes of the greatest importance to judge a candidate by his sincerity rather than by his party label or the extravagances of promises. Our aim should be to elect good, sincere men, and not merely party politicians who have not mind of their own.” [105]

The Australian Hierarchy issued a letter “Morality in Public Life” September 4, 1950, printed in pamphlet form and distributed to all the faithful. Among other matters the document treated of the obligation of voting in these terms: “In the matters of politics…it would be a great mistake to believe that all the moral responsibility rests on the shoulders only of those who play an active part in public life.” [168]

This duty to use his political rights binds the Christian not only in elections to determine the government of the nation, but in local elections, and in others in which he is able to vote, such as his trade union, his employer’s or professional association.

Nor the does the duty of the Citizen begin and end on election day. The good citizen will always watch what is being done in his name, and by using all legitimate means within his power will endure that no legislation or other regulations will be passed which are contrary to the principles of natural law or religion. [107]

Turning to statements from the American Hierarchy we find the following eloquent message issued during the heated presidential campaign of 1840:

…reflect that you are accountable not only to society but to God, for the honest independent, and fearless exercise of your own franchise, that it is a trust confided to you not for your private gain, but for the public good, and if yielding to any undue influence you act either through favor, affection, or motives of dishonest gain against your own deliberate view of what will promote your country’s good, you have violated your conscience, you have betrayed your trust, and you are a renegade to your country. [108]

The in 1933 the Bishops of the Administrative Committees of the National Catholic Welfare Council called attention to the duty of voting as an obligation of piety. They declared:



In our form of government the obligation of bringing about a reform of the social order rests upon the citizens, who by their votes give a mandate to legislators and executives. They make evident a civic duty, and for us Catholics it is also a religious one governed by the virtue of piety; that is, a certain filial piety toward our country which impels us to promote the reform of the social order by voting for competent and conscientious men of high moral principles. [108]

The Most Rev. John McNicholas, Archbishop of Cincinnati, wrote at least three pastoral letters on the obligation of using the franchise. In 1929, 1935, and 1939 he sent out messages to be read in all the churches on the importance of voting and the obligation binding upon all. He asked that both men and women “vote in all elections” and “to make a sacrifice to discharge this important civic duty.” [109] He further asked that all Catholics not yet citizens become such as soon as possible and to use the right of voting as soon as they had secured it. “It is most important,” he declared, “that the good citizens be thoroughly impressed with the importance of voting. Those who habitually vote and those who habitually refrain from voting cannot but exercise an influence for good or evil on the community.” [110]

He rejected the notion that the single vote is of no consequence, asserting that all should form the “habit of voting.” Whether or not elections seem important, the principle of voting habitually is important. Only a conscientious judgment, seriously formed, can justify the voter in remaining away from the polls.” [111] The Archbishop continued:

The Catholic voter is asked to consider whether we can have any responsibility in our civil government except through recognized political parties, which will be held responsible to the people and which will merit either their approval or condemnation. The voter is asked to decide for himself what method of government or what party will impose the greatest responsibility on those who represent the people and who should exercise authority for the general welfare. The decision should be made according to the conscientious judgment of the individual. [112]

Other ordinaries have urged the obligation of voting as Archbishop Lucey of San Antonio and Bishop Mussio of Steubenville. Archbishop Cushing of Boston was particularly emphatic during the elections of 1948 when a Planned Parenthood Bill (birth prevention) sought entrance into the state legislature. “Both as a citizen and as a spokesman for morality,” he warned, “I am bound urgently to remind you of your solemn obligation to vote, and therefore to register and vote..” [113]

Within the more recent past Cardinal Spellman of New York wrote letters to his people informing them of their duty to use the ballot. In a letter dated October 4, 1949, he called the duty to register and vote as “our civic duty, and our religious duty.” He commented further:

As Americans every one of us is responsible for the preservation of our Democratic Republic. The Republic is our guarantee of liberty. The men and women elected to public office have the power to preserve or destroy that Republic. They wield that power as legislators, judges, and executives. We have the power to elect good Americans for these offices. We wield this power as voters on Registration and Election Days.

…Fro the continuation of the United States of America and for the safeguarding of our God-given liberty, I ask every eligible man and woman to do his or her conscientious duty by registering and voting. [114]

One year later he sent out another message to the people of New York (October 9, 1950) with the following content: “Therefore do I ask all of you who are eligible to register and vote, but I beg you remember that while this is your privilege and duty, it is also your sacred responsibility to vote for honest and able men. Dearly beloved, I pray you, be loyal Americans and true Catholics, protect your country, yourselves and your children: REGISTER AND VOTE!” [115]

In their pastoral of 1951 the American Hierarchy spoke of the need to “recover that sense of personal obligation on the part of the voter.” Later they referred to man’s being faithful to moral principles as “citizen, a voter, …and as a member of society.” [115a]

Thus have the official teachers of the Church, the members of the hierarchy, singled out and stressed the obligation of voting in civil elections. They have called it a duty not only to the State, but to God, a duty binding in conscience, a civil obligation with moral implications. They repeated the words of the Pope that in elections of serious moment, abstention from the polls, without reason, would be a mortal sin.

The bishops advised that the faithful must note only for those who will respect and defend the divine law and the rights of religion and of the Church both in private and public life; that they must vote wisely and honestly (or as others said, usefully and intelligently) for it is not sufficient to go to the polls and cast the ballot indifferently; that they must vote so as to ensure the rights of the human person and the liberty of the family, the protection of the interests and dignity of the workers, and to defend the individual, civic, and religious liberties.

They further declared that a person sins who votes for a candidate or list of candidates who are obviously against the Church. No one can belong to any party or organization or support any system whose principles contradict Christian teaching or whose activity undermines Christian morality. Moreover, the good citizen must vote not only in those elections which determine the national government, but all those of lesser magnitude, for upon them often hinges the kind of higher government.

It seems especially significant that these documents should appear in these times when the forces of atheistic dictatorships, Communist blocs, and ruthless, godless men strive to gain control of republican forms of government and of those blessings that so many hold as their precious heritage. However, such interest in the moral aspects of politics is nothing new for the leaders of the Church, for it is their duty to safeguard the faith, to protect religion, and to defend human rights. Courageous prelates of the Church always raise their voices to inculcate Christian teaching when the needs of the times demand it.


c. Statements of Theologians

The obligation of the citizen to vote in civil elections derives from an obligation in legal justice, [116] that is, rendering what is due for the common good. This virtue regulates the citizen’s obligations and relations to the state, based on the needs of the common good. [117] It differs from commutative justice as regulating the exercise of rights between man and man (do ut des, facio ut facias) and from distributive justice as what is due to parts from the whole, as a ruler has the obligation of giving justice to his subjects. [118]

Legal justice differs from obedience, patriotism, liberality, and other similar virtues because the motive underlying the duties of legal justice is the natural relation of the parts to the whole. Acts of legal justice are of obligation and the basis of the obligation is the necessary nexus between the act and the common good, which the person is bound to promote. The proximate motive of obedience, patriotism, liberality, etc., may be the common good, and though there be an obligation according to some virtue there is no strict obligation in justice.

After defining justice as “a habit by which man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will” St. Thomas Aquinas gives the following explanation of legal justice in his Summa theologiae:


Justice...directs man in his relations with other men. Now this may happen in two ways: first, as regards his relations with individuals, secondly, as regards his relations with others in general, insofar as a man who serves a community serves all who are included in that community. Accordingly, justice in its proper acceptation can be directed to another in both senses. Now it is evident that all who are included in a community, stand in relation to that community as parts to a whole; while a part, as such, belongs to the whole, so that whatever is the good of the part can be directed to the good of the whole.

It follows therefore that the good of any virtue whether such virtue directs a man in relation to himself or in relation to certain other individual persons, is referable to the common good, to which justice directs: so that all actions of virtue can pertain to justice, insofar as it directs man to the common good. It is in this sense that justice is called general justice. And since it belongs to the law to direct to the common good as stated above (I-II, 90,2), it follows that the justice which is in this way styled general is called legal justice, because man thereby is in harmony with the law which directs the acts of all the virtues to the common good. [119]

Legal justice is both a general and a special virtue because the nature of its object, the common good, is such that any act of virtue can be ordained to it. It is a general virtue by reason of its power of commanding and of ordering the acts of the other virtues to their end; a special virtue by reason of its special object, the common good. [120]

Now legal justice is the special virtue of the good citizen since it aims directly to promote the common good of political society. It deals with the rights of society to employ proportionate means to its end. Such justice obtains between the citizen and society for “The good of the man as a citizen,” declares St. Thomas, “is that he be ordained to the state as to the whole” (of which he is a part). [121] And again: “The virtue of the good citizen is general justice through which one is ordained to the common good.” [122]

According to a schema prepared by Father William Ferree, S.M., legal justice in St. Thomas is an analogical concept with five meanings: (1) Actions done according to law for the common good; (2) Actions done according to positive law, human or divine; (3) Actions doe according to divine law; (4) Actions done according to the word or intention of human law; and (5) Actions done in conformity with the words of law, “courtroom justice.” [123]

Now it cannot be said that the citizen is obliged to vote by reason of any law, at least in the strict sense (except in those countries where civil law makes it obligatory) but he is obliged to vote by reason of his obligation to promote the common good. Every citizen has a double vocation, one which is proper to him as an individual man, another which he has in common with all others. A person’s proper vocation and avocation as business man, physician, lawyer, laborer, architect, priest, etc., may be the means to personal and family livelihood, but it is also a channel of public service. Through such public works the common welfare is forged together, for no matter how unimpressive and insignificant one’s activity may seem, it assumes importance and meaning when viewed in relation to the whole. To be a good citizen a person must realize the element of public good in what he is and the element of public service in what he does.

Now while legal justice, as a general virtue, ordains the good of every virtue to the common good, motivating the citizen in such a way that he has care and concern for the commonweal and ordains his actions and efforts with the common objective of society, it is also a special virtue in this sense: It looks to the state as a functional whole ordained and directed towards the end and possessed with rights to such an end by using the proper means. St. Thomas puts it thus: “Legal justice takes its name from its connection with law. Because it pertains to law to order things to the common good…this justice is called legal, for through it man conforms his actions to the law ordaining the acts of all the virtues to the common good.” [124] But “legal justice is essentially a special virtue since it looks to the common good as its proper object. And this is in the ruler principally, and as it were architechtonically; it is in the subjects secondarily, and as it were, administratively.” [125] This figure of speech is used advisedly, for just as the ruler is the architect, so to speak, of the edifice of society, so the rest of the citizens are the builders whose services and labors produce the finished building. Both are necessary that the state grow and prosper.

Legal justice is a disposition of the will; a virtue by which the citizen is inclined to, or is constantly willing to, fulfill his obligations to the state. It expresses itself in a willingness to comply with the laws and to support national institutions for the benefit of the common good, showing itself in a special way in a republican form of government by taking an active parting the electoral franchise. The moral obligation of voting finds its roots in legal justice. For since this virtue promotes the common good, the use of the franchise promotes the good of the state, while the careless, negligent, indifferent use, or non-use of the franchise contributes to the breakdown of the common good.

Older theologians did not consider the question of voting because it did not arise at their times, but at the present day it is a very live issue, the more so when voting or non-voting may spell the difference between freedom and anarchy. A person is not blissfully free of his obligation to vote; he is bound to exercise it no less than other responsibilities. For as Monsignor John A Ryan has well pointed out:


The chief elements of citizenship are rights and duties. These are moral entities or categories. The relation of the citizen to the state is ethical as well as political. His rights are not all conferred by the state; some of them are natural, existing independently of the state, because they are necessary for the individual welfare. His duties to the state are not merely civil and political; in the main they are likewise moral, creating a binding force in conscience….The duties of the citizen are truly ethical because the state is not a voluntary social institution. It is nto like a fraternal society or professional association. [126]

Most moralists hold that voting is of obligation. Some say that the citizen is bound sub gravi, others, sub levi. Some hold that per se the obligation is grave, per accidens it is light or of no obligation. In order to give a complete picture of the opinions we may consider the writings of the various authors.

The statement of Koch-Preuss is representative of many others: “In most countries today the people govern themselves by electing their own lawgivers, judges, and executive officers. Hence a second class of duties incumbent upon the citizen results from his functions as an elector. The right to vote has for its corollary a special duty and this duty is one of legal justice.” [127]

Slater give this opinion: “In English speaking countries the people have a large share in the election of their rulers and such an important duty should be faithfully and religiously fulfilled. There may easily be a moral obligation to vote at elections to prevent the election of one who would do grave harm if elected, or in order to secure the election of one whose election would be of great public benefit.” [128]

But Davis speaks without qualification: “It is the duty of all citizens who have the right to vote to exercise that right when the common good of the state or the good of religion or morals require their votes, and when their voting is useful.” [129]

Callan-McHugh holds that there is a grave duty to use the privilege of voting especially in primaries, since the welfare of the community and the moral and physical well-being of the individuals depend upon the type of men nominated or chosen to rule and on the ticket platforms voted for. “The duty is not one of commutative justice, as the ballot is either a privilege or a thing commanded by authority, but not a service to which the citizen has bound himself by contract or office. The obligation is therefore one of legal justice, arising from the fact that the commonweal is everybody’s business and responsibility especially in a republic.” [130]

Noldin-Schmitt declares that the citizen is bound by legal justice when his vote is needed to promote a good election or to prevent a bad one. [131] Merkelbach asserts that the citizen is bound by legal justice, though he refers to voting as a privilege. [132] Lehmkuhl, [133] Ubach, [134] Arregui, [135] and Muller [136] speak of the obligation as binding in legal justice.

Monsignor John A. Ryan has been perhaps the most outspoken of theologians in the United States on the matter of voting. In several works, The Catholic Church and the Citizen, The State and the Church, Catholic Principles of Politics, and The Norm of Morality, he has written at length on the obligation of the franchise. Thus he says: “In a country which has representative form of government, furtherance of the common good is affected mainly by elected officials, executive, legislative, and judicial. The responsibility of selecting honest and competent officials rests upon the voters.” [137]

Elsewhere he uses with approval the following statement from a booklet by the cardinals and bishops of France some years ago, Les principes catholiques d’action civique: “To the extent that the constitution of a state established the right of voting as a means of participating in the conduct of civil affairs the citizens, inasmuch as they are bound to use this right for the public good, should regard its existence as a matter of conscience. Therefore, they are obliged, first, to make use of this constitutional right, and secondly, to use it for the common good of all.” [138]

He may be quoted further:


The Catholic citizen has…important duties as a voter. In the first place he is morally bound to make use of the electoral franchise. From the performance of this duty he can be excused only by corresponding grave inconvenience. Since public officials possess great power either to harm or to benefit the community, those who elect them are charged with grave responsibility. [139]

The second class of duties incumbent upon the citizens results from his electoral functions. In a republic, legislation and administration depend finally upon the intelligence and morality of the voters. They have it in their power to make the government a good one or a bad one. Whether the common good will be promoted or injured, depends upon the kind of laws enacted and the manner in which they are administered; but the character of the laws and the administration is primarily determined by the way in which the citizens discharge their function of choosing legislators and administrators. Therefore, this function is of the gravest importance and the obligation it imposes is likewise grave. [140]

The same author adds a new note, asserting that the obligation to vote would seem to bind in commutative justice as well as legal justice. This is his line of argumentation:

It would seem, like the obligations of public officials, they (the electoral duties) also fall under the head of strict or commutative justice. A group of legislators inflict injury upon the community by a bad law, thereby violating strict justice. Are not the citizens who elected them guilty of the same kind of injustice, insofar as they foresaw the possibility? The difference between their offense and that of the legislator’s seem to be one of degree, not one of kind. [141]

It would seem, however, that the obligation of voting is not one of commutative justice, for the voters do not directly make the laws. They vote for the incumbents of public office who are bound to promote the common good. It seems that the function of the public official is specifically different from that of the ordinary voter, for while the official is bound on account of his salary by commutative justice to render service and to restitution if he does not perform his duty, the ordinary citizen is not held to such when casting his ballot. It seems to us that the obligation of voting is one of legal justice rather than commutative justice.

Some authors write of the obligation as one of charity as well as justice, placing it under the virtue of pietas which includes both charity and justice. So hold Father Joseph Trunk, [142] Pighi-Grazioli, [143] and Loiano-Varceno. [144] The latter declares that “charity obliges citizens to exercise their right in voting at the present time especially, for through the proper use of our rights the good of the country is promoted and evil avoided. This is a duty of pietas….” [145] Fanfani declares that voting is a duty in charity and does not refer to justice. [146]

Vermeersch states that the obligation does not arise formally from the right of suffrage, but from an obligation of legal justice. [147] Iorio says that the obligation is one of legal justice and not of commutative justice [148] while Marc-Gestermann says there is a grave obligation to choose good men, an obligation binding in legal justice. [149]

Rev. John Wright (now Bishop) in National Patriotism in Papal Teaching implies that voting is one of the duties of patriotism. He say:

True, here too it is primarily in justice (specifically legal justice) that the individual is bound to discharge his share of his share of the responsibility for the commonweal of civil society; but according to the argument of Pope Leo XIII, patriotism itself should prompt one to take an active part in the political life by which is administered that common good which is the object of patriotism, for “to take no share in public matters would be equally wrong (We speak in general) as not to have concern for, or not to bestow labor upon, the common good.” [150]

Jone says that voting is a civic duty which would seem to bind at least under venial sin wherever a good candidate has an unworthy opponent. It would be a mortal sin if one’s refusal would result in the election of an unworthy opponent. [151] Father Francis Connell simply says that the “duty of the loyal citizen is the proper use of the ballot” and “When an office is to be filled by popular election, the responsibility of choosing a good man rests on the citizens.” [152] They do not refer to legal justice. Nor do Tanquerey, [153] Wouters, [154] Prümmer, [155] Hurth-Abellan, [156] and Piscetta-Gennaro, [157] although they state that voting is of obligation.

Heylen declares that voting does not bind in conscience because it is a privilege and on one is bound to use a privilege. He declares that there is no strict debt due society in voting and if a law makes voting obligatory, then the law is merely penal. [158] Genicot hold the same view. [159] Perhaps an explanation of such an opinion is to be found in the fact that both authors are from Belgium where civil law obliges the citizens to vote, under penalty of a fine.

Don Luigi Sturzo, one of the foremost Catholic sociologists and political thinkers of modern times, writes of the citizen as having “the duty to send to public elective posts people who are morally honest and politically prepared.” [160] He adds a new note to the obligation as a duty binding in social justice. “To work for the public good,” he says, “is an act of charity…and when it is an obligation, it is an exercise of social justice.” [161] He explains his view thus:

…may we say that the voter goes only to fill a duty of charity towards society of which he is a part? Is it not because he receives from society the guarantee of his liberty and of the maintenance of that social order that he has been able to live as a free man? Is there not an ethical responsibility between the voter and society as a whole? And if the voter, instead of giving the vote to an honest and capable person, gives it, consciously, to a dishonest and incapable one, who will thereby bring damage to public administration and who will even take advantage of the position for private purposes – has be not failed in his duties? This is therefore a duty of justice towards society. [162]

Apart from legal justice it seems that the obligation to vote arises from the duty of patriotism. The citizen demonstrates this virtue not only by bearing arms in time of war but by supporting the country in time of peace, by paying taxes, obeying just laws, contributing to the national institutions, and by taking an active and intelligent interest in political matters. Just as patriotism includes all the acts of love and service to one’s country, so it includes the use of the electoral franchise for the good of the homeland. For as St. Thomas declares one virtue may command another, so legal justice commands patriotism as a potential part.

Most authors who speak of the obligation of voting say that it is sub gravi in itself or sub gravi in matters of grave moment. After a brief consideration of the arguments and opinions it seems safe to conclude that the citizen is bound sub levi to vote in every ordinary election. If he fails through laziness, indifference, etc., he commits a venial sin. If, however, a person fails to vote over a period of time, thus becoming a habitual non-voter, he would commit a mortal sin for the number of omissions could accumulate to constitute a mortal sin.

If the issue were serious, as the case between a Communist or the member of an equally evil group and a good and capable man and there was a chance of the evil man being elected, then the citizen would be bound sub gravi to vote for the worthy candidate. If he voted for the Communist or did not vote at all, he would sin mortally. If there were not chance of the unworthy man being elected, then obviously the obligation would not be sub gravi.

From the statements of theologians it seems that the obligation of voting is grave ex genere suo, whose matter is important in itself but which admits of parvity of matter in individual cases. That is, in individual cases the matter may be light, and a person would commit a venial sin by not voting or by voting contrary to moral principles. We speak of parvity of matter, for just as the sin of theft is mortal ex genere suo, but admits of lightness of matter in some cases, so that all sins of theft are not mortal sins; so in voting, while the obligation is grave ex genere suo, still in individual cases there may not be a sufficiently grave reason for voting at this time or for this person, or contrary to the same, so that the obligation would be light and the sin committed would be venial because the matter would be light. However, a failure to take part in elections at all times or for a long time would be a serious sin, while failure to vote in an individual election (whose consequences are not grave) would be a venial sin. Those who vote for unworthy candidates in ordinary elections, all things being considered, sin venially. Such principles hold in national, state, county, and local elections.

The importance of a single vote is not to be minimized. By it candidates are elected to political office for the good or evil of both State and Church. Practically speaking what is needed is an active and intelligent electorate, for an indifferent and apathetic one is an invitation to tyranny. It will be remembered that when Hitler swept into power it was through the ballot or when Communism assumes control of a government it generally does so through the vote and not through any bloody coup. The obligation of voting is not only recognized by the Popes, the members of the hierarchy and theologians; it is stressed by political leaders as well and in the words of one of them:

The exercise of the suffrage would seem to be the irreducible minimum of the citizen’s political duties. With forty-seven million voting in the hotly contested Presidential election of 1944 out of a possible maximum of nearly eighty million, it is evident that performance falls considerably short of the ideal. Some reformers, disturbed about this failure, have urged the use of compulsion. Such proposals, however, seem to be ill-founded. By and large the rule of natural selection operates in the exercise of suffrage. Voting implies the formation of judgments on personalities and on economic, social, and political questions which are of extreme intricacy. The unqualified person is probably uninterested; and the intelligent and well informed who fail to cast their ballot demonstrate an insensibility to social responsibility which does not bode well for their value as voters. [163]

There is little difficulty in concluding that voting is of moral obligation. It is a duty to which one is bound in conscience, a duty of justice and of patriotism as well, to be discharged with constant fidelity, for “…in the eyes of all tolerable Christians and of many who are not Christians, the position of legislators is one that avails much for moral good or evil; that bad legislators are a great mischief, and that the question of their selection is a moral one.” [164]

It should be noted that while the Pope, bishops, and theologians have emphasized the importance of voting, they did so under different conditions. The Pope and the bishops generally stressed the obligation in times of crisis when there was danger of evil forces gaining control of the government, e.g., the elections in Italy in 1946 and in 1948, while the theologians considered the obligation as a function of the citizen in a republican state. Despite this difference the authority of the Pope and of the members of the hierarchy can be called upon to emphasize the need of voting in elections apart from unusual conditions, for good government is dependent upon the way the voters use their ballot. Moreover, some of the bishops, such as Cardinal Spellman and Archbishop McNicholas have pointed out the obligation of voting apart from any grave danger imminent at the time.


By the term “unworthy candidates” we do not necessarily mean men whose private lives are morally reprehensible, but those who, if elected, would cause grave injury to the state or to religion, as for example, men of vacillating temperament who fear to make decisions.

In practical life it is often difficult to determine whether a particular candidate is worthy or unworthy because there seems little upon which to judge accurately, especially in local or municipal elections. It does not follow that every Catholic is necessarily the best man for office and that every non-Catholic is not; nor that every Catholic will promote the interests of the common good of the state of religion and that the non-Catholic will not. Even if a man is of sterling character in his private life, he will not by necessity prove competent in public office. Sometimes too, as St. Robert Bellarmine pointed out in his De laicis [175] the so-called evil rulers may do more good than harm, as Saul and Solomon. It is better for the state to have an evil ruler than no ruler at all, for where there is no ruler the state cannot long endure, as the wise Solomon observed: “Where there is no governor the people will fail.” [176]

When unworthy candidates are running for office, ordinarily a citizen does not have the obligation for 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.

Since the act of voting is good, it is lawful to vote for an unworthy candidate provided there is a proportionate cause for the evil done and the good lost. This consideration looks simply to the act of voting itself and does not consider other factors such as scandal, encouragement of unworthy men, and a bad influence upon other voters. Obviously, if any or all of these other factors are present, the excusing cause for voting for an unworthy candidate would have to be proportionally graver. [177]

Lehmkuhl says that it is never allowed to vote absolutely for a man of evil principles, but hypothetice it may be allowed if the election is between men of evil principles. Then one should vote for him who is less evil (1) if he makes known the reason for his choice; (2) if the election is necessary to exclude a worse candidate. [178] The same author in his Casus conscientiae lists the general argument, adding that there must be no approbation of the unworthy man or of his programme. [179]

Tanquerey declares that if the vote is between a socialist and another liberal, the citizen may vote for the less evil, but he should publicly declare why he is voting this way, to avoid any scandalum pusillorum. [180] Prümmer says the same. [181] Actually, however, in the United States and in other countries where the balloting is secret, there seems to be no need of declaring one’s manner of voting.

Several authors including Ubach, [181a] Merkelbach, [182] Iorio, [183] Piscetta-Gennaro, [184] and Sabetti-Barrett [185] allow for material cooperation in the election of an unworthy candidate when there are two unworthy men running for office. Ubach adds this point: (1) There must be no cooperation in the evil which the man brings upon society after assuming office; (2) The voting must not be taken as an approval of the candidate or of his unworthiness. Merkelbach asserts that such cooperation may be licit per accidens if there is no hope that good men will be elected without voting for the bad ones in the same election.

As a practical point it may be remarked that at times a citizen may have to vote for an unworthy man in order to vote for a worthy one, e.g., when people have to vote a straight party ticket, at least in a primary election when the “split ticket” is not permitted. However the good to be gained would have to outweigh the evil to be avoided, or at least be equal to it.

In his Casus Genicot, [186] sets up a case of an election between a liberal and a Communist. To avoid scandal the citizen should give reasons for voting for the liberal. One does not support the evil candidate but simply applies the principle of double effect. This author also says that a person may use a mental reservation in promising to vote for an unworthy man.

Cardinal Amette, Archbishop of Paris, implies the liceity of voting for an unworthy candidate when he writes of voting for a less worthy one. “It would be lawful to cast them,” he writes,” for candidates who though 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 those whose program would indeed be more perfect, but whose almost certain defeat might open the door to the enemies of religion and of the social order.” [187]

Thus we may say that it is permitted to vote for unworthy candidates (that is, give material cooperation) if these are the only type of men on the ballot lists; in order to exclude the more unworthy; in order to secure the election of one who is somewhat unworthy instead of voting for a good man whose defeat is certain; and when the list is mixed containing both worthy and unworthy men, so that a citizen can vote for the former only by voting for the latter at the same time.


1. Summa theologiae, II, 96:4; Summa contra Gentiles, III, 85.
2. Comm. in Ethica, 1, 1.
3. Summa contra Gentiles, III, 85.
4. See Gerard Joubert, Qualities of Citizenship in St. Thomas (Washington, D.C., 1942), 119.
5. De regimine principum 1,1. Note too the words of Pope Leo XIII: “Man’s natural instinct moves him to live in society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, or procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life – be it family, social, or civil – with his fellow-men amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied.” Immortale Dei, ASS, 18 (Nov. 1, 1885), 162.
6. Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 6.
7. Ibid., 101, 3.
8. Cum multa, Dec. 8, 1882. ASS, 15, 241.
9. Rapprensentanti in terra, AAS 21 (Dec. 31, 1929), 737.
10. “Bonum commune civitatis et bonum singulare unius personae non differunt solum secundum multum et paucum, sed secundum formalem differentiam, alia enim est ratio boni communis et boni singularis, sicut alia est ratio totius et partis.” Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 7 ad 2. See II-II, 31, 3 ad 2 for common good as more “godlike” than the individual good.
11. Thomas Greenwood, “International Casuistics,” The Thomist, 13:3 (July 1950), 364.
12. Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 10 ad 2.
13. Catholic Principles of Politics (New York, 1943), 204-205.
14. Peter Guildlay (ed.), The National Pastorals of the American Hierarchy, 1792-1919 (Washington, D.C., 1923), 326-327.
15. “Si enim sit libera multitudo, quae possit sibi legem facere, plus est consensus totius multitudinis ad aliquid observandum, quod consuetude manifestat, quam auctoritas principis, qui non habet potestatem condendi legem, nisi inquantum gerit personam multitudinis; unde licet singulae personae non possint condere legem, tamen totus populus condere legem potest.” Summa theologiae, I-II, 97, 3 ad 3.
16. E. Cahill, Framework of a Christian State (Dublin, 1932), 499.
17. Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 5. “Non est idem simpliciter esse virum bonum, et esse civem secundum quamcumque politicam. Sunt enim quaedam politicae, non rectae, secundum quas aliquis potest esse civis bonus, qui non est vir bonus; sed secundum optimam politicam non est aliquis civis bonus, qui non est vir bonus.” Comm. in Ethica, 1, 926.
18. Mt. 22 :21.
19. Rom. 13 : 1-3.
20. Titus 3 :1 ; 1 Tim. 2 :2.
21. 1 Pet. 2 :13-17.
22. c. 61. For a translation see James Kleist, The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and of St. Ignatius of Antioch (Westminster, Md., 1946), 116.
23. Ibid.
24. 1 Apology, 17. See translation by Thomas Falls, Saint Justin Martyr (New York), 1948), 52.
25. Kirsopp Lake, Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1945), 2, 327. See also Epistle to Philippians in Apostolic Fathers, 1, 299.
26. P. Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus, Series graeca. Referred to as MG 6:1140.
27. MG 6:1142.
28. Ad Scapulam, Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus series Latina. Referred to as ML (1:700)
29. Apologeticum, 30 (ML 1:440)
30. Ibid., 42 (ML 1:491-494). See also the early document, The Epistle to Diognetus: “For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by custom….But while they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot was cast and follows the customs of the land in clothing and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of our citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful and admittedly beyond all our expectations.” 5, 1, 4.
31. Social Message of Early Church Fathers (Paterson, N.J., 1943), 147.
32. Apologeticum, 37 (ML 1: 464-5).
33. Expositio in Lucam, 4, 29 (ML 15:1704).
34. Hom. In Romanos, 23 (MG 60:616).
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid., 617. Cf. Wilfrid Parsons, “Early Patristic Political Thought,” Theological Studies, 1:4 (Dec. 1940), 355.
37. De civitate Dei, 5, 21. in Migne, ML 41: 168.
38. 1, 6 (ML 32: 1229). St. Thomas quotes this passage with approval in Summa theologiae, I-II, 97, 1, c.
39. Epistola 138, 5 ad Marcellum, 2:15.
40. ASS 18, 177.
41. Nov. 9, 1903. ASS 36, 195. See Tablet (London), Nov. 14, 1903, 778.
42. Quoted in Civardi, Manual of Catholic Action (New York, 1935), 185.
43. Sept. 8, 1924. L’Osservatore Romano, Sept. 11, 1924, 4.
44. Letter to the bishops of Lithuania, June 24, 1928. AAS 20, 257.
45. Address to members of Italian Catholic Action, Oct. 30, 1926. L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 31, 1926.
46. Ibid.
47. Catholic Action University Students, L’Osservatore Romano, Dec. 18, 1927, 4.
48. Letter to Canon Cardijn, Mar. 21, 1946.
49. Address to Cardinals, Feb. 20, 1946. AAS 38, 149.
50. Tablet (London), 188: 5558 (Nov. 16, 1946), 260.
51. Politics and Morality (New York, 1937), 104.
52. Op. cit., 260.
53. “Political Duties of a Citizen,” Epistle, 12: 4 (Autumn 1946), 108.
54. Politics and Morality, 112.
55. The Drift of Democracy (London, 1931), 54.
56. Christian Crisis (New York, 1942), 166.

57. ASS 20, 594.
58. ASS 22, 397-398.
59. ASS 18, 177.
60. ASS 37, 741 ff.
61. ASS 37, 758. For a history of modern Italy see L. Sturzo, Church and State in Italy and the Coming World (New York, 1945), 114 ff.
62. Meminerint omnes, periclitante religione aut republica, nemini licere esse otioso. Iamvero qui rem seu sacram seu civilem evertere nituntur eo maxime spectant ut, si detur, capessant rem publicam legibusque ferendis designentur. Catholicos idcirco periculum omni industria cavere oportet: atque ideo, partium studiis depositis, pro incolumitate religionis et partiae operari strenue; illud praecipue atnitendo ut tum civitatum, tum regni comitia, illi adeant, qui attenti electionis uniuscujusque adiunctis necnon temporum locorumque circumstantiis, prout in memorati commentarii scriptionibus probe consulitur, religionis ac patriae utilitatibus in publica re gerenda prospecturi melius videantur....” ASS 39 (1906), 76.
63. “Le devoir de tout catholique n’est-il donc pas d’user des armes politiques qu’il tient en mains pour la dé, et aussi pour forcer la politique à rester dans son domaine et à me s’occuper de l’Église qui pour lui rendre ce qui lui est dû ? ”
August 25, 1910. AAS 2, 623. See Tablet (London), Sept. 10, 1910.
64. AAS 4, 658. Addressed to the German Hierarchy on subject of workingmen’s unions.
65. Feb. 2, 1926. AAS 18, 178.
66. Firmissimam constantiam, Mar. 28, 1937. AAS 29, 189.
67. Catholic Mind, 44: 1001 (May 1946), 301.
“É un diritto, e al tempo stesso un dovere essenziale della Chiesa di instruire i fedeli, con la parola e con gli scritti, dal pulpito o nelle altre forme consuete, intorno a tutto ciò che concerne la fede e i costumi, ovvero che e inconciliabile con la sua propria dottrina, e quindi inammissibile per i cattolici, sia che si tratti di sistemi filosofici o religiosi, o degli scopi che si propongono i loro fautori, o delle loro concezioni morali riguardanti la vita così dei singoli dome dell communità.
“L’esercizio del diritto di voto è un atto di grave responsabilità morale, per lo meno quando si tratta di eleggere coloro che sono chiamati a dare al Paese la sua constituzione e le sue leggi, quelle in particolare che toccano, per esempio, la santificazione della feste, il matrimonio, la famiglia, la scuola, il regolamento secondo guistizia ed equità delle molteplici condizioni sociali. Spetta perciò alla Chiesa di spiegare ai fedeli i doveri morali, che da quel diritto elettorale derivano.” AAS 38, 187.
68. Domani stesso i cittadini di due grandi nazioni accorreranno in folle compatte alle urne elettorali. Di che cosa in fondo si tratti? Si tratta di sapere se l’una et l’altra di queste due nazioni, di queste duo sorelle latine, di ultramillernaria civiltà christiana, continueranno ad appoggiarsi sulla salda rocca del cristianesimo, sul riconoscimento di un Dio personale, sulla credenza, nella dignita spirituale e nell’eterno destino dell’uomo, o se invece voranno rimettere le sorti del loro avvenire all’impassibile onnipotenza di uno stato materialista, senza ideale ultraterreno, senza religione e senza Dio.
“Di questi due casi si avverarà l’uno o l’atro, secondo che dalle urne usciranno vittoriosi i nomi dei compioni ovvero dei distruttori della civiltà christiana. La reposta è nelle mani degli elettori; esse ne portano l’augusta, ma pur quanto grave responsabilità!” AAS 38, 256-257.
69. “È vestro diritto e dovere di attirare l’attenzione dei fedeli suula straordinaria importanza delle prossime elezioni e sulla responsabilità morale che ne deriva a tutti coloro i quali hanno il diritto di voto. Senza dubbio la Chiesa intende di restare al di fuori e al di sopra dei partiti politici; ma come potrebbe rimanere indifferente alla composizione di un Parlamento, al quale la Contituzione dà il potere di legiferare in materie che riguardano così direttamente i più alti interessi religiosi e la condizioni di vita della Chiesa stessa in Italia? Da tutto cio conseque;
“Che, nelle presenti circostanze, è stretto obbligo per quanti ne hanno il diretto, uomini e donne, di prender parte alle elezioni. Chi se ne astiene, specialmente per indolenza o per viltà, commette in sè un peccato grave, una colpa mortale.” AAS 40, 119.
70. “Ognuno ha da votare secondo il dettame della propria coscienza. Ora è evidente che la voce della coscienza impone ad ogni sincero cattolico di dare il proprio voto a quei candidati o a quelle liste di candidati, che offrono garanzie veramente sufficienti per la tutela die diritti di Dio e delle anime, per il vero bene dei singoli, delle famiglie e della società, secondo la legge di Dio e la dottrina morale cristiana.” Ibid.
71. Ibid.
72. Questa grande vostra, AAS 37, 291. English translation by N.C.W.C. of Washington D.C., 9.
73. Ibid., English trs.. 12.
74. N.C.W.C. news release, May 13, 1946.
75. AAS 39, 486. English trs. 7.

76. Given by Ryan-Boland, op. cit., 207-208.
77. (Paris, 1934), 35.
78. Ibid.
79. Talbet (London), 187: 5532 (May 18, 1946), 252.
80. Tablet (London), 188: 5557 (Nov. 9, 1946), 244.
81. Tablet (London), 197: 5795 (June 16, 1951), 485.
82. Ibid.
83. Ibid.
84. Ibid.
85. Ibid.
86. From “Salviamo-L’Italia – Let us save Italy,” Talbet (London), 187: 5526 (Apr. 6, 1946), 173.
87. Tablet (London), 191: 5624 (Mar. 6, 1948), 154.
88. Ibid.
89. Ibid., 150.
90. Ibid., 191: 5623 (Feb. 28, 1948), 138.
91. Ibid.
92. Ibid., 191: 5631 (Apr. 24, 1948), 260-261.
93. New York Herald Tribune, May 15, 1951, 5.
94. Ibid.
95. New York Times, 100: 34084 (May 20, 1951), 1:16.
96. Ibid.
97. Tablet (London), 187: 5532 (May 18, 1946), 252.
98. Ibid.
99. Ibid., 188: 5557 (Nov. 9, 1946), 244.
100. Catholic Mind, 46: 1028 (August 1948), 534.
101. Ibid.
102. Ibid.
103. Catholic Mind, 47: 1041 (Sept. 1949), 568-569.
104. Ibid.
105. “The principles: (a) Everyone has an immortal soul, and is created by God to know and love Him in this life, and to be happy with Him after death. In consequence we all belong to God. (b) This means that the family, the community, and the state, are but a means to a Divine end, and must be used as instruments to that end. (c) The duty of a government is to help its citizens towards God by providing them with the possibility of a decent living consonant with their status as children of God. It must also see that no section is favored at the expense of another. (d) The best help a Government can give is to secure the rights of the individual against public and private domination, and the right of private property, correctly interpreted, is the most important of these.” Tablet (London), 195: 5726 (Feb. 18, 1950), 136.
106. Catholic Mind, 48: 1054 (Oct. 1950), 636.
107. Ibid. Also: “Since the vocation of politics is so noble, it follows that the responsibilities of those who take part in politics are equally great. The men who govern the community, need therefore, to be very conscious of the truth, that although they may have been chosen b the people, the authority by which they govern comes from God. The authority is given to them so that they may secure the well being not only of their own nation, but, as far as they can, the good of men and women everywhere.” Ibid., 635. Again: “When the association of which he is a member adopts policies opposed to the moral law, or to the duties imposed by justice and charity, he cannot decline responsibility simply by saying that he did not vote for the policy in question or for the committee which formulated it. Nor is he free from blame when he failed to vote at all, for his very failure to vote was, in itself, a contribution to the injustice committed.” Ibid., 633-634.
108. Guilday, op. cit., 142-143.
108a. Huber, Raphael, The Bishops Speak (Milwaukee, 1952), 189.
109. Catholic Mind, 26 (1928), 254.
110. Ibid.
111. 1939 pastoral. The other references, unless indicated, are likewise from this letter since the 1929 and 1935 directives are substantially the same as the former.
112. Ibid.
113. The Pilot (Boston), Oct. 20, 1948, 4.
114. The Catholic Mind, Oct. 8, 1949, 1.
115. Ibid., Oct. 5, 1950, 32.

116. “Justitia legalis: quia ex lege manat iisque competit quos lex aestimat hac instruendos esse facultate, nedum sit ius de se singulis a natura conlatum.” A Vermeersch, Quaestiones de iustitia (Burges, 1903), 87. “Justitia legalis seu generalis est virtus specialis justitiae que describitur : Habitus supernaturalis per quem unusquisque reddit quod debitum est rei publicae cujus ipse pars est, sive caput sive membrum, i.e., sive leges ferendo etc. ad commune bonum, sive obediendo legibus ob bonum commune. Haec virtus perfectior est justitia particulari, quoniam nobilius objectum, bonum commune respicit ; est tamen justitia nimis perfecta, quia, ut facile intelligitur, non ita perfecta habet triplicem supra expositam rationem quae ad justitiam requiritur. ” G. Waffelaert, De justitia (Burges, 1885), 19.
117. “Justitia commutativa ea est, quae inclinat privatum hominem ad redendum debitum strictum alteri homine privato, idque ad aequalitatem rei ad rem, ut sc. res quae detur, prorsus adaequat rei dandae.” J. Artnys-C. A. Damen, Theologia moralis, 2 vols. (Turin, 1944), 1, 292. “Justitia distributiva ea est, quae inclinat principem eiusque ministros ad distribuenda bona justa subditorum merita et necessitates; justitia distributiva etiam, sed indirecte tantum, versatur circa onera distribuenda, quatenus sc. distributio onerum recidet ad quamdam bonorum partitionem; liberum enim esse ab onere habet rationem boni. ” Ibid.
118. Ibid.
119. “Justitia…ordinat hominem in comparatione ad alium. Quod quidem potest esse dupliciter. Uno modo, ad alium singulariter consideratum. Alio modo, ad alium in communi, secundum scilicet quod ille qui servit alicui communitavi servit omnibus hominibus qui sub communitate illa continentur. Ad utrumque dicitur se potest habere iustitia secundum propriam rationem. Manifestum est autem quod omnes qui sub communitate aliqua continentur comparantur ad communitatem sicut partes ad totum. Pars autem id quod est totius est; unde et quodlibet bonum partis est ordinabile in bonum totius. Secondum hoc ergo bonum cuiuslibet virtutis, sive ordinantis aliquem hominem ad se ipsum sive ordinantis ipsum ad aliquas alias personas singulares, est referibile ad bonum commune, ad quod ordinatur iustitia. Et secundum hoc actus omnium virtutum possunt ad justitiam pertinere, secundum quod ordinat hominem ad bonum commune. Et quantum ad hoc iustitia dicitur virtus generalis. Et quia ad legem pertinet ordinare in bonum commune, ut supra habitum est, inde est quod talis justitia praedicto modo generalis, dicitur justitia legalis, quid scilicet per eam homo concordat legi ordinanti actus ominium virtutum in bonum commune.” Summa Theologiae, II-II, 58, 5c. The translation unless otherwise indicated, is that of the Dominican Fathers (New York, 1948).
120. See Hyacinth-M. Hering, De justitia legali (Friburg, 1944), 44. Also his article in Angelicum 14 (1937), 464-487. “Duplex ext justitia quae est virtus cardinalis, quae dicitur justitia specialis; alis est justitia legalis quae includit omnem virtutem.” St. Thomas, In Matth. 1. Other references in the Angelic Doctor : III Sent. 9, 1 ,4 ,15; 33, 1, 1, 3; 33, 2 ,2, 3; De verit. 28, 1; De virt. card. 1, 3 ad 3.
121. “Bonum…hominis inquantum est civis est ut ordinetur secundum civitatem quantum ad omnes.” De virtutibus in communi, 1, 9.
122. “Virtus boni civis est justitia generalis, per quam aliquis ordinatur ad bonum commune. ” Summa theologiae, II-58, 6.
123. Act of Social Justice (Washington, D.C., 1942), 30.
124. Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 5.
125. Ibid., 6.
126. Catholic Principles of Politics (New York, 1943), 207.
127. Moral Theology, 5 vols. (St. Louis, 1925-1933), 5, 571.
128. Moral Theology, 2 vols. (New York, 1907), 1, 103.
129. Moral and Pastoral Theology, 4 vols. (London, 1949), 2, 90.
130. Manual of Moral Theology, 2 vols. (New York, 1930), 2, 619.
131. “Singuli cives ex justitia legali tenentur uti facultate eligendi, ubi usus huius facultatis ad promovendam bonam vel impediendam malam electionem necessarius utilis est.” Summa theologiae moralis, 3 vols. (Ratisbonne, 1939), 2, 322.
132. “…alii autem ex privilegio eligentes solum ex justitia legali.” Summa theologiae moralis, 3 vols. (Paris, 1947), 2, 619.
133. Casus concientiae (Friburg, 1903), 483.
134. Compendium theologiae moralis, 2 vols. (Friburg, 1926), 1, 90.
135. Summarium theologiae moralis (18. ed., Bilbao, 1948), 233.
136. Summa theologiae moralis (Paris, 1936), 310.
137. The Catholic Church and the Citizen (New York, 1928), 66-67.
138. The State and the Church (New York, 1930), 269-270.
139. The Citizen, the Church, and the State (New York, n.d.), 22.
140. Ibid., 24.
141. The State and the Church (New York, 1930), 275.
142. A Thomistic Interpretation of Civic Right in the United States (Dayton, O., 1937), 216.
143. Cursus theologiae moralis, 4 vols. (6. ed., Verona, 1946), 2, 103.
144. Institutiones theologiae moralis, 5 vols. (Turin, 1934-1942), 2, 337.
145. Ibid.
146. Manuale theoretico-practicum theologiae moralis (Roma, 1950), 1, 154.
147. Quaetiones de justitia (Burges, 1903), 88.
148. Theologia moralis, 3 vols. (3. ed., Naples, 1946), 2, 160.
149. Institutiones morales alphonsianae, 2 vols. (20. ed., Paris, 1946), 2, 2287.
150. (Westminster, Md., 1943), 175.
151. Moral Theology (8 pr., Westminster, Md., 1951), 204.
152. Morality and Government (Washington, D.C., 1949), 24.
153. Synopsis theologiae moralis, 3 vols. (10 ed., Paris, 1937), 3, 980.
154. Manuale theologiae moralis, 2 vols. (Burges, 1932), 2, 2287.
155. Manuale theologiae moralis, 3 vols. (7. ed., Friburg, 1928-1933), 2, 2287.
156. Notae ad praelectiones theologiae moralis, 4 vols. (Rome, 1948), 2, 84.
157. Elementa theologiae moralis, 7 vols. (Turin, 1938-1945), 4, 26, 2.
158. De justitia et jure, 2 vols. (4. ed., Maltines, 1943), 2, 514.
159. Institutiones theologiae moralis, 2 vols. (Brussels, 1939), 1, 359.
160. “The Political Duties of a Citizen,” Epistle, 12: 4 (Autumn, 1946), 108.
161. Ibid.
162. Ibid.
163. W. Leon Godshall, The National Government of the American People (New York, 1948), 1200.
164. Ed. O’Reilly, Relations of the Church to Society (London, 1892), 128.

175. c. 4, p. 7.
176. Prov. 11:14
177. “Omnes fere moderni theologi concedunt electionem mali deputati non esse quid intrinsecum malum, ac proinde aliquando per accidens licere ad avertenda majora mala.” Prümmer, op. Cit., 2, 604.
178. Compendium 343.
179. Op. cit., 1, 729.
180. Op. cit., 3, 981.
181. Op. cit., 2, 604.
181a Op. cit., 1, 115.
182. Op. cit., 1, 786.
183. Op. cit., 2, 161.
184. Op. cit., 4, 26, 4.
185. Op. cit., 262.
186. Op. cit., 138.
187. Ryan-Boland, 207-208.