They say you should not discuss religion, sex or politics in polite company, so when a priest discusses sex or politics, two of the three explosive topics are on the table, and the third’s there implicitly.

It seems there are two places the faithful do not want their priest: the bedroom and the voting booth. Unfortunately, we cannot turn off our faith once we leave church. A priest’s duty is to advise his flock on every aspect of life—and that includes both sex and politics.

When it comes to politics, there are some clear guidelines. As a private citizen, a priest is entitled to speak his mind about candidates and say whom he might vote for, but he should be clear that he is merely voicing his own opinion.

In a priest’s official capacity, he should speak out against injustice, corruption, violence, greed and lust, and he should speak out against clear violations of human rights on particular issues.

Is is not only a priest’s right, but also his duty to speak out against Nazism, Communism, abusive Capitalism, Jihadism and every other ungodly ideology. Priests should also speak out against particular issues like war, capital punishment, abortion, slavery, unjust wages, and crimes against marriage.

If need be, a priest can speak out against a particular candidate when that candidate takes an open stance on these issues. He must be careful, however, not to speak against the person in particular, but against the candidate’s or their party’s positions.

Priests are called to be courageous witnesses in the public square, and church history is full of priests who have stood up to the powers of this world. Whether it’s Poland’s St. Stanislaus and Jerzy Popieluszko, England’s Thomas Becket, El Salvador’s Oscar Romero, Germany’s  Bishop von Galen, they have spoken against the crimes of corrupt leaders and paid the price.

To put it simply, Catholic priests have a duty to tell people how to vote, but not whom to vote for. This sounds like a tightrope, but it is not a difficult one to walk. The rule is that a priest advises his people on issues and principles that inform their conscience as Catholics, and then encourages them to vote responsibly.

As Americans go to the polls in November, most are conscious of the two presidential candidates. Given their records, personal character and party platforms, it is difficult for faithful Catholics to be completely enthusiastic about either.

However, voters should remember that they are not only electing a president. A total of 469 seats in the U.S. Congress (34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats) are up for election. Also twelve states will elect governors, not to mention elections to state legislatures elections for mayor to major cities and a multitude of local elections.

The presidential candidates get the most attention, but great good can be accomplished through the election of reliable and virtuous congressmen/women and local and state officials.

To help American citizens, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published Forming Consciouses for Faithful Citizenship a two part summary which can be used as handouts in parishes and are available on the USCCB website. Pastors and people should make use of these resources in order to choose wisely.

The first part of the summary reminds Catholics about the importance of four foundation principles of Catholic social teaching: the Dignity of the Human Person, the importance of the Common Good, Subsidiarity and Solidarity.

These principles place the human person at the center of political policy making, and stress both the need to build up the whole human family as well as the need to shift power and resources from “big government” to “local life and local love.”

Part two of the summary of the bishop’s teachings gives more detailed instruction on how to exercise prudence in making positive moral choices, how to deal with complicated dilemmas and avoid common pitfalls in voter choice.

Finally, the bishops lay out ten areas of public policy to which Catholics should pay close attention. They are:

  1. The requirement to protect human life from conception to natural death.
  2. The defense of the historic understanding of marriage and family life.
  3. A fair approach to immigration that defends borders while protecting and helping the poor.
  4. The need to fight against poverty.
  5. The need to provide adequate opportunities and education for all.
  6. The protection of religious freedom.
  7. Provision of adequate health care for all.
  8. The avoidance of all forms of racism and prejudice.
  9. The moral limitation of the use of military force.
  10. The need to co operate internationally for justice, peace and environmental prosperity.

These principles offer Catholic priests and people clear guidelines for both content and style.

If priests stick to the script provided by the bishops they will be able to stand in solidarity with one another, and shepherd their flock while avoiding the pitfalls of talking about politics.