September 30, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In view of upcoming elections - provincial ones in Canada, the US Republican leadership race, major US elections next year and any elections elsewhere - an analysis of Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on how Catholics should vote is in order.  The ‘Catholic vote’ has been shown to be a decisive factor in several elections of late, and thus various attempts to steer that vote in different directions have been undertaken.

Over the years of his pontificate and even prior, Pope Benedict has been very clear on how Catholics should involve themselves in politics and thus how they should vote. Speaking to members of the European People’s Party in a speech delivered in March of 2006, the Pope stressed that, “as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus” for political involvement is around the “non-negotiable” matters of life, family and parental rights in education.

“As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable,” he said.

He added:

Among these the following emerge clearly today:

- protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;

- recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family - as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage - and its defence from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;

- the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.

A year later in that Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis the Pope repeated the admonition concerning the “not negotiable” values as being of central concern to Christians involved in politics.  He cited those not negotiable values as “respect for human life, its defence from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms.”

One of the fullest descriptions of the non-negotiable issues was penned by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prior to his elevation to the pontificate.  In a 2002 Doctrinal Note approved by Pope John Paul II called The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”

He explained:

When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo. Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such. The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the same way, one must consider society’s protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution, for example). In addition, there is the right to religious freedom and the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity, according to which “the rights of all individuals, families, and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged”. Finally, the question of peace must be mentioned. Certain pacifistic and ideological visions tend at times to secularize the value of peace, while, in other cases, there is the problem of summary ethical judgments which forget the complexity of the issues involved. Peace is always “the work of justice and the effect of charity”. It demands the absolute and radical rejection of violence and terrorism and requires a constant and vigilant commitment on the part of all political leaders.

Pope Benedict has also drawn a distinction between what he refers to as the “non-negotiable” matters and other matters noting that while there is room for legitimate disagreement on some issues, but not others. In an address in May of this year, he noted, “No one can claim to speak ‘officially’ in the name of the entire lay faithful, or of all Catholics, in matters freely open to discussion. On the other hand, all Catholics, and indeed all men and women, are called to act with purified consciences and generous hearts in resolutely promoting those values which I have often referred to as ‘non-negotiable’.”

That distinction was drawn out further in a 2004 letter Cardinal Ratzinger sent to the US Bishops dealing with Catholic politicians and communion.  In that document Cardinal Ratzinger stated that even issues as important as waging war and capital punishment, are of lesser “moral weight” than abortion and euthanasia.  “While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment,” he said. “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia,” he added.