Annou Xavier's Commentary: Moral Duty For Catholic Voters

The General Elections are here. It is a time for debate and decisions. Catholics have the same rights and duties to vote as any other citizens, but are called to carry them out in light of the truth, faith and justice as taught by the Catholic Church.

We are called to respect human authority and obey those who govern society for God's sake and to live as free people without using that freedom to cover any wrongdoings (1 Peter 2:13-17).

Malaysia is a democratic state where citizens choose their leaders through an electoral process, whom they vest with authority for common good. A choice for one person over another for public office such as a Member of Parliament or State Executive Councillor can significantly affect many lives, especially the ethnic minorities, natives, religious persons or the downtrodden.

We, the Catholic citizens have a serious moral obligation to exercise our right to vote, whether at national or state level. The Second Vatical Council taught us that “all citizens are to bear in mind that it both their right and duty to use their free vote to promote the common good”. What is more, we have a duty to vote guided by well-formed conscience, and not simply on the basis of self-interest, party affiliation, mega-projects or some monetary gains.

Be a conscientious voter

We become conscientious voters when we are guided by our conscience. Conscience is an inner law `written' by God on our hearts and minds that disposes us to love and to do good and avoid evil (Roman 2:14-16). To act against conscience when it is not proper or unjust or evil is as serious as disobeying God.

Recent unjust events

As Malaysian Catholics, let us be conscience about recent events affecting our lives, either personally or socially, such as:-

  • the systematic erosion of the freedom to practise our religion found in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution;
  • the right to manage our religious affairs, e.g. having our own Catholic publication, Herald without restrictions;
  • denial of water and electricity to the Church built by the Orang Asli in Kg Pasu, Temerloh, Pahang;
  • the case of Revathy who was separated from her family and sent to the religious rehabilitation center in Melacca for 180 days for apostasy;
  • the tussle between the Selangor Religious Department and family members for the body of Rayappan, a Catholic who had passed away in November 2006;
  • the Federal Court decision in Lina Joy's case that ruled matters relating to conversion from Islam lies only with the Syariah Court ;
  • confiscation of Christian materials and books by the Internal Security Ministry's Publications and Al-Quran Text Control Division;
  • proclamation of Malaysia as an Islamic State by the former Prime Minister last 29.9.2001 and later by the Deputy Prime Minister on 17.7.2007 that goes against the grain of our Social Contract for Independence;
  • erosion of citizen's right to freedom of peaceful assembly, contrary to Article 10(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution;
  • application of draconian laws, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA) to arrest and detain a citizen without trial for a long period of time.

The above events constitute an attack against our fundamental rights and belief and are instrinsically evil.

The church's call

The Church is called to share our social teachings, to highlight the moral dimensions of issues, to participate in debate on public policy, religious matter and to witness the Gospel. Our community of faith brings several assets to these challenges. A moral framework anchored in the Scriptures and expressed in the teachings of Church, caring for the sick and marginalized, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, welcoming refugees, upholding our fundamental freedom enshrined in the Constitution, speaking to those who are voiceless like the Orang Asli, all called to provide a moral leaven for our democracy.

All citizens are urged to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically to choose political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or for monetary interest.

Pope's comment on voting rights

Pope John Paul II warned that concern for the “right to home, to work, to freedom of religion is false and illusory if it is not defended with maximum determination” (Christifideles Laici, No. 38). Even Pope Pius XII in the letter “The Church Teaching Regarding Conscience And The Duty To Vote” stated that the vote, is not merely a right to be protected, but a duty to be fulfilled.

For Catholics, freedom to profess own faith, freedom to hold procession publicly during Feast Day, to use the word `Allah' in our publication without fear of sanction and to uphold our entrenched rights in the Federal Constitution is not a narrow cause but a way of life. We are reminded that well formed Catholic conscience does not permit voting for a political program or law that contradicts fundamental principles of our faith. Once a Catholic Bishop in Nigeria, Bishop Francis Okobo of the diocese of Nsukha, even refused to give Holy Communion to parishioners who had failed to register themselves as voters!

Our duty to vote

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) states that it is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of the society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom (2239).

Voting is a civic duty which would seem to bind at least under venial sin whenever a good candidate has an unworthy opponent. It might even be a mortal sin if one's refusal to vote would result in the election of an unworthy candidate (Jone, Moral Theology (Dublin: Mercier Press, 1929, 1955).

So, make 8.3.2008 an important date. Go out to your polling stations and exercise your right to vote. We, Catholics have a moral duty to do so.

By Annou Xavier

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