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 Moral Obligation of Voting, Table of Contents, Introduction 
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New post Moral Obligation of Voting, Table of Contents, Introduction
(The following is an exact reproduction of the text, pgs. ix-xviii)

The Moral Obligation of Voting

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





Studies in Sacred Theology


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.

Yours in JMJ,

Fri Jun 06, 2008 7:10 pm
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