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NEW YORK – Ahead of nationwide midterm elections next week, the lone Catholic bishop in South Carolina is reminding U.S. Catholics that regardless of which political party they belong to, they should vote as Christians first, seeking the common good of all people.
“As Americans prepare to step into the voting booth later this month, it is important to recognize, especially as Christians, that we do not only belong to a specific party – we are Christians first,” Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune of Charleston said in a Nov. 2 statement.
“We belong to God who has made us one family in faith,” he said. “We have responsibilities to our nation and communities to seek the common good of all people and promote dialogue in a world of differences.”
The midterm elections are Nov. 8, with 35 of the 100 Senate seats and all 435 House seats up for grabs.
The results could take away a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate. Currently, Democrats have a 220 to 212 advantage in the House. The other three seats are vacant. In the Senate, there are 48 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats, and 50 Republicans. Any voting ties in the Senate are broken by Vice President Kamala Harris, giving Democrats a slight advantage.
The Catholic Church doesn’t back individual candidates for election or re-election. Instead, the church advocates for Catholics to vote in accordance with their faith values, and advises them on different issues – issues of life, religious liberty, definition of marriage, the wealth disparity, immigration and violence among them.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops highlights these issues in its voting document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” The document serves as a reminder to Catholics of three things to take to the voting booths with them: respect for the dignity of each person is the core of Catholic teaching, focus on the common good, and Catholics have an obligation to vote.
Individual dioceses and state Catholic conferences have issued similar documents. And some have spoken out specifically against abortion measures on their state’s ballots in recent weeks.
In his Nov. 2 statement, though, Fabre-Jeune, is speaking about the upcoming elections from a broader perspective. He emphasized the idea that Catholics should vote from a well-formed conscience, and offers a reminder of the “blessing” it is to have the opportunity to participate in civic life.
Fabre-Jeune was born in Haiti – a country that has long been in political turmoil – immigrating to New York City while he was in high school. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1986 in the Diocese of Brooklyn, and prior to becoming bishop of Charleston earlier this year, held appointments in Florida, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Rome and the state of Georgia.
“As citizens of this great country, we have the ability to vote and engage in civic life,” Fabre-Jeune said Nov. 2. “It is a blessing that we can actively live our faith and a moral obligation to vote for those that defend the right to practice it.”
The bishop also mentions the importance of Catholics forming consciences before voting, and weighing each candidate’s stance “on the moral hierarchy of issues.”
“We must elect lawmakers who uphold and promote the common good, reject intrinsically evil acts, and protect the weak, undeserved, and vulnerable,” Fabre-Jeune said.
“We do not vote from social pressure or selfishness, but from a well-formed conscience. We vote for love of one another which flows from God, the creator and giver of life,” he added. “Let us pray for our state and nation as we seek the intercession of the patroness of South Carolina, Our Lady of Joyful Hope.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg