For many well intentioned Catholics, determining whom to vote for in the upcoming presidential election is a difficult decision. The Church has no official, clear criteria to aid in the decision. Yet, the fact is that Rome, the highest authority in the Church, has provided the faithful with contemporary, official teaching concerning political decisions. Pope Saint John Paul II gave us Evangelium Vitae 68-74. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published a “Doctrinal Note on the Participation of Catholics in Political Life” as well as a memorandum on “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles.” Catholics who trust in the teaching authority of the Church and look to it for direction should ground their voting decision in the logic of these documents.
In addition to the above documents, I recommend that all Catholics and people of goodwill look to the political philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas for guidance regarding which candidate to support this November. In De Regno (On Kingship) and the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas offers a compelling account of the origin, nature, and purpose of human government. His political theory contains enduring principles that can serve as the basis for our political thinking today.
Aquinas’s understanding of politics is based upon his notion of the purpose of human life. Humans yearn for happiness. The natural happiness accessible to all people in this life consists in the exercise of the intellectual and moral virtues. In order to be virtuous, a person first needs to be alive. Then, the living person needs to have morally virtuous relationships with their neighbors, and especially with their spouse and children. Finally, they need to exercise the virtue of religion by worshiping God. Life, love of neighbor, and love of God are thus the three goods which humans need to be happy in this life (ST I-II, q. 94, a. 2).