The Catholic Woman Voter


 “The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling”.

The Catholic Woman Voter

The Catholic Woman Voter

Blessed John Paul II used those prolific words in 1988 in the opening paragraph of his encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem—speaking on the dignity and vocation of women. He knew the power a Catholic woman held when she was “imbued” with a spirit of the Gospel. Over and over again Blessed John Paul II wrote about the gifts, talents, and nature of the “feminine genius.” Whenever I read his words, I am struck by his excitement. His belief in what Catholic women can accomplish feels palpable.

And we live in a time where we have certainly seen the great and far-reaching power of Catholic women. We have witnessed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ powerful attack on life through the HHS mandate. We have heard Nancy Pelosi in her role as Speaker of the House proclaim the grandeur of the most pro-abort president ever to step foot in the Oval Office. Other famous Catholic women fill out the current administration’s ranks as well, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (To understand the Obama anti-life agenda please research his vote as an Illinois senator against the Born Alive act).

But are these powerful Catholic women “imbued” with the spirit of the Gospel that JPII referred to in that opening paragraph of Mulieris Dignitatem? Are they powerful in a way that they will aid humanity in not falling—or are they contributing to the fall?

Are you and I also contributing to the fall—or are we aiding humanity in not falling?

I think to better answer these questions we have to return to our Gospel roots; we have to understand its spirit and its teachings because this is what it all hinges upon, according to Bl. JPII. It can’t be a coincidence that in a few short weeks, Catholic woman voters will be able to wield a tremendous amount of power; a power to aid humanity in not falling.

I went on an interview recently for a position in a Catholic company. One of the questions asked was about “social justice.” For some reason the question felt like a trap but I responded the best way I knew how: I said that I am faithful to the Magisterium and to Church teaching.

I didn’t get the job—but I did get a new insight into what may be the problem we face as Catholic women voters. As women it is in our nature to care for the needy, our hearts ache for justice and equity among all. We often feel and sense things in a way much deeper—or different—than our male counterparts.

Social justice and social teaching are on our radars—and rightly so. Either term reaches out to women because we care deeply about the needs of others. The only caveat?  We cannot—and should not—put them above the teaching of Mother Church on abortion—that it is intrinsically evil.

Yet, we do have Church teachings on our responsibilities to society—and they are very clear. It is part of our call to feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit the sick.

So what is the “spirit of the Gospel” to which Bl. John Paul II refers, then, for those of us interested in helping mankind not fall?

Is it social justice?

Is it human dignity and the right to life?

This is where we must turn to Church teaching for a clear answer—and is where we will find one, whether we like it or not. Whether we agree or not.

No matter how we parse it, we cannot use any term or phrase in a way that it supersedes our first obligation to honor life from conception to death. In fact, I believe the reality is such that if we honor life in this way (from conception to natural death), social justice will be a normal extension of that commitment to life. And I believe the opposite is true as well: if we do not honor life from conception to death, it won’t be long before we no longer value “social justice” in any way, shape or form.

As Catholic Christians we understand a “hierarchy” of sins. We know the difference between venial and mortal sins. So when the Church invokes such language as “intrinsic evil” when referring to abortion, we are supposed to sit up and take note. It can’t be thrown in the same pile as a lack of social justice or the ways we may be failing some of our brothers and sisters.

There is a lot at stake in this election and the words Bl. John Paul II used to begin his encyclical on the dignity and vocation of women should strike a chord with any woman who reads them. It was his personal invitation and call to holiness to Catholic women everywhere. His faith was such that he most certainly believed that we would understand the stakes and then when faced with them we would choose to aid humanity in not falling.

Nothing more, nothing less: aid humanity in not falling.

It is a tremendous responsibility to be a Catholic woman voter this year. It seems to be the time Bl. John Paul wrote of with certainty and insight, guided by the Holy Spirit, so that we would rise confidently and compassionately to the challenge that was before us and, imbued with the Gospel, do our part to aiding humanity in not falling.

Copyright 2012 Cheryl Dickow


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  1. I think to render our Catholicism and faith to a zero-sum game is not at all consistent with the Gospel. And I personally cannot accept any attempt to minimize the evil of throwing social justice in a pile. It is an excuse to vote Republican even in the face of the party’s abject hostility to the poor and disenfranchised.

  2. Thanks for such a wonderful article. It is right on the money.
    In reply to the comments above:
    In a nation guilty of 53 million abortions since 1973, we shouldn’t be lecturing pro-lifers about not caring for the poor and disenfranchised. There is no one poorer or more disenfranchised than an aborted baby.
    As a Catholic I would never support a party who celebrates abortion and calls it a right, uses tax dollars to advance the slaughter of the unborn, and then chastises Republicans for not caring.
    Defending the basic God-given right to life is the base line. If a party cannot protect the most defenseless of all human beings they shouldn’t tell anyone how much they care.What audacity!
    By the way, just because one doesn’t agree with the Democratic Party’s socialist policies of wealth re-distribution, it doesn’t mean one doesn’t care. Every pope since Benedict the 15th has denounced socialism as well.

    • WF,

      Well said! There is a quote going around Facebook that says – “One cannot be a humanitarian and pro-choice/pro-abortion at the same time. It just isn’t possible. Abortion clinics kill people.”
      Thank you.

      • Thank you. Great quote.
        Our God-given right to life, marriage between one man and one woman, and religious liberty are non-negotiable, (those aren’t my words those are the pope’s.) They cannot be traded away for social programs no matter how good we think they are. Besides, we can defend life and take care of the poor at the same time. Pro-abortion Catholics in politics or in positions of power who encourage and facilitate abortions and force us to pay for them are Catholics by name only and should be rejected by every Catholic voter every time they run for office.

  3. I suppose, then, that all of you would similarly not vote for a candidate who was in favor of capital punishment? Consistency is important if protecting life is your baseline.

    • This is an age old argument for those who want to justify voting for pro-abortion candidates. I’ve been hearing that bunk since the 1970s. There is no moral equivalence here. Are you really going to compare an innocent baby to a cold blooded murderer? Are you going to compare an innocent baby to serial killer Ted Bundy ?
      Are you telling me that argument justifies the slaughter of 53 million babies since 1973? Come on. Really?
      If you want to argue against capital punishment I would listen, but that never justifies voting for a pro abortion candidate.
      In the case of a convicted murderer he at least gets a trial. There is someone defending him in court and a jury has to convict him. He can even get a reprieve from a governor. An unborn baby has no defense except the mother who respects life. The father doesn’t even have a say in the matter. Besides, the church never says it is okay to vote for a pro abortion candidate as long as he is against capital punishment. That is a bogus argument.

    • Yes, I am against the death penalty, but in deciding on who to vote for, it would not carry nearly the same moral weight as the issue of abortion.
      As the Church teaches – Abortions are intrinsically evil, which means they are always evil under any circumstances and can never be justified. It is a non-negotiable.
      Looking at the stats, there have been 18,910 executions in the US since the 1600’s. Only 265 since 1995. Since 1973, there have been over 50 million abortions in the US.
      50 million!!! Way too shocking for words.
      Obviously, abortion is the bigger threat to human life. I will never vote for a pro-abortion candidate.

  4. This is a necessary conversation and I certainly appreciate the spirit and passions that it evokes. I do also appreciate when such questions such as the death penalty can be answered with clarity and respect because they are good questions. It is best to assume that anyone who puts it forth asks it in sincerity and with integrity.

    And since this is such a critical election, and this is a wonderful forum that Lisa Hendey offers us in which to bring this discussion to the table, I want to honor everyone’s passion about the issue.

    The fact that as Catholics we are called to honor life from conception to natural death absolutely says we should abhor the death penalty. However, our very first and most important obligation is to protect the innocence of life in the womb. Even though it may sound harsh, what has been shared here is true: a person does not go to death row without a lawyer, the legal system—and all this after having freely chosen to make a decision that has put him or herself in that situation. A child in the mother’s womb is the most innocent of all human beings and it is our responsibility as Catholics to defend that life always and without exception.

    As I pointed out in the article, if we cannot defend an innocent baby in the womb, the chances of us coming to the aid of humans in any other condition (from poverty to death row) will be reduced proportionately.

    For this reason, when faced with a candidate who supports the death penalty but who is against abortion is the candidate closest to our views and beliefs as practicing Catholics. If we cannot have perfection, we must choose whoever defends the innocent in the womb.

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