The Catholic perspective on the 2011 federal election is essentially the same as for every election. Church teaching supports the right to life, the dignity of the human person and a preferential option for the poor. Government policies should reflect those teachings, not because the Catholic Church teaches them, but because they are principles of fundamental human justice.
Church teaching, of course, goes further than three principles. It includes the principle of solidarity - that public policies should strive to overcome stark inequalities between rich and poor, both at home and around the world. It supports the principle of subsidiarity - the belief that society's foundation lies in strong families, voluntary associations and local communities. Government alone cannot build a strong society nor should it try to do so.
At heart, Catholic social doctrine rests on the belief that the common good is more important than the private good. It asserts "the universal destination of all goods" - God gave humanity stewardship over the resources of the planet to sustain the lives of all people, both now and in the future, without excluding or favouring anyone.
The problem for Catholic voters is that knowing those principles and being informed on current political issues does not automatically lead to a conclusion about which political party or candidate to support. That, however, is a good thing. One thing that Canada needs now is a decline in partisanship and a greater emphasis on principles.
The paradox is that the only realistic way to effectively work for principled leadership is to get involved with a political party.
Further, for at least some people, this involvement cannot be a sometime thing. Some people of principle must get involved and stay involved, involved in constituency associations and backroom decision-making. They must do that while maintaining and fighting for their principles. Unless some people devote their lives to politics, the field will be left to the partisan and the power hungry.
Principled involvement in politics is perhaps the most difficult vocation in our society. People who walk that road will be frequently criticized by those who lazily believe that all politicians are crooks or liars. Elected officials will risk losing support if they maintain the common good outstrips the personal desires of some constituents. Few will know the sacrifices that are made, the crosses that are carried and the friendships that are made and lost.
The good of society depends in no small part on the emergence of a cadre of political saints. Yet those not called to that vocation still have a responsibility. We are responsible to learn about the issues, to reflect on our principles and to vote based on those principles.