By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

The Diocese of Syracuse, the New York State Catholic Conference, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) are encouraging Catholics to vote on Nov. 8.

Father Charles S. Vavonese, Director of the Diocesan Public Policy Office, is part of this effort. He has asked churches to make voter-registration forms available to parishioners and to make bulletin and pulpit announcements on this topic.

In his message to churches, Father Vavonese writes, “Unfortunately, Catholics do not have a good record when it comes to exercising their right to vote. In this light, the Diocese of Syracuse is conducting a voter-registration campaign for which we are asking your assistance. … This campaign is consistent with the guidelines for 501.C.3 organizations.”

Individuals must be registered by Oct. 14 in order to vote on Nov. 8. “Register or you have no choice in the election of our president and legislators,” Father Vavonese says. Individuals must return their completed voter-registration forms to their respective Boards of Election.

Father Vavonese quotes from the USCCB’s teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship:  “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. … The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.”

In his letter to parishes, Father Vavonese includes a document prepared by the New York State Catholic Conference, which “represents the Bishops of the state in working with government to shape laws and policies that pursue social justice, respect for life, and the common good.”

The bishops’ document also quotes from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship:  “The United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination. … Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions into public life. Indeed, our Church’s teaching is in accord with the foundational values that have shaped our nation’s history: ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”

In an interview Oct. 3 expanding on his message to parishes, Father Vavonese said:

“Catholics have a moral responsibility to contribute to the common good. One of the prime ways of doing this is by voting. It’s important that we bring our conscience values to bear on public policy.

“Not to do that is to forfeit our right to have a say in how our government operates. If we have public policies and we don’t vote, we’re not helping to shape those public policies. We disenfranchise ourselves.

“Voting is something that’s fundamental to the Constitution. Not only a civic responsibility, but in the view of the Church, it’s a moral responsibility. Particularly when we look at the area of social justice.

“I think there is at times a misconception that people feel their vote’s not going to matter. It matters because it creates a certain footprint, if you will, about the feelings of the citizenry.

“In doing so I think we need to recognize that we are Catholics, and we are Americans, and those are not two mutually exclusive categories.”

Citing the fact that the right to vote is part of American citizenship, Father Vavonese said the Church strongly encourages Catholics to live out their baptismal commitment to create a better world by voting for morally responsible candidates.

“There’s a misconception that the Church has no role in forming the public good. The Church has a moral responsibility to educate people to the issues. At the same time, while the Church does that very well and will continue to do that, the Church isn’t in a position to endorse, or not endorse, any political candidate.”

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