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Father Frank Pavone

This is Part 4 of a series on Catholics and the 2016 election:
Part 1 – Can a Catholic justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate?
* Part 2 – What Catholic voting says about the state of the Church in America
* Part 3 – Why Catholics can’t sit out the election 

September 14, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Churches are “much more free to speak and teach about elections than they tend to think that they are” and there are numerous resources to help them do so legally, Priests for Life National Director Father Frank Pavone told LifeSiteNews.

Pavone, whose new book Proclaiming the Message of Life provides suggestions for priests to bring out pro-life themes in each Sunday’s lectionary readings, said when it comes to churches and elections, “the basic distinction is between issue advocacy and candidate advocacy.”

“The law says that churches may not specifically intervene [in elections] — so in other words, for example, you’re not supposed to take up a collection for a candidate’s campaign and you’re not supposed to endorse a candidate at the pulpit or in the church bulletin or in any communication that the church … is responsible for,” Pavone explained. “But can you get up and say, ‘we have to vote, and we have to vote pro-life’? Can you get up and say, ‘we have to vote in such a way that advances the culture of life and that protects unborn children and other human beings as well’? Well, not only can we, we must and in fact the [Catholic] bishops have done so in their document Living the Gospel of Life and in other similar documents.”

“The bishops give clear moral guidance on how to vote,” Pavone said. He encouraged priests unsure on how to address the issue from the pulpit to simply read from Living the Gospel of Life.

“Quote from it because certainly you’re on solid ground there,” he said. “These documents are not issued without scrupulous legal analysis of whether it crosses any lines.” Priests are “always safe in doing that.”

“If I get up in the pulpit and I say, ‘Vote pro-life,’ but then I go on to say, ‘By the way, John Smith, who’s running for state senate, is pro-life,’ then basically what I’ve just said is, ‘Vote for John Smith.’ So I can’t say that,” Pavone told LifeSiteNews. “But what I can do is I can get up into the pulpit and I can say, ‘Vote pro-life, here’s why,’ and then explain the reasons why. And then I could, the following Sunday, say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the election is coming up, we want to make sure you know the positions of the candidates, so we have a flyer in today’s bulletin that shows where the candidates for a particular race or several races stand on several different issues.’”

It is “perfectly legitimate” to “give people that information without advocating for or against any of the candidates,” Pavone said.

“It’s two separate communications,” he said. “And both of them are neutral in the sense that … it would “be just as helpful to a person who wants to support the pro-abortion candidate as it would be helpful to the person who wants to support the pro-life candidate.”

Registering people to vote, driving people to the polls, and helping parishioners obtain absentee ballots if necessary are all safe for churches to do, Pavone said.

These things are “not fostering a particular campaign or party. They’re fostering participation, which is what the word of God tells us we need to do,” he said.

Much of the timidity that churches often exhibit related to elections is due to the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 tax regulation that could allow the government to revoke churches’ tax-exempt statuses if they endorse political candidates.