Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke
Archdiocese of St. Louis
October 1, 2004
To Christ’s Faithful of the
Archdiocese of St. Louis:
‘On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good’
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
1. In the summer of 1982, I spent two months in Bavaria for the study of
the German language, as part of my graduate studies in Canon Law. I
offered Mass daily in the parish church, and got to know and respect very
much the layman who cared for the sacristy of the church. Often, we
visited after Mass and discussed spiritual matters.
2. One day, the sacristan opened his heart about the evils of Nazism. He
was in his late teen years at the time of the rise of the Third Reich. The
question which haunted him was how the people of his nation, how he, could
have permitted such horrible evils to happen at all or to go on for so
long. Some months ago, our conversation came to mind when another native
of Germany, who grew up during the Third Reich, commented to me on the
accusation, made against a number of the Catholic bishops of Germany of
the time, of not having done enough to teach against the evils of Nazism.
3. These conversations, filled with much emotion, often return to my mind
and lead me to reflect upon the responsibility which belongs to every
citizen of a nation to safeguard and promote the common good. I think how
much weightier the individual responsibility for the common good is in a
democratic republic like our own nation, in which we elect the officials
of our government. As a bishop, I think of the tremendous responsibility,
which is mine, to teach clearly the moral law to all the faithful, so
that, in turn, we all have a clear understanding of our civic
responsibility for the common good.
4. As your archbishop, I write to you now regarding the fulfillment of our
civic responsibility for the common good, especially by exercising our
right and fulfilling our duty to vote, in order to choose those
representatives who will best serve the common good in government.
I am 'my brother's keeper'
5. In reflecting upon the sacristan's question, I call to mind the story
of Cain and Abel from the Book of Genesis (Genesis 4:1-16). After Cain had
killed his brother Abel, our Lord came to him and inquired concerning the
whereabouts of Abel. Cain replied: "I do not know; am I my brother's
keeper?" (Genesis 4:9).
6. Christ has supplied the definitive answer to Cain's question in the
Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and ultimately, on Calvary,
by giving Himself up to death for the salvation of the world (John
3:14-15; and 12:31-33). Yes, we are our "brother's keeper." We are
responsible for the good of all our brothers and sisters in our nation and
in the world, without boundaries. The Good Samaritan gave every possible
care to the foreigner, a citizen of an enemy people, whom robbers had left
along the roadside to die. His fellow countrymen, indeed religious
leaders, saw him and "passed by on the other side" of the road, avoiding
him and failing to help him. As followers of Christ, who is the Good
Samaritan, we can never excuse ourselves from responsibility when there is
something to be done to save the life of a brother or sister in great
need. We are called to be "Christians Without Borders," without boundaries
to our love of neighbor.
7. The sacristan in Bavaria, conscious that he is his "brother's keeper,"
heard the Lord's question about the brutal killing of so many of his
brothers and sisters. I ask myself what answer I will give our Lord when
He asks me about my many innocent and defenseless brothers and sisters in
the womb whose lives have been and are being snuffed out. How will I
answer our Lord when He asks me about my brothers and sisters who have
grown weak under the burden of advanced years, grave illness or special
needs, whose so-called "mercy killing" has been made legal in some places
and is proposed to be made legal everywhere in our nation? How will I
answer our Lord when He asks me about what I, as bishop, have done to
teach the inviolability of human life from the moment of conception to the
moment of natural death?
8. Concerning the moral responsibility of voting, I, as the successor to
the Apostles in your midst, write to present the Church's teaching
regarding our civic responsibility to promote the common good, above all
by promoting the respect for the inviolable dignity of all human life.
Through a clear understanding of the Church's teaching, we should all be
better prepared to exercise our responsibility, in accord with the Word of
Christ, handed down to us faithfully in the Church. Our civic
responsibility for the common good is great, especially in a society which
fails to afford legal protection to the weakest and most defenseless. My
responsibility, therefore, is likewise great to teach the moral law, in
order to assist us in fulfilling our civic responsibility for the good of
Bond of divine charity
9. Our civic responsibility to protect the common good is informed, first
and foremost, by our life in Christ. We come to life in Christ through
Baptism. From the moment of our baptism, the Holy Spirit begins to dwell
within our soul. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we truly live
each day in Christ. Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, God strengthens
and increases the life of the Holy Spirit within us, in order that we may
carry out more faithfully Christ's mission in the world, the mission of
divine charity, of love of neighbor without boundaries. Through the
Sacrament of Penance, God the Father receives the confession of our sins
and forgives us, giving us grace to live more faithfully in Christ. Most
wonderfully of all, God heals and strengthens us for the challenges of our
daily life in Christ, our daily carrying out of Christ's mission, through
our participation in the Holy Eucharist, in which He gives us the Heavenly
Medicine and Food which is the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of
Christ, His Incarnate Son.
10. Christ's life within us unites us in the bond of divine charity with
all who have been sanctified by His grace, and directs us to love every
human being as He has loved us (John 13:34-35; and 15:12-17). We best
understand this truth through our participation in the Holy Eucharist and
our worship of the Blessed Sacrament reserved for our spiritual benefit
after the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
11. Christ poured out His life on Calvary and never ceases to pour out His
life for all, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. He is the Good
Samaritan. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Divine Judge who, at the
Final Judgment, will pronounce this judgment upon us: "Truly, I say to
you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to
me" (Matthew 25:40). One with Him, most perfectly in the Eucharistic
Sacrifice, we are also one with Him in His care for the world, especially
for our brothers and sisters who depend upon us, who are in need. The
teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council expresses eloquently
Christ's care for the world, His solidarity with all people of every time
and place, and our real participation in that care and solidarity:
"The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time,
especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and
hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing
that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts. For theirs
is a community composed of men, of men who, united in Christ and guided by
the Holy Spirit, press onwards towards the kingdom of the Father and are
bearers of a message of salvation intended for all men. That is why
Christians cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and
its history" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, "Pastoral Constitution on
the Church in the Modern World," Gaudium et spes, Dec. 7, 1965, No.
As followers of Christ, it is our joyful obligation to make of ourselves,
by God's grace, instruments of divine charity, of God's love for all men
and women, without boundaries.
Citizens of Heaven and Earth
12. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives, we have
become citizens of Heaven, heirs to the eternal life which Christ has won
for us by His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Citizens of Heaven, we
remain citizens of Earth and of the particular nation in which we live. In
fact, our heavenly citizenship requires our imitation of Christ who "came
not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many"
13. As citizens of both Heaven and Earth, we are bound by the moral law to
act with respect for the rights of others and to promote the common good.
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council makes clear the responsibilities
which are ours as citizens of the City of God and the city of man:
"The Council exhorts Christians, as citizens of both cities, to perform
their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to
think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which
is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities; this is
to forget that by our faith we are bound all the more to fulfill these
responsibilities according to the vocation of each one. But it is no less
mistaken to think that we may immerse ourselves in earthly activities as
if these latter were utterly foreign to religion, and religion were
nothing more than the fulfillment of acts of worship and the observance of
a few moral obligations. One of the graver errors of our time is the
dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their
daily lives. As far back as the Old Testament the prophets vehemently
denounced this scandal, and in the New Testament Christ Himself with
greater force threatened it with severe punishment. Let there, then, be no
such pernicious opposition between professional and social activity on the
one hand and religious life on the other. The Christian who shirks his
temporal duties shirks his duties towards his neighbor, neglects God
Himself, and endangers his eternal salvation" (Gaudium et spes, No.
Our heavenly citizenship adds the grace of Christ to the duty of our
earthly citizenship, which is to preserve, safeguard and foster the common
good. As citizens of Heaven, we have the grace of the divine charity of
the Good Samaritan to inspire and strengthen us in loving all, without
14. The secularism of our culture, with its tendency to an exaggerated
individualism, can easily cause confusion regarding the relationship of
our duties as Christians and citizens, as citizens of Heaven and citizens
of Earth. We can easily begin to view our Christian duty as a private
matter without legitimate reference to our civic duty. The Word of Christ,
however, calls us to the constant conversion of our lives, by which we
overcome any selfish individualism and live truly in Christ for love of
God and our neighbor, also in fulfilling our civic responsibility.
Conscience, our guide in divine charity
15. God Who has made us in His own image and likeness, making us His
co-workers in the care of the world (Genesis 1:26-30), and who has
redeemed us by the Precious Blood of His only-begotten Son (Acts 20:28),
has inscribed within our hearts His law which gives life and overcomes
death (Deuteronomy 30:11-20). Conscience is the voice of God within us,
assisting us to choose good and to avoid evil, in accord with God's law.
Our conscience helps us to choose what is true and not to fall prey to
self-deception, the deception of others and Satan's deception, all of
which would lead us to betray the truth about ourselves and our world. It
is our conscience which leads us to choose a particular action, which
judges the goodness or evil of the action as we carry it out, and helps us
to assess the goodness or evil of the action, once it has been done (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1777-1778).
16. Because of the sacred nature of conscience, we must enjoy the right to
act in accord with what our conscience dictates. We must be free to make a
personal decision to do what is good and to avoid what is evil. The right
to act in accord with our conscience, however, presupposes that our
conscience is informed with the truth which God has inscribed in our heart
and revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. We are obliged to inform our
conscience with the knowledge of God's law, both the natural law inscribed
in our hearts and the law revealed in God's Word taught with authority by
the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1783-1785).
17. To the degree that our conscience is not informed by the divine truth,
to that degree our conscience is liable to an erroneous judgment. There
are times when we make a wrong moral judgment because of ignorance of the
truth. Sometimes, we are responsible for the ignorance because we have
failed to seek out the truth or have dulled our conscience through
repeated sin. Sometimes, we are not responsible for our ignorance. In any
case, it is always our responsibility to inform our conscience with the
truth, especially with the help of our teachers in the faith, the Holy
Father, the bishops in communion with the Holy Father, and our priests,
co-workers with the bishops (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos.
1790-1794). The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" summarizes well for us
the means of forming a good conscience:
"In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path;
we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We
must also examine our conscience before the Lord's Cross. We are assisted
by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others
and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church" (No. 1785).
As archbishop, I write to you now, in order to assist you in reflecting
upon the Word of God and to know the authoritative teaching of the Church
regarding the complex moral questions which our nation faces and which we
all face in electing the leaders of our nation. I write now to assist you
in informing your conscience as fully as possible, regarding your
responsibilities as a citizen. I do not claim to be wise and can offer no
wisdom of my own. What I give you is the wisdom of the Church, the wisdom
of Christ. Common good and human life
18. We are morally bound in conscience to choose leaders at all levels of
government who will best serve the common good, "the sum total of social
conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to
reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (Gaudium et spes,
No. 26a). "[T]he sum total of social conditions" embraces a wide spectrum
of concerns which the Catholic voter must have before his or her eyes, for
example, safeguarding the right to life and the sanctity of marriage and
the family; securing domestic and international peace; promoting education
and public safety; assisting those suffering from poverty; providing
sufficient and safe food, health care and adequate housing; eliminating
racism and other forms of injustice; and fostering justice in the work
19. The "fulfillment" which the common good helps us to attain is not
self-fulfillment in the popular sense. It is, rather, the fulfillment of
God's plan and destiny for us and our world. It is the fulfillment of our
high calling as sons and daughters of God in God the Son, co-workers with
God in His care of the world and of our brothers and sisters.
20. In considering "the sum total of social conditions," there is,
however, a certain order of priority, which must be followed. Conditions
upon which other conditions depend must receive our first consideration.
The first consideration must be given to the protection of human life
itself, without which it makes no sense to consider other social
conditions. "The inalienable right to life of every innocent human
individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its
legislation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2273).
21. The safeguarding of human life is understandably foundational to all
other precepts of the natural law. The Church's teaching, from her very
first years, has underlined the particular gravity of taking the life of
another, made in the image and likeness of God, except in the case of
self-defense, that is, the legitimate defense of self or others ( Pope
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, "On the Value and
Inviolability of Human Life," March 25, 1995, Nos. 52-55).
22. Within the considerations for the protection of human life, the
protection of the life of the innocent and defenseless, and of the weak
and the burdened must have primacy of place. There can never be
justification for directly and deliberately taking the life of those who
indeed are "the least" (Matthew 25:45). Such an act is always evil in
itself, intrinsically evil. Society, rather, is called to treasure its
members who are weakest, in the eyes of the world.
23. For that reason, our Holy Father reminds us that "[a]mong all the
crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has
characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable" (Evangelium
vitae, No. 58a). In treating the evil of procured abortion, our Holy
"No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act
which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God
which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and
proclaimed by the Church" (Evangelium vitae, No. 62d).
24. The Church's teaching on the intrinsic evil of procured abortion
forbids the destruction of human beings from the moment of fertilization
through every stage of their development. It is intrinsically evil to
destroy human embryos, even for some intended good. Our Holy Father,
referring to the Church's perennial teaching on the respect for human
life, reminds us:
"This evaluation of the morality of abortion is to be applied also to the
recent forms of intervention on human embryos which, although carried out
for purposes legitimate in themselves, inevitably involve the killing of
those embryos. This is the case with experimentation on embryos, which is
becoming increasingly widespread in the field of biomedical research and
is legally permitted in some countries. ... [I]t must nonetheless be
stated that the use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of
experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings
who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to
every person" (Evangelium vitae, No. 63a).
The Holy Father further reminds us that the solemn duty to protect human
life extends also to "living human embryos and fetuses
sometimes specifically 'produced' for this purpose by in vitro
either to be used as 'biological material' or as providers of organs or
tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain diseases" (Evangelium
vitae, No. 63b).
25. Another intrinsic moral evil which seemingly is growing in
acceptability in our society is euthanasia, "an action or omission which,
of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering" (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, No. 2277). Our thoroughly secularized society
fails to understand the redemptive meaning of human suffering, while, at
the same time, it views a human life burdened by advanced years, serious
illness or special needs as unworthy and too burdensome to sustain. The
secularist response contradicts totally the response of Christ
the response of the Church throughout the Christian centuries
treasures, above all, our brothers and sisters in most need and who is the
sign of God's merciful love to them.
26. It is important to distinguish euthanasia from: 1) the legitimate
decision "to forgo ... medical procedures which no longer correspond to
the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now
disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an
excessive burden on the patient and his family"; and 2) the legitimate
decision to use "various types of painkillers and sedatives for relieving
the patient's pain when this involves risk of shortening life" (Evangelium
vitae, No. 65b-c). Euthanasia, however, as our Holy Father has
confirmed, is a grave violation of the natural and divine law, "since it
is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person" (Evangelium
vitae, No. 65d).
27. Another moral concern of our time touches both upon the inviolability
of human life and upon the sanctity of marriage and the family, in which
human life has its beginning and receives its first and most important
education. The attempt to generate human life "without any connection with
sexuality through 'twin fission,' cloning, or parthenogenesis" is a grave
violation of the moral law (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
"Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of
Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day," Donum vitae,
Feb. 22, 1987, I, No. 6). Human cloning, for any reason, is "in opposition
to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union" (Donum
vitae, I, No. 6), inasmuch as it reduces procreation to a species of
manufacture, and treats human life as a product of human artifice.
So-called "reproductive cloning" is immoral on these grounds, as is what
is euphemistically referred to as "therapeutic cloning." The latter also
involves the actual destruction of cloned human beings.
28. Another moral concern touching upon marriage and the family, which is
of particular urgency in our time, is the movement to recognize legally as
a marriage a relationship between two persons of the same sex. Such legal
recognition of a same-sex relationship undermines the truth about
marriage, revealed in the natural law and the Holy Scriptures, namely that
it is an exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman, which of
its very nature cooperates with God in the creation of new human life
(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Considerations Regarding
Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,"
July 31, 2003, Nos. 2-4). Likewise, the legal recognition of a homosexual
relationship as marriage redounds to the grave harm of the individuals
involved, for it sanctions and even encourages gravely immoral acts.
29. Among the many "social conditions" which the Catholic must take into
account in voting, the above serious moral issues must be given the first
consideration. The Catholic voter must seek, above every other
consideration, to protect the common good by opposing these practices
which attack its very foundations. Thus, in weighing all of the social
conditions which pertain to the common good, we must safeguard, before all
else, the good of human life and the good of marriage and the family.
30. Some Catholics have suggested that a candidate's position on the death
penalty and war are as important as his or her position on procured
abortion and same-sex "marriage." This, however, is not true. Procured
abortion and homosexual acts are intrinsically evil, and, as such, can
never be justified in any circumstance. Although war and capital
punishment can rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil;
neither practice includes the direct intention of killing innocent human
beings. In some circumstances, self-defense and defense of the nation are
not only rights, but responsibilities. Neither individuals nor governments
can be denied the right of lawful defense in appropriate circumstances
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2265 and 2309). While we must all
work to eradicate the circumstances which could justify either practice,
we must stop the killing of innocent unborn children and the practice of
euthanasia, and safeguard marriage and the family now. One cannot justify
a vote for a candidate who promotes intrinsically evil acts which erode
the very foundation of the common good, such as abortion and same-sex
"marriage," by appealing to that same candidate's opposition to war or
31. Some Catholics, too, have suggested that a candidate's position on
other issues involving human rights are as important as his or her
position on the right to life. Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II has
reminded us that, in order to defend all human rights, we must first
defend the right to life:
"The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute
inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the
inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly
made on behalf of human rights
example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture
false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental
right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended
with maximum determination" (Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic
Exhortation Christifideles laici, "On the Vocation and the Mission
of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the Modern World," Dec. 30, 1988,
In all of our considerations of candidates and their positions, the
safeguarding of the inviolability of human life, in all stages of
development, must be kept before our eyes.
Voting and the common good
32. Considering all of the necessary social conditions to provide for the
common good, among which the concerns regarding human life, and marriage
and the family must have the first place, what guidance does the Church's
teaching offer for the prudential decision of the Catholic in voting? What
help does the Church's teaching offer to the Catholic voter who must
consider the positions of each candidate for office to see which
candidate, in his or her prudent judgment, will best promote the common
33. First of all, the Church teaches that we have an obligation, in
justice, to vote, because the welfare of the community depends upon the
persons elected and appointed to office. Secondly, we are morally obliged
to vote for a worthy candidate. Depending on the importance of the office
which the candidate seeks, careful consideration must be given to the
principles and positions for which he or she stands. The "Baltimore
Catechism" gives a good summary of the Church's teaching regarding the
duty to vote, in its response to Question 246, "How does a citizen show a
sincere interest in his country's welfare?":
"(a) Citizens should exercise the right to vote. This is a moral
obligation when the common good of the state or the good of religion,
especially in serious matters, can be promoted.
"(b) Citizens should vote for the candidates who in their judgment are
best qualified to discharge the duties of public office. Mere personal
gain or friendship does not justify one's voting for a candidate. It would
be sinful to cast a ballot for one who, in the judgment of the voters,
would do grave public harm" (Rev. Francis J. Connell, C.Ss.R., ed., The
New Confraternity Edition: Revised Baltimore Catechism and Mass, No.
3, New York: Benziger Brothers, 1949, page 145).
The "Catechism of the Catholic Church," in more summary fashion, reminds
us: "Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good
make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote,
and to defend one's country" (No. 2240).
34. If all candidates uphold the moral law in its integrity, especially
with regard to the intrinsically evil acts considered above (Nos. 21-29),
then it is a question of voting for the candidate on the basis of his or
her character, ability to lead, record and practical plans for attaining
goods proposed. As archbishop, I have no special competence in judging
these more practical and technical questions about a candidate. After a
study of the issues and with the help of civic discussion, a voter is
prepared to make the prudential judgment about the most worthy candidate
for each position.
35. If one candidate alone upholds the moral law in its integrity, then
the decision to vote for him or her is clear. But, what does a Catholic
do, if no candidate upholds the moral law in its integrity, that is, if
all candidates hold some position which is in opposition to the moral law,
as is so often the case in today's society? When all candidates for a
particular office fail, in some regard, to support the moral law and thus
foster the common good in its entirety, some Catholics simply decide not
to vote at all. The decision not to vote at all, however, fails to take
responsibility for any advancement of the common good, even if limited by
some false positions taken by a candidate.
Voting as material and formal cooperation in another's sin
36. Beyond the Catholic voter's responsibility to vote for a worthy
candidate, some particular cases can involve other very serious moral
considerations. Candidates and their parties, at times, advocate social
policies and programs which are themselves gravely immoral or they endorse
laws which permit intrinsically evil actions which are gravely unjust. The
question arises, then: Is a choice to vote for a candidate who actively
promotes grave injustices always sinful?
37. Certainly, it is never right to vote for a candidate in order to
promote the immoral practices he or she endorses and supports. In such a
case, the voter, who assists the candidate in fulfilling his or her agenda
by getting into office, intends the same evil endorsed and promoted by the
candidate. According to Catholic moral teaching, assisting another to
achieve evil in this fashion is called formal cooperation, which is never
38. The Church, however, also recognizes that it is sometimes impossible
to avoid all cooperation with evil, as may well be true in selecting a
candidate for public office. In certain circumstances, it is morally
permissible for a Catholic to vote for a candidate who supports some
immoral practices while opposing other immoral practices. Catholic moral
teaching refers to actions of this sort as material cooperation, which is
morally permissible when certain conditions are met. With respect to the
question of voting, these conditions include the following: 1) there is no
viable candidate who supports the moral law in its full integrity; 2) the
voter opposes the immoral practices espoused by the candidate, and votes
for the candidate only because of his or her promotion of morally good
practices; and 3) the voter avoids giving scandal by telling anyone, who
may know for whom he or she has voted, that he or she did so to advance
the morally good practices the candidate supports, while remaining opposed
to the immoral practices the candidate endorses and promotes.
39. But, there is no element of the common good, no morally good practice,
that a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which
could justify voting for a candidate who also endorses and supports the
deliberate killing of the innocent, abortion, embryonic stem-cell
research, euthanasia, human cloning or the recognition of a same-sex
relationship as legal marriage. These elements are so fundamental to the
common good that they cannot be subordinated to any other cause, no matter
40. When considering the deliberate killing of the innocent human being,
it is helpful to remember the Golden Rule which applies in every moral
decision: "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them" (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, No. 1789). In terms of the Golden Rule, we
must ask ourselves whether it is fair to our unborn brothers and sisters
to help put someone in office who will not lift a finger to save their
lives because we favor that candidate's position on health care reform,
education, the death penalty or some other issue. If we were in their
stage of human development, would we want them to make such a decision
regarding us? The question is not peculiarly Catholic but derives from the
natural moral law.
Candidates who support imperfect legislation
41. A Catholic may vote for a candidate who, while he supports an evil
action, also supports the limitation of the evil involved, if there is no
better candidate. For example, a candidate may support procured abortion
in a limited number of cases but be opposed to it otherwise. In such a
case, the Catholic who recognizes the immorality of all procured abortions
may rightly vote for this candidate over another, more unsuitable
candidate in an effort to limit the circumstances in which procured
abortions would be considered legal. Here the intention of the Catholic
voter, unable to find a viable candidate who would stop the evil of
procured abortion by making it illegal, is to reduce the number of
abortions by limiting the circumstances in which it is legal. This is not
a question of choosing the lesser evil, but of limiting all the evil one
is able to limit at the time.
42. In "Evangelium vitae," our Holy Father provides an example regarding
the voting of a Catholic legislator, which may be helpful, by analogy, in
understanding the action of a Catholic voter. He writes about the
legislator who votes for legislation which limits the moral evil of
procured abortion, even though it does not eliminate it totally. The Holy
"[W]hen it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a
pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition
to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed
at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative
consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This
does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but
rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects" (Evangelium
vitae, No. 73c).
Thus, a Catholic who is clear in his or her opposition to the moral evil
of procured abortion could vote for a candidate who supports the
limitation of the legality of procured abortion, even though the candidate
does not oppose all use of procured abortion, if the other candidate(s) do
not support the limitation of the evil of procured abortion. Of course,
the end in view for the Catholic must always be the total conformity of
the civil law with the moral law, that is, ultimately the total
elimination of the evil of procured abortion.
43. In such cases, would it be better not to vote at all? While I respect
very much the sentiments of those who are so discouraged with the failure
of our public leaders to promote the common good that they have decided
not to vote at all, I must point out that the Catholic who chooses not to
vote at all, when there is a viable candidate who will advance the common
good, although not perfectly, fails to fulfill his or her moral duty, at
least, in the limitation of a grave evil in society.
44. Clearly, the moral questions surrounding voting are complex for
Catholics, especially in our totally secularized society. The teaching of
the Church regarding our civic responsibility for the common good must be
our guide in making prudent decisions. Only by prayer and good counsel
will a Catholic voter be able to make a prudent decision regarding what
best serves the common good.
45. God our Father, through the inner voice of our conscience, asks us
each day about our brothers and sisters whose lives are being taken
through abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and euthanasia. Through our
conscience, He asks us, too, about our protection of the sanctity of
marriage and the family, in accord with His divine law. We are our
"brother's keeper." Our vocation and mission in life, a true share in the
vocation and mission of Christ our Savior, is to love our neighbor without
boundaries. In our democratic republic, one of the important ways in which
we fulfill our civic responsibility for the common good is by electing
government leaders who respect and uphold the moral law.
46. We, like the sacristan in Bavaria, must ask ourselves how it is
possible that we have permitted a grave injustice to be perpetrated
against an entire class of human beings by not legally protecting their
lives. How is it possible that the grave evil of procured abortion has
been legal in our nation for over 31 years, resulting in the deaths of
over 40 million unborn children? How is it possible that so-called "mercy
killing" is legal in some places in our nation? We must ask ourselves how
it is possible that our nation may make the destruction of human embryos
legal. We must ask ourselves how it is possible for our government to
redefine the God-given gift of marriage, in opposition to the moral law.
We must ask ourselves how it is possible for our nation to consider the
legalization of human cloning which violates the dignity of human life and
the sanctity of the marital union.
47. As Catholics, informed by the perennial moral teaching of the Church,
we bear an especially heavy burden of responsibility for the attacks on
human life and the family in our society. If all Catholics in our nation,
both Catholic voters and Catholic government leaders, had joined those
Catholics and others who upheld and continue to uphold the moral law, the
grave evils which plague our society would be lessened and eventually
eliminated. We cannot remain silent. We have a most serious obligation to
bring the moral law to bear upon our life in society, so that the good of
all will be served.
48. Recently, a devout Catholic, referring to a discussion over the
current moral crises which our nation faces, which he had with friends at
a social gathering, commented to me: "It is difficult to be a Catholic
today." He had experienced ridicule for his positions regarding the common
good and a most distasteful attack on the moral authority of the Church
and her pastors. Yet, he acknowledged that he, as a sincere Catholic, had
no other alternative than to defend the teachings of Christ as held and
handed down by the Church. Let us all pray for the wisdom and courage to
give a full account of the moral law, taught to us by the Church, to our
fellow citizens, and to defend the moral law for the sake of the good of
all our brothers and sisters, especially our "least" brothers and sisters,
with whom our Lord identifies Himself.
49. In these difficult times for our nation, let us turn to the Mother of
God, Our Lady of Guadalupe who visited our beloved continent in 1531. Her
extraordinary appearances to St. Juan Diego had, by her own declaration,
one sole good in view. She asked that a sanctuary be built in her honor,
in order that she might show to all the loving mercy of God toward them.
Through her apparitions, through her maternal love and intercession, the
pagan practice of human sacrifice was ended and a mutual respect between
Native Americans and Europeans was fostered, flowering into the mestiza
culture, making two races and peoples one. Let us beg God, through the
intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that He establish in our hearts a
renewed respect for all human life and help us to end the killing of the
innocent and defenseless. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, may
our voting promote respect for all human life, safeguard the sanctity of
marriage and the family, and foster the good of all.
Through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, may God bless you and
your homes, and may He bless our nation, safeguarding the good of all its
Given at St. Louis on the first day of October, the Memorial of St.
Therese of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church, in the Year
of the Lord 2004.
(Most Rev.) Raymond L. Burke Archbishop of St. Louis
Questions and answers concerning Archbishop Burke's pastoral letter
1. Is the archbishop endorsing a particular candidate?
No. The archbishop is presenting traditional Christian teaching to help
voters make an informed decision in the coming election. His
responsibility as a bishop clearly requires him to speak out on critical
2. Doesn't the pastoral letter on voting threaten the traditional American
separation of church and state?
No. As American citizens Catholics have a civic responsibility to promote
the common good. The first priority of the common good is the protection
of human life, which makes sense of all our other rights.
3. Can Catholics simply avoid voting?
To ensure the common good Catholics have a responsibility to vote for a
worthy candidate. Our civic responsibility for the common good is great,
especially in a society which fails to afford legal protection to the
weakest and most defenseless.
4. What do pro-life issues have to do with politics? Isn't this
Scripture teaches us that we are our "brother's keeper." Like the good
Samaritan in the Gospel, we must come to the aid of our defenseless
brothers and sisters in the womb, innocent victims of human engineering,
persons who have grown weak in advanced years, and all people and
institutions that are threatened by violations of the moral law. The
government already "legislates morality" when it addresses issues such as
health-care, employment, immigration, race relations, poverty, the rights
of citizens, to name only a few.
Ongoing initiatives to educate people about the dignity of human life are
of vital importance. The power of prayer for the intention that all will
embrace the truth about human life cannot be underestimated.
5. Aren't capital punishment and war also pro-life issues?
Capital punishment and war are certainly pro-life issues. Although they
are rarely justified, they are, though, not intrinsically evil as is
abortion. In some circumstances self-defense and defense of the nation are
not only rights but responsibilities.
One cannot, however, justify voting for a candidate who promotes
intrinsically evil acts which erode the very foundation of the common
good, such as abortion, by appealing to that same candidate's opposition
to war or capital punishment.
6. Can a Catholic vote for a candidate who favors abortion?
It is never right to vote for a candidate in order to promote immoral
practices. This would be "formal cooperation" in evil. There can never be
justification for directly and deliberately taking innocent human life:
abortion, destruction of human embryos, euthanasia, human cloning. For the
sake of the common good we must safeguard the good of human life, and the
good of marriage and family life.
7. If all the candidates favor abortion, but in different circumstances,
how should a Catholic decide about voting?
In some circumstances it is morally permissible for a Catholic to vote for
a candidate who supports some immoral practices while opposing other
immoral practices. This is called "material cooperation." However, there
is no element of the common good that could justify voting for a candidate
who also endorses the deliberate killing, without restriction or
reservation of any kind, of the innocent.
8. Can a Catholic vote for a candidate who would allow abortion in limited
If a candidate supports abortion in a limited number of cases, but is
opposed to it otherwise, Catholics may vote for this candidate. This is
not a question of choosing a lesser evil but of limiting the evil.
9. How can there be a connection between the reception of Holy Communion
and a Catholic politician's public policy actions?
One of the earliest examples of the connection between Holy Communion and
public behavior is from St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). St. Justin the
Martyr (early 100s A.D.) lists three conditions for receiving Holy
Communion, the third of which is to live in accord with Church teachings.
People can receive Communion worthily if they are in fact in communion
with Christ and His way of life.
10. How do social justice issues like poverty, housing, and education
relate to pro-life issues?
The sum total of all social conditions
social justice issues
depends on the protection of human life. Without this fundamental
protection it makes no sense to consider other social conditions. The
inalienable right to life of every innocent individual is a constitutive
element of civil society and its legislation.
11. Has the archbishop changed his thinking about voting and elections
from earlier statements attributed to him?
No. The principles outlined in this pastoral letter are entirely
consistent with what the archbishop has previously stated. Previously he
had occasion to speak only in a limited or particular context. The
pastoral letter is a comprehensive and thorough treatment of our civic
responsibility for the common good.
12. Did the archbishop write this pastoral letter because of the June
letter of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on this subject to the U.S. bishops?
The pastoral letter was written to present the Church's teaching regarding
our civic responsibility to promote the common good, especially by
exercising our right and fulfilling our duty to vote. It is meant to
assist Catholics, and all people of good will in the metropolitan
community, to choose those representatives who will best serve the good of
all. The letter draws principally from the teaching of Sacred Scripture,
the documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and the "Catechism
of the Catholic Church."
(Provided by St. Louis Archdiocese)
Summary of 'On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good' by
Below is a summary of the pastoral letter of Archbishop Raymond L. Burke,
"On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good."
1. The archbishop is impelled to speak to Catholics and all people of good
will in the metropolitan community on our civic responsibility for the
common good on account of his responsibility as a bishop to teach clearly
the moral law.
2. Scripture teaches definitively that we are our "brother's keeper," good
Samaritans charged to exercise our civic responsibility to promote the
common good. Above all, we must promote and protect the inviolable dignity
of all human life.
We are called to be "Christians Without Borders," without boundaries to
our love of neighbor.
3. Our civic responsibility to promote the common good is informed by our
life in Christ, which unites us in a bond of charity.
4. As citizens of Heaven and Earth, we are bound by the moral law to act
with respect for the rights of others and to promote the common good.
5. The right to act in accord with conscience presupposes that it is
informed with the truth God has inscribed in our hearts and revealed in
Sacred Scripture. Conscience is the voice of God within us, assisting us
to choose good and to avoid evil, in accord with God's law.
6. We are morally bound in conscience to choose government leaders who
will serve the common good. The first priority of the common good is the
protection of human life, the basis of all other social conditions.
There can never be justification for directly and deliberately taking
innocent human life: abortion, destruction of human embryos, euthanasia,
Legal recognition of same-sex relationships undermines the truth about
marriage and sanctions gravely immoral acts.
For the sake of the common good we must safeguard the good of human life
and the good of marriage and family life.
The death penalty and war are different from procured abortion and
same-sex "marriage," since these latter acts are intrinsically evil and
therefore can never be justified. Although war and capital punishment can
rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil.
7. To ensure the common good, Catholics have a responsibility to vote for
a worthy candidate, because the welfare of the community depends upon the
persons elected and appointed to office.
8. It is never right to vote for a candidate in order to promote immoral
practices; this is "formal cooperation" in evil.
In some circumstances it is morally permissible for a Catholic to vote for
a candidate who supports some immoral practices while opposing other
immoral practices. This is called "material cooperation" and is
permissible under certain conditions and when it is impossible to avoid
all cooperation with evil, as may well be true in selecting a candidate
for public office.
There is no element of the common good that could justify voting for a
candidate who also endorses, without restriction or limitation, the
deliberate killing of the innocent, abortion, embryonic stem cell
research, euthanasia, human cloning or same-sex marriage.
9. If a candidate supports abortion in a limited number of cases, but is
opposed otherwise, Catholics may vote for this person. This is not a
question of choosing a lesser evil but of limiting all the evil one is
able to limit at the time.
10. As Catholics we cannot remain silent. We have a serious obligation to
bring the moral law to bear upon our life in society, so that the good of
all will be served.