According to a recent news iP1060516[1]tem, the Archbishop of Lipa, in the Philippines, has decided to tell Catholics in his diocese who to vote for in this month’s elections. This will not be done “from the pulpit”, but discreetly, by distributing sample ballot papers with the names of the Archbishop’s favoured candidates marked. I’m not sure how discreet that is, but it is certainly a step too far. Even if it is true, as he says, that “the people are asking to be told”, it is not the job of the Church, let alone a single bishop, to tell them. As we enter the run-up to our own general elections next year, it is worthwhile reflecting on this issue. For one thing, publicly supporting a particular candidate can end up becoming an embarrassment. As we know all too well, politicians sometimes renege on their campaign promises; they also sometimes turn out to be corrupt. In either case, institutions and prominent people—such as archbishops—who have rallied behind such candidates will tend to be tainted by association. That is not a risk that the Church should take. More importantly, though, it is very seldom a simple matter to choose a candidate (or party) that encapsulates the Church’s teaching on all the important issues. This is clear, ironically, from the Philippine report. The Archbishop proposes to put a tick next to the names of candidates who “oppose divorce, who oppose abortion, who opposed the Reproductive Health Law”. But then he goes on to note that the archdiocese “is against politicians involved in the destruction of nature. […] Those who are involved in mines, you can vote for them, those who are in illegal logging, vote for them but you destroy our country”. What happens, then, if the anti-divorce, anti-abortion candidates happen to be supporters of unrestricted mining and logging? Or if the environmentally reliable candidates happen to support abortion rights? (And this, tragically, is how it usually is. Most ‘green’ political parties favour unrestricted abortion, while most ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-family’ parties tend to favour big business and unrestricted capitalism.) How does the good Catholic choose between these two morally mixed positions? Voting for no-one is not an option—we are called on as Christians to play our part in society, including the often vexed business of politics. It is also no good saying—as many Church leaders do—that abortion is the most important question, or that environmental health is. They are both important, both literally vital issues. Although abortion and related matters have taken centre-stage in the moral-political discourse in Europe and the US, far more people die in parts of the developing world from environmental causes than from legal abortion. Even more die from poverty. So what is the Church’s role in helping people to make the right political choices? The most important task is to assist voters to approach the ballot box with a clear understanding that a political choice is also a moral choice, and usually a very complicated one. Secondly, the Church must help people to see that blind loyalty to a party is dangerous, and morally irresponsible. We must be willing to admit that the party we have always supported has lost its way, or that its policies are doing more harm than good. Thirdly, the Church must encourage people to make an informed choice, even when none of the parties or candidates is ideal; apathy, or refusing to vote because there is no perfect option, is equivalent to voting for the worst candidate. And finally, having helped to nurture mature, well-informed citizens, and having pointed out the deep moral responsibility that should accompany voting, the Church should step back and let the voters pick the candidates who they think will best serve the common good of the whole community; and not try to dictate to them who those may be.