Can voting for a politician in a particular political party be sinful?

Can voting for a politician in a particular political party be sinful?
Q. After the last presidential election, while in confession, I asked the priest this question and his response astounded me. He said voting for a Democrat was a mortal sin, their political stance on abortion demands this, and he went on to list all the party’s dreadful practices he considered evil. I always vote for the person, regardless of their party connection. I did not agree with my confessor and believe that our Church does not consider a party’s stance as a reason for sin. I thought Church and State were not connected. Am I wrong? I said I did vote for a Democrat, and he continued to excoriate me for this action. I was granted absolution but still did not feel comfortable with his reasoning. Please let me know how you think a Catholic should view this question.

A: First of all, I am sorry to hear that you had a difficult experience in confession. Nobody should be made to feel ‘excoriated’ in the context of a sacrament.
But to answer your question, the short answer is: No, simply voting for a Democrat is not a sin in and of itself.

The longer answer is that the relationship between Church and State is more complicated than it might appear at first glance, and there are a number of nuances to take into account when seeking to fully live out our Catholic faith as citizens in secular civil society.

In terms of legal philosophy, the relationship between Church and State is something that Catholic scholars have pondered for millennia. Although it is obvious that secular governments can often enact imprudent or even evil policies, there is a fundamental idea that all legitimate authority is ultimately granted by God and therefore ought to be respected.

In the United States we have a foundational principle of religious freedom, which concretely manifests itself in “separation of Church and State.” This means that the United States government is meant to be religiously neutral with no official state religion. Yet at the same time, Catholic legal philosophy recognised that the Church and the state often have shared goals and mutual stakes in certain aspects of civil life. Further, we believe that Catholics are not only called to remain in communion with the Church, but also to be good citizens and to take part in public life in a way appropriate to our own particular vocation and circumstances.

The upshot to this is that Catholics are called to vote according to their well-formed conscience so as to support the dignity of human life in all areas.

Thus, it would be wrong for a Catholic to vote for a pro-abortion politician specifically because of the politician’s pro-abortion stance (and this would apply regardless of that politician’s party affiliation).

Still, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” acknowledges that “Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote” (No. 34). This same document goes on to observe: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.” But with the caveat: “Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (No. 35).

Voting for a particular Democrat who happened to be pro-life would clearly not be a sin, even if the majority of Democrats do tend to support abortion. And, on a case-by-case basis, it is morally permissible to vote for a pro-choice candidate if there are grave reasons to do so; for example, there may be no clear pro-life candidate, or in conscience you might discern that the pro-life candidate endorses policies that severely and unacceptably undermine human life and dignity in other areas.
Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to