Can you commit a sin in the voting booth?

Frank Pavone
Reproduced with Permission

I raise the question first of all because we are in an election year. Campaign 2004 is everywhere in the news, and it is only going to get more intense with every passing week.

And if Priests for Life has anything to say about it, it is also going to get more intense in the Churches and in the pulpits. The reason is simple: there can be no democracy without virtue, and there can be no human activity divorced from the moral law. And in matters of the moral law, the Church does not have the right to be silent.

To put it another way, morality has to do with human activity and human choices. Any time we make any kind of decision about what we do, say, or even think, we are either affirming or denying the moral law, and therefore are either coming closer to God or going farther away from him. Every step we take on the journey of life either strengthens us in virtue or enslaves us in vice.

Wherever we are, then, it is possible to perform a virtuous act or to commit a sin. I may be singing God's praises in the choir amidst a splendid liturgy -- but if I deliberately think thoughts of rash judgment against a fellow choir member, I have sinned in the midst of those holy surroundings. Conversely, I may be a police officer called to investigate a complaint inside a nightclub where immoral acts are being committed at every turn. By carrying out my duty diligently, however, I can perform virtuous acts despite the surroundings. In short, the only "no-virtue" or "no-sin" zones are on the other side of the grave.

Now sin or virtue is always a combination of my action, my intention, and the circumstances surrounding both. I cannot tell whether a photo of two men carrying a TV set out of an apartment is the photo of sin or virtue, because I don't know if they are two thieves or two repairmen. All the relevant facts have to be considered, and not all of those facts are always available.

Let's look at one example of a voting booth sin. A voter believes in "abortion rights," and for that reason knowingly and deliberately votes for a candidate who has promised to protect those "rights." That is a sin. The voter has intentionally helped someone who is attempting to advance a violent and destructive activity. The vote in that case is similar to the sinful act of taking part in a pro-abortion rally, writing an editorial letter that expresses support for abortion, or otherwise encouraging or enabling those who perform abortions.

To say this has nothing to do with being partisan, because anybody of any party at any time might take any position on abortion, and yet this teaching remains the same. Nor is it "telling people how to vote," but rather pointing out the moral implications of voting.