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Church teaching and facts guide decision-making

Last month, I wrote about prudence when voting. Being a prudential person is not just something one does a few months before a national election. It is a way of life. It is a kind of habit we build up in ourselves as we try to apply the principles of our faith to everyday life.

But what happens when Catholics disagree on the prudential application of those principles? Catholics vary widely on applying our principles in the voting booth. So what is going on, and how should we react? The answer begins with a famous quote from St. Augustine who said that as Catholics we should have unity in essentials, diversity in non-essentials and "in all things charity."

So my first point is unity in essentials. When Catholics disagree about politics, we need to make sure that we understand the principles in the first place. Sadly, during the last national election of 2008 a study showed that the majority of American Catholics never read "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," the very document produced by our bishops to teach the essentials for our unity.

We will never find the unity we ought to have as Catholics if we don't try to understand what our bishops are teaching us. For this reason, the Archdiocese of Omaha is planning a Faithful Citizenship Conference the morning of Sept. 29. Additionally, I will be trying to set up opportunities to discuss the document.

This leads to my second point. Even when we all agree on the principles, sometimes there will be legitimate and honest disagreement about how to apply those principles to the real world. Whether it is about pro-life legislation or about budget decisions, political solutions to huge problems are going to be complicated, and often there will be more than one answer. As St. Augustine said, we can have diversity in non-essentials.

This disagreement about prudential applications doesn't mean we can question a fellow Catholic about their fidelity to the church, which leads to my last point: "in all things charity."

Passion for the truth is a good thing, because truth is real and Truth is a divine person. There are, as the bishops say in paragraph 22 of "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," some things that are just always wrong and can never be "supported or condoned." But defend the truth with charity.

If you do disagree with a fellow Catholic on a prudential matter, don't call the other person's Catholicity into question. People are not more or less Catholic because they might disagree with you about the state's budget proposal. Complex issues such as proper levels of taxation are open to discussion. Have the discussion. That's part of a healthy society. The great G.K. Chesterton once said "people generally quarrel because they cannot argue." So argue, but don't quarrel.

This applies especially when speaking about politics in front of children. They pick up on a lot. Sometimes what we say about a political party or about a candidate can be repeated on the playground, so be careful about what kind of rhetoric you use in front of your kids.

The most important thing is to make sure we inform ourselves about the facts and about the teaching. That's something we can be doing right now, since no one has to be "undecided" about their principles.

Omar Gutierrez is the manager of the Archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at

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